Last week a by-election was held to fill a vacancy for the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner caused by the death of the holder of the post Bob Jones. In total just 10.3% of the electorate turned out to vote in this election. Each vote cost the public sector almost £20 – a grand total of about £3.5 million. Bob Jones was actually someone I knew well. He was an excellent chair of the West Midlands Police Authority before that body was abolished. Had he died whilst doing the job of Chair there would, of course, have been an election in his council ward but at a cost of about £1,000. His job would have been filled by an existing members of the Authority.
Yesterday a major report came out about Rotherham Council. The man who was responsible for Children’s Services for 5 years is now the South Yorkshire PCC. As I write this he is resisting calls for him to resign from his own Party; the Home Secretary and almost everyone in town. If he had been chair of the Police Authority he would have been removed immediately and replaced in these circumstances. If he does go then the Home Office will have to pay out another £3,500,000 which would employ almost 100 police officers for a year!
Today the Labour Party has suspended from its membership the PCC for Bedfordshire. I don’t know why but I do know that it makes absolutely no difference the man is still in post and business carries on as usual.
But this is nothing new. When the elections for the PCCs were held in England & Wales in 2012 turnout varied from about 12% (in places like Merseyside) to about 18% in one place in the South East. People are not stupid. They were not going to waste their time turning out for a none job!
Last year one of the PCCS in the South East had a train crash of a television interview when she was unable to tell the public who paid for her what she did to earn her money. I did have some sympathy for her. These jobs are none jobs. No-one knows who the people are who do the job and no-one knows what they do.
Last year I was invited to go onto a BBC Law Programme chaired by Joshua Rosenberg about PCCS. I did some homework before I went and asked 130 people who attended the Allerton Road Farmer’s Market. Only 12 knew that there was a politician ‘in charge’ of the police; only 5 thought that there was a person directly elected to that post and only 3 knew her name. This is hardly surprising but for the record Church Ward has one of the highest electoral turnouts in Merseyside and half the people who attended the Market walked past the PCC’s office which has a big sign outside it signing what it is and who she is!
Earlier this year the same PCC appointed a Labour crony to be her Deputy despite having said she did not need a deputy and despite the committee (largely composed of Labour councillors who monitors her work) voting against the appointment. Jobs for the girls? Yes and a very well paid one as well so we now have 1.5 people earning big money for none jobs.
I opposed the idea when the last Labour Government said they intended to do it. The LGA mounted a big campaign against the idea which was the dropped. Well done Labour. I had less success with the Coalition Government. This was an idea which was not in the Coalition Agreement and it originated with the Tories. We had different proposals which were not quite as bad! They were told that [people would not be interested; they were told that it would break down strong relationships between councils and the Police Service via the Police Authority; they were told that they were creating expensive none-jobs which would not have the ability to change either police activity or council activity. Sorry folks everyone now knows we were right.
Put simply we need to maximise the relationships between Police and Councils because in many cases it is only the council that can come up with long-term solutions to the problems that the Police need to contain. Take some of the things that I have been involved with:
• Street crime in shopping area. Halved when a council improved lighting and restricted physical access to loading areas.
• Speeding. Massively improved by the imposition of 20mph zones and sometimes physical speed reducers.
• Youth anti-social behaviour much reduced following successful joint working between park authorities, schools, youth service and police.
• House burglary halved by the introduction of alley gates in terraced areas.
I could go on.
My solution is simple and it is not to go back to the old authorities. Instead give all the PCCs powers to the Police and Crime Boards which currently monitor PCCs AND insist that the Board is composed proportionately of councillors who have Cabinet or shadow cabinet responsibility for community safety. That would massively improve the synergy between two services that should be much more complementary to each other.
This needs a very short Bill in Parliament and would cost next to nothing to implement. In fact many savings would accrue but an enhanced partnership between the Police; Councils and other parts of the public sector.
I have no doubt that the Tories will continue to think this daft experiment will eventually work out well. I hope that the Lib Dems have learnt from the mistake of supporting this nonsense and will vote in the next Parliament to abolish these facile, futile positions.