There was a mixed response from local voluntary sector leaders when the coalition government created police and crime commissioners. Some welcomed the potential for better community engagement with the police and the greater accountability that would come from requiring chief constables to report to PCCs; others feared that the new roles would be dominated by egocentric, time-expired politicians who would undermine years of painstaking work in local community safety partnerships.
Early controversies did not help: Cumbria's commissioner, Richard Rhodes, was forced to apologise for using a taxpayer-funded, chauffeur-driven car; and Kent's commissioner, Ann Barnes, felt compelled to sack her youth commissioner, Paris Brown, after the press uncovered some offensive tweets she had sent as a teenager.
After the election of a Conservative government, however, we know that PCCs are here to stay.
Many PCCs have set up grant schemes to help support the local voluntary sector. On Merseyside, the PCC's Crime Prevention Fund encourages charities and community groups to create projects that deter people from becoming involved in anti-social and illegal activity. It is administered by Liverpool Council for Voluntary Service and Sefton CVS. The Thames Valley PCC, Anthony Stansfeld, has provided grants worth £250,000 this year from the Police Property Act Fund. This fund - managed by the Berkshire Community Foundation - is drawn from the proceeds of the sale of items seized from criminals. Grants are being used to help protect vulnerable people and tackle issues such as sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and domestic violence.
In Nottinghamshire, the PCC has a small grants scheme with a budget of £100,000 this year. Commissioner Paddy Tipping works closely with Nottingham CVS, which he commissioned to build the capacity of local voluntary organisations, especially those working on girls' involvement in gangs and other women's issues.
Tipping was a member of the Independent Commission on the Future of Local Infrastructure and has promoted the value of local infrastructure charities both locally and nationally. Helen Kearsley Cree, chief executive of Nottingham CVS, says she is "very positive" about the county's PCC. "It's as much about what he does for the voluntary sector out of the public eye as what is promoted publicly," she says.
There is praise too for the Cleveland PCC, Barry Coppinger. Nicky Harkin, service manager at Arch North East, a rape and sexual abuse counselling service based in Middlesbrough, says: "Our PCC is incredibly supportive. He has funded our sexual violence counselling service. He has also taken a lead at the regional sexual violence strategy group, bringing other commissioners to the table to find new ways of commissioning services. Before we had a PCC it was much more difficult to get our voice heard by the police."
PCCs have become significant funders of local voluntary action and, in some areas, have moved on to develop supportive, strategic relationships. If you are not yet in touch with your PCC, it's time to put that right.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser