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Going beyond aspiration: making justice devolution happen

Monday 19 December 2016

With police and crime commissioners (PCCs) now established in 41 force areas and the emergence of powerful new metro-mayors with a mandate to reform public services, it is increasingly locally elected leaders, rather than national government, who will shape the future of policing and criminal justice reform.

However, in many respects, the process of ‘justice devolution’ has barely begun. Whilst PCCs now have a clear mandate for improving policing and cutting crime, they still lack leverage over the rest of the criminal justice system. And so far, only one region – Greater Manchester – has progressed justice devolution to the point where there are commitments written down and shared with central government.

Crest Advisory is passionate about justice devolution. We believe that in a world of rising demand and shrinking budgets, local leaders should have the power to join up services and budgets in order to deal with crime at source and end the cycle of repeat offending, rather than simply managing its consequences. We have worked closely with PCCs and directly elected mayors of all political persuasions and representing all kinds of communities, helping them turn their aspiration for criminal justice devolution into a reality.

Our experience has given us an insight into what you need to bring your justice devolution plans to life.

1. Analysing and understanding criminal justice performance


Effective action must be underpinned by rigorous analysis. It is essential that PCCs and Mayors are able to access data about criminal justice performance in their area and understand where the problems (and opportunities) lie. Often, problems within one agency will be having an impact elsewhere in the system. For example, the quality and timeliness of files handed by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can be a predictor of court timeliness and may impact the numbers of offenders that are brought to justice. Similarly, the conditions in a local prison may impact upon the ability of probation services to meet its reoffending targets. In Dorset, the PCC has worked with Crest on the design and development of a criminal justice data dashboard that enables partners to take a single view of criminal justice performance and understand the interdependencies between different agencies.

2. Setting clear objectives and mobilising people around a narrative for change


‘Strategy’ is one of those words that can be used in different contexts to mean different things. We take a very simple view about strategy. In essence, it means being clear about the outcomes you want to achieve and how you will prioritise your time and resources to achieve those objectives – in order to avoid being buffeted by the inevitable pressure of unexpected events. In order to mobilise change, PCCs and mayors need to be able to set clear and credible goals, whilst placing those goals within a bigger narrative for change. For example, in Greater Manchester, justice devolution sits within an overall narrative that is built around the idea of shared prosperity – everyone having a stake in and contributing to the future of the region. In our work with PCCs and mayors, Crest is increasingly focused on helping local leaders articulate their strategy and frame it within a broader narrative and a shared vision for change.

3. Establishing strong governance


Good governance arrangements are essential in order for places to be seen as responsible partners by central government and within the region itself. Crest has worked with PCCs, NGOs and police organisations to establish an appropriate model for collaborative governance that has the collective buy-in of relevant stakeholders and promotes transparency and accountability. We have also advised PCCs on what support they need to run an effective office and make timely, well-informed decisions and develop the mechanisms to check progress afterwards.

4. Negotiating change


Justice devolution is an inherently political process, requiring PCCs and mayors to negotiate, broker and build consensus for change. That process starts with central government, who continue to control many of the levers for change. Navigating the myriad departments, directorates and teams within Whitehall can be a complex task for those working inside the system – let alone for those outside of it. Having a clear sense of the ‘asks’ from government, as well as their own ‘red lines’, before they go into negotiations will be an important element in whether local areas manage to progress beyond rhetoric to reality. We are able to advise on this process with a number of team members having worked in the Cabinet Office and alongside the Home Office and Ministry of Justice.

5. Stakeholder engagement and communication


Finally, there is a real need for PCCs, mayors and others leading criminal justice devolution to make the case for change to those audiences whose support you need – including the public and those who work within services. Change can create uncertainty and in some cases may involve tackling established thinking and even vested interests. Spelling out why devolution will bring benefits, developing two-way systems of communication to listen and take feedback, and exciting people about the possibilities of a better future are all critical. We have worked with OPCCs on stakeholder engagement, media strategies and other ways of reaching out, and have seen the value of professional, planned communications.

Of course none of these success factors are relevant unless a PCC or mayor has the ambition for change to begin with. We know that not every PCC will want to prioritise justice devolution, particularly at a time when the job of holding the police to account is becoming more challenging. Nonetheless, here at Crest we think the future will be shaped as much by the ‘local’ as the ‘national’ and we are excited by the prospect of playing our own small role in making that happen.


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