"I can understand why people don't want party politics and policing to mix"
What Steven asked Matthew Scott, Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner
For the latest Sunday interview, Steven sat down with Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott at Medway Police Station. Matthew was elected to the role in 2016 and is currently serving his second term. They discussed the balance of the role with party politics, the effects of austerity and council precepts on police budgets, and the level of crime in Medway.
Where were you born?
I was actually born in Westminster (Hospital). That used to exist opposite St Thomas’ Hospital. Very quickly after that, we moved as a family out to Sidcup where I grew up I went to school and was a councillor in the London borough of Bexley, before I moved out into Kent, met my wife, and married and set up home here.
What jobs did your parents do growing up?
My father was a police officer. He served as a temporary Chief Inspector in his last role in the Metropolitan Police. He retired in 2011 and then went back in. He took some time off after he retired and then went back in to work in their control centre. So he's seen policing from both the police officer and the police staff side, so it's a big part of my life growing up.
My mother worked for the police as well. She’d done other roles, but she worked in the Metropolitan Police as a member of police staff in their vehicle section. It’s a very policing-heavy family that I come from.
How did you find school and university?
I went to Beths Grammar School just on the borders of Kent and Bexley. I think back over what I ended up studying and look now and think I should have maybe taken a slightly different course because I really excelled at languages and mathematics. How I ended up with politics and business was, I think, a mystery to some of my teachers. From there, went off to Birmingham where I studied more practical politics. I didn't want to just do the raw ideologies as it were. I did a public policy degree so it was about policy making, management, social policy and things like that and graduated in 2005.
What was your first full-time job?
I worked for David Evennett who was the MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford. He's still there in Parliament now, about to celebrate his 40th anniversary of his first election. That was a really interesting experience and it's a lot. It is a role that some people do often straight out of university or very early on in their political careers, but actually, I learned a lot of really good practical things about the way that Whitehall works and the way that Westminster works. Obviously doing a lot of research and speech writing and things like that, but a lot more of the ministerial liaison work, working with different government departments on his behalf, where there may be select committees or legislation committees or things going on in parliament actually helping him being that conduit when he was a government whip. It's been very helpful when I've been trying to make Kent's case for either a legislative change or some finances. I know which doors to knock on repeatedly until they open.
When did your name first appear on a ballot?
Politically, 2006. I stood as a Conservative candidate for St. Michael’s Ward. It’s been merged with another ward as part of boundary changes now. I stood down in 2010. I was a bit of a sucker for punishment in terms of elections. I stood first in student union elections whilst I was in university as well but was not successful.
What is your official occupation?
Police and Crime Commissioner, full time.
What does the average day entail?
Going to give you a cliché, there is no average day. I think that the role is so varied that there are many things. So today for example it could be chairing and involves a lot of meetings. If there's one consistent thing about this role is there are a lot of meetings and rightly so if we are to have effective scrutiny, if we want things to go well. So, it could be anything from a performance meeting with the Chief Constable. I meet him every week, every Monday. Monday is probably my only consistent day, where it's my meeting with my Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer about our office activities. There is a lot of consistency around the early part of the week, but it could be anything from meeting with other PCC colleagues, going out to visit charities and things like that, so it's very very intense from a meeting perspective. But my focus does try to be towards the end of the week, much like MPs do, having constituency-style days. As much as I don't mind a spreadsheet, I'm not stuck in them all week. I'm not stuck in meetings all week, the biggest part of this role is engaging with the public and that's why I tried to do more with meetings and visits later in the week.
Representing an area as wide as Kent, is there a balance between which parts of Kent you are in more than others, or are there areas you wish you could get to more than you do?
I try to take the opposite approach, I know where my headquarters are, so I try and get away from it. My office has always been based in Maidstone, so obviously there's a natural inclination between Maidstone and north Kent police stations. I know where I'm going to be for the rest of the week let's see what we can do elsewhere and go out to evening events with different community groups dotted all over the county. So my main focus is trying to get out of headquarters and getting out and about rather than it being a natural pull.
How do you balance being apolitical in an elected role as a member of the Conservative Party?
I can understand why people don't want party politics and policing to mix and I think it's important to recognise the fact that we do have a very clear divide between the PCC, the politician, and the Chief Constable, the police officer. I might have very strong opinions about where resources should go, but that is the gift of the Chief Constable. The key to that is making sure that your relationship is such that you can discuss these issues. You can make sure you're holding the Chief Constable to account, you're setting the priorities adequately and that they respond in the most appropriate way.
Our neighbourhood policing model is a really good example, the one that will start in the next couple of months, where I raised some concerns about the model which was being proposed, about how visible the force would actually be as a result of that and with all due credit to the Chief Constable, he had another look at it and they made some changes and what we've got coming is really good. In a more political world, it would have been simpler for the Conservative or Labour PCC to go ‘Well, that's where I want resources’ as that's where it benefits me. I never operate like that. I'll go out and campaign at election time for Conservative colleagues. I always have done, but the key is not getting your office caught up in that.
My team don't have anything to do with political invitations, political campaigning, or political engagement. Everything my team does is basically like the civil service. I don't have anyone in my office who is party political. The only person I could appoint party political would be a deputy, and I don't have one. It's really important that people can have faith and confidence that decisions are being made for the right reasons, and will still make their case. I will have my manifestos and the things that I want to do, but it's important we don't allow party politics and policing to mix in that way. On the other hand, though, with my now seven years of experience working policing, Chief Constables are quite political themselves in the way that they have been known to go about things and lobby for things, so we're not the only culprits when it comes to politics and policing.
Almost as many people voted for you in 2021 as voted in total in 2016. What’s your explanation for the increase?
I think there's a couple of things. I think we have to be honest about the fact that we had Kent County Council elections and other elections on the same day, which did boost turnout. I would have liked the government to continue that going forward because I think it makes sense from a logistical point of view, that we have these elections on the same day. But I want to carry on trying to boost the turnout and it's incumbent upon us as PCCs and also the Home Office, as our sort of sponsors of the PCC project, to try and do that. I hope that we have a higher turnout next year, but in terms of the personal vote, I was really lucky. I felt tremendously privileged to have not needed a second round of voting last time, getting over 50%.
Why is having an elected leader of Kent Police a good thing?
I think it gives the public a better say over policing in their area. I think what we had before with the police authorities was perfectly fine in terms of scrutiny, but it didn't have any agility to deal with real issues that the public faces. So, we can as PCCs, on a day-to-day basis, affect change in our local areas. We can set priorities for our police forces, hold our Chief Constables to account, we can be involved in briefings and decision-making in a much more rapid basis. Whereas a more committee style-based structure like we have in local government doesn't really give you that same level of responsiveness and also you are bound by collective responsibility. But now what you've got is somebody who is directly responsible to you as a taxpaying resident. Someone who is directly responsible for spending your money. There's no such thing as government money, it's your money. I'm more accessible than authority was and frankly, whilst I wouldn't recommend it, people can vote me out if they want to.
According to the Indices of Deprivation, Medway fares worst for crime. Why are residents at such high risk?
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