Do we really need our Police and Crime Commissioner?

Simon Hayes
Simon Hayes
  • Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens say they will scrap police and crime commissioners
  • Ukip pledges to review and reduce the number of posts
  • Conservatives argue the directly-elected position has made policing more accountable
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Was it really worth it?

That was the question on the front page of The News the day after the first police and crime commissioner election in 2012.

Five per cent of the people of Hampshire turned out to vote – sparking the question.

Nearly three years on, three parties heading into the general election say the answer is a firm no and plan to scrap the role if elected to government next month.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats separately say in their manifestos the role – brought in by the coalition in May 2012 – will be axed.

The Green party has said it would abolish the post and return the function – holding the police to account – to local government.

Ukip has also outlined changes, with a plan to cut the number of posts – part of its wider idea to reduce the 43 forces in the country.

The Eurosceptics would carry out a review of best practice among the current post-holders.

The directly-elected post, designed to provide oversight of a police force’s operation, replaced police authorities in November 2012, which were made up of councillors.

Lib Dems plan to return to police boards, again made up of local elected councillors, while Labour claims the abolishing of the police and crime commissioners will safeguard 10,000 officers for the next three years and keep neighbourhood policing.

But Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes has hit back at the plans to get rid of the post.

He says: ‘The fact that Labour is saying police and crime commissioners are a waste of money, clearly I wouldn’t agree.

‘I can instance what I’ve done and what we’re doing to help the vulnerable in society.

‘They are not saying how they’re going to replace police and crime commissioners.

‘Whatever they choose to replace it with there will be a cost to that, as there was a cost to the police authority before police and crime commissioners came along.

‘I have been very careful not to increase my budget for the running of my office, to maintain the previous police authority one, at around £1.5m.’

Mr Hayes is based in Winchester and has his own staff along with a deputy – Rob Jarman.

‘The role of police and crime commissioners is much wider,’ he adds.

‘I’ve used money previously given to councillors for expenses.

‘For them to imply that saving money for police and crime commissioners is going to solve all the problems of the policing budget is misleading.’

He says he sees his main opportunity to reduce re-offending to help society.

Portsmouth Labour party chairman Graham Heaney said the post was a failed experiment that should be stopped.

He says: ‘You saw from the turnout of the election that there was little interest that we needed directly-elected ones.

‘It’s unclear how they’re more accountable – it’s one person representing the whole of the county of Hampshire.

‘Policing problems are different in different areas.

‘One person can’t possibly encompass all of that really.

‘The electorate didn’t know why they’re voting for it and there’s less accountability now.

‘I don’t think many people know how to contact their commissioner – it’s too remote.’

In its election manifesto, the Conservative Party argues PCCs have made policing more accountable.

Mike Fairhurst, chair of the Havant Tory party, said he agrees.

‘You used to have the board, which was an anonymous board – no-one knew who they were.

‘The other parties aren’t right to say it’s a failure.’

He added the previous police authorities were accountable via each individual member’s role on the county council – not as a board.

Most radical – and perhaps at odds with the national party’s plans – Ukip Fareham and Gosport branch chairman John Bowles said the post should be binned and chief constables should be elected instead.

He said: ‘I would like to see the police and crime commissioner position replaced with, probably, a duly-elected chief constable given to the people from a responsible list.

‘In other words, senior police officers submitting their CVs for a five-year term, the same as a government.

‘The people look at the CVs and vote accordingly.’

Jim Forrest, chair of Fareham Lib Dems, said he never agreed with the position and was critical of the low turnout on November 16, 2012.

‘I was at the counting of the votes when the police and crime commissioner was elected – it was the slowest, most boring evening of my life,’ he says.

‘The previous system means the person is elected with the consent of a greater proportion of the people.’

The Lib Dems say it will save £75m by doing so, while Labour argues it will save £50m by scrapping the post.

Mr Hayes has committed to keeping costly neighbourhood officers, saying they are key to policing.

He outlined four key priorities in his plan at the start of his term – frontline policing, putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system, tackling anti-social behaviour and cutting re-offending.

And he is clear his office is now established and working well, adding: ‘We’ve built a structure around the successful delivery of the priorities.’

Speaking before the general election manifestos were published, Mr Hayes, a former councillor, said he plans to stand in next election for his post at the end of his four-year term in 2016.

‘I stood as an independent last time, I’ll stand as an independent next time,’ he said.

‘I feel what I’ve achieved and what I would like to achieve is of sufficient import to be of interest to the public.

‘I hope for a higher turnout, I think inevitably there will be as they’re at the same time as local elections.’