It has been amusing to hear and read the comments of candidates for the PCC elections expounding on the importance of keeping in touch with people to ascertain their views on policing issues. In sonorous terms candidates have explained how they will test the pulse of communities.
But hang on, the last Labour Government introduced, through the Home Office, Partner(ships) and Communities Together, known as PACT. Police forces established PACTs (in Ashford, Kent alone there were/are over 13 of these) and were responsible for their administration. The idea was for policing issues at community level to be identified by inviting the public to attend meetings along with organisations in the locality: housing associations, local authorities, councillors, community groups, etc.
In fact PACT often is wrongly understood to mean Police and Communities Together. The remit of PACTs extends to other issues - examples: environmental concerns, public transport, health issues
The problem is that many PACTs have not worked well. Attendance of organisations and the public is often poor and some are hijacked by individuals pushing there own agenda.
Like a lot of 'good ideas' for consultation drawn up by civil servants and local government officers, they fail at the first hurdle, the unwillingness of the public to engage. One reason for this is that PACTs became just one more meeting to attend . No decisions taken, little reporting back on resolution of issues equals waste of time attending.
When Local Involvement Networks were established in Kent I suggested that rather than establish a new machinery for engagement with the public the PACTs should have taken on consultation on health issues. At least it would have avoided another round of meetings.
Public engagement and consultation is a chimera: it won't happen if the process is a dull meeting in a community centre or church hall. What is needed is a meeting which is not a talking shop, but one which reaches conclusions and sets specific time scales for reporting back by statutory organisations on progress achieved to resolve issues or reasons why progress cannot be achieved. Sadly parish councils can be part of the problem of unsatisfactory engagement as PACTs can represent a threat.