Chris Nelson is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire.
Whenever a Police and Crime Commissioner has the temerity to publish an article in Conservative Home, it seems to attract a barrage of criticism about their role. So having been asked to contribute, I do so with trepidation. Hopefully, you will forgive the apparent lack of humility as I strive to demonstrate the added value and improvements in policing I have brought to Gloucestershire.
As the Police and Crime Commissioner, my excellent team and I have been improving policing in our County since I was elected in May 2021. Just days after I assumed the role, I was handed a draft report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate on my predecessor’s term of office that was highly critical of the force. It had been judged Inadequate (the lowest of five grades) in six areas. A few months after the report was published, the force was put into ‘Engage’, otherwise known as ‘Special Measures’.
Some of this was not a surprise, as I had heard concerns from the public and officers during my election campaign, but, nevertheless, I knew I was facing a significant challenge, perhaps the most difficult I had faced throughout my career in business, local politics, and the military, including the first Gulf War and on the streets of Northern Ireland. To put it politely, my Constabulary was in a deep hole.
I also knew that my predecessor, who would proudly trumpet his ‘Independent’ status but many believed was a Lib Dem, had insufficient contact with the public and had been preoccupied with his vanity-building projects. He failed to invest in officers, staff, and IT, despite his last few years in office having access to more funding than during the years of austerity. He had also been weak on governance and scrutiny, failing to spot persistent problems and letting the Constabulary stumble into ‘Engage’.
My first task was to work with my Chief Constable to get a grip on the budget and improve strategic financial planning. Financial competence should be the number one task for a Commissioner, and as a Conservative, we know this instinctively.
I reduced long-term risk and the need for large reserves, improved efficiency and made sure we were getting value for money. In turn, this generated funds I could invest in the force, which in addition to the Government’s national uplift of 20,000 officers, allowed me to recruit hundreds more officers, police community support officers, and front-line police staff. This increase was probably the largest percentage expansion of any force in England and Wales over the last three years. It has also allowed me to invest in modernising the Constabulary’s IT to make life easier for those new staff. My team has also been highly successful in bidding for Safer Streets money, winning more per head of population than any other force.
These extra personnel allowed the Constabulary to focus on recording crime, improving accuracy and timeliness, so that we really knew what was going on in the County and could better assess the vulnerabilities of our victims. We now think we are probably one of the best in the country in recording crime, which helps us deliver the high quality service the public deserve.
The extra resources have helped us cut anti-social behaviour by over 50 per cent across the county, taking a zero-tolerance approach to this insidious crime. We also cut the cost of rural crime by 29 per cent last year, in complete contrast to the national situation, which saw an increase of 22 per cent.
One of the reasons we fell into ‘Engage’ was because the force had a poor understanding of its demand, which was not helped by its systemic problems in under-recording reported crime. I supported a year-long review by the Constabulary to assess demand throughout the force, which meant we could place our officers where needed in the County. Our new operating model is now building to full strength, and we are already seeing significant improvements since it was introduced last June.
Crime workloads for response officers are going down, so there is more time to investigate every reasonable lead and be proactive. Officers are more efficient in tackling crime, halving the time taken to close a case, and we are responding to crimes faster with better victim care. We are arresting more offenders and solving twice as many crimes every month than we did a year ago.
All these improvements have led to His Majesty’s Inspectorate declaring last month that the Constabulary can exit ‘Engage’. It has taken us just 21 months to do so, which I understand is the fastest exit of any force in recent times, despite our large number of Inadequates.
This is a fantastic achievement and shows what is possible when a Commissioner focuses on what matters to the public and works in harmony with the Chief to ensure grip, competence and high-performance teamwork. Should I have the privilege of being re-elected next May, I will work just as hard to ensure this change is sustained and delivers a Constabulary that is comprehensively Outstanding.