Police commissioners: who’s on the slate

Elected police heads fail to capture public mood. Research: Chris Broughton

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Candidates are emerging for the biggest shake-up in policing in 50 years when police crime commissioners are elected for each of the country’s forces in November.

Despite opposition from her Lib Dem coalition colleagues, home secretary Theresa May vowed last month that elected police crime commissioners (PCCs) will hold chief constables to account, make policing accountable to local communities and “reinvigorate democratic principles”.

PCCs will also be responsible for allocating resources, setting priorities and serving as a representative of their area in dealing with crimes that require a nationwide response. But critics say the shake-up will be costly and unnecessary, and that commissioners will play politics with an essential public service.

Confirmed candidates so far are mainly standing on party tickets, with few independents.

Prescott to stand

Labour has a full slate for the eight forces in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber – despite the party’s opposition to the principle of PCCs. Leader Ed Miliband’s plan is to “make the most of a bad job”.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott is the party’s Humberside candidate, while Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd is standing in Greater Manchester, triggering a potentially difficult parliamentary by-election.

One of Prescott’s opponents could be East Riding councillor Matthew Grove, the only Conservative so far to throw their hat in the Humberside ring.

Two former Labour ministers fought a keenly contested battle in Merseyside, with Jane Kennedy just edging out Peter Kilfoyle.

In North Yorkshire, the Conservatives choose between Julia Mulligan, who runs a Leeds marketing agency, and the former North Yorkshire deputy chief constable Peter Walker on 30 June.

Coalition tension

In another sign of tension within the coalition government, the Lib Dems will not fund candidates but leave it up to local parties to decide if they want to contest the elections.

The official Conservative view is that PCCs will “end the bureaucracy with a new framework of accountability for the police [that will] place the public at the heart of policing”.

But critics say the current police authorities, made up of elected councillors and appointees, are more democratic than a system that will concentrate power in one person’s hands.

One concern is that PCCs will downplay the policing needs of minorities in favour of policies that will bring the most votes.

Saima Afzal, an independent member of Lancashire Police Authority, told the Guardian that resources might be directed from “issues that affect minority communities, such as grooming, female genital mutilation and forced marriages”, to “more populist crimes”.

Spending cuts

But the left of centre thinktank IPPR sees the new position as an opportunity for Labour and the left to promote “progressive policing” and to “build public trust in politics”. Now public spending cuts have started to bite, it says, it’s unlikely that Conservative commissioners will be elected.

PCCs – like another recent attempt at devolution, elected mayors – have failed to capture the public’s enthusiasm. In a recent YouGov poll, 32 per cent of people asked whether PCCs were a good idea said “don’t know”, with 34 per cent saying “yes” and 34 per cent “no”. Only 6 per cent believed that former ministers, MPs and senior politicians would be best suited to the role.

Research: Chris Broughton

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