Police authority

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in the United Kingdom
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A police authority in the United Kingdom, were localised panels charged with securing efficient and effective policing of a police area served by a territorial police force or the area and/or activity policed by a special police force. Separate arrangements existed for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and for any force not created under one of those countries' national Police Acts (or equivalent for Northern Ireland) which had a matching police authority created.

Police Authorities were dissolved on 22 November 2012, and were replaced with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.

England and Wales[edit]


In England and Wales, a police authority was a single purpose authority with representatives nominated by the local authority(ies), independent members, and magistrates. Typically, a police authority was made up of seventeen members - nine elected members (who are drawn from the local authority or authorities for the force area, and would be reflective of the political makeup of those authorities). The remaining eight members were called independent members, and were appointed from the local community for fixed terms of four years by the police authority itself. At least three of the police authority's independent members were magistrates. There was no difference in power or responsibility between the different types of member - there are examples of elected, independent and magistrate members chairing police authorities throughout England and Wales.

A significant variation was the Metropolitan Police, which until January 2012 was overseen by the Metropolitan Police Authority, but is now overseen by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime. Another variation exists for the City of London Police in that the Common Council of the City of London is the police authority for the City of London and its own police force.[1]

Police authorities were represented nationally by the Association of Police Authorities.

Police funding[edit]

The bulk of police funding comes from the Home Office in the form of an annual grant (calculated on a proportionate basis by the Home Office to take into account the differences between the 43 forces in England and Wales, which vary significantly in terms of population, geographical size and crime levels and trends), though police authorities may also set a precept on the Council Tax to raise additional funds. The Home Office has the power to prevent any precept increases deemed to be excessive. It is the police authority's responsibility to set the budget for the force area, which includes allocating itself enough money from the overall policing budget to ensure that it can discharge its own functions effectively.

In its annual Policing Plan, a police authority is obliged to publish its budget for the year, as well as a value for money statement and to outline planned efficiency savings.

Police authority inspection[edit]

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Audit Commission (or the Welsh Audit Commission in Wales) began a programme of inspection for police authorities in September 2009. Inspection scores four areas of police authority capability:

  • Setting strategic direction and priorities
  • Scrutinising performance outcomes
  • Achieving results through community engagement and partnerships
  • Ensuring value for money and productivity

Each theme is scored from one to four:

  1. Performs poorly
  2. Performs adequately
  3. Performs well
  4. Performs excellently

The police authority is also given an overall score using the same 1-4 system.[2]

So far, ten inspection reports have been published, with the majority of inspected authorities scoring 2. The inspectorates published "Learning Lessons: An overview of the first ten joint inspections of police authorities by HMIC and the Audit Commission", outlining their findings from the first ten inspections, in March 2010.[3]


In the 2010 British general election campaign, both the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats' manifestos outlined plans, respectively, to replace or reform police authorities, both parties raising concerns about the perceived lack of accountability of police authorities to the communities they served. The Conservatives proposed to replace them with a single elected individual[4] ( a 'Police & Crime Commissioner', criticised as a model by some in policing [5]), whilst the Liberal Democrats proposed to introduce direct elections to police authorities, whilst strengthening their powers.[6] Following Royal Assent of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 police authorities were abolished and replaced with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners[7] on 22 November 2012. Many of the outgoing members of Police Authorities stood for the role of PCC, highlighting their successive experience in the field, and many were elected.

Historical context[edit]

From 1835, each borough was required to establish a "watch committee" and thus appoint constables to 'preserve the peace'. Before the advent of police authorities, the regulatory bodies for police forces confined to a single borough were these watch committees, whilst those for counties from 1889 had been "standing joint committees" (after 1889 some control passed to the elected county council; the joint committee also had magistrates). The Police Act 1964 reconstituted these as police authorities with two-thirds elected members of county or borough councils, and one-third magistrates. Under the Local Government Act 1972 the remaining borough police forces were abolished, and police authorities consisted of county councillors and magistrates in a ratio of two to one. The Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 altered the composition of the authorities with independent members being added. A long list, from applications received, is submitted by a committee of elected members and magistrates to the Home Office. That committee then appointed the independent members from a shortlist returned by the Home Office.

Northern Ireland[edit]

The Police Authority for Northern Ireland was dissolved on 4 November 2001 and replaced by the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is supervised by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, of which ten are members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and nine are independent.



In Scotland, supervision of the territorial police forces is the responsibility of the elected local authority which either directly supervises the local police force where its border is conterminous with the force, or works through joint boards with neighbouring local authorities. The SCDEA is a special police force and is subject to supervision by the Scottish Police Services Authority whose Board consists of police force members, police authority members and lay members.[8]

Single authority[edit]

The following police forces are supervised by one single local authority:

Police force Local authority
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary Dumfries and Galloway
Fife Constabulary Fife

Joint police boards[edit]

The following police forces are supervised by a joint board:

Police force Joint board authorities
Central Scotland Police Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling
Grampian Police Aberdeenshire, the City of Aberdeen and Moray
Lothian and Borders Police The City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Scottish Borders, Midlothian and West Lothian
Northern Constabulary Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles)
Strathclyde Police Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, City of Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire
Tayside Police Angus, the City of Dundee and Perth and Kinross

Special Police Forces[edit]

Arrangements for Special Police Force authorities vary by legislative body within the UK.

  • British Transport Police Authority - The authority was created in 2004 by the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, it is made up of approximately 12-15 members, each of whom represents groups concerned with the control, operation or use of the railways. They include representatives of the railway operators, railway users (freight and passenger), employees and the appropriate government departments dealing with transport in England, Scotland and Wales.
The British Transport Police are responsible for policing railways in Great Britain. It was not created by any of the various Police Acts in Great Britain and consequently was not subject to the same requirements as a territorial police force.
  • Civil Nuclear Police Authority - The authority[9] was created in 2004 by the Energy Act 2004; it is made up of seven members; four are nominated by the nuclear industry, while the remaining three are the Chairman, the Police adviser and an independent member.
The CNC is responsible for protecting civil nuclear installations and substances and was also created by legislation other than the national Police Acts. The CNC operates in Great Britain.
The SCDEA is responsible for preventing and detecting serious organised crime (including drug trafficking) in Scotland.


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