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20th November 2012

A new dawn for policing?

Tom Danaher discuss the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections, following a shocking low turnout

Last Thursday represented a landmark in our democracy. Each county in England and Wales elected a Police and Crime Commissioner – a new role introduced by the current government under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. Police Commissioners operate successfully in the US, although they are appointed rather than elected. The primary objectives of this policy are to give greater control to each of the forty-one constabularies, and to have one individual who is directly accountable to the county’s electorate.

Police and Crime Commissioners have five major roles: to represent the community, to agree upon a Local Strategic Plan for the community, to hold the Chief Constable to account for implementing this plan, to set the budget, and to hire – and in some cases, fire – the Chief Constable. So, who carried out these tasks before? PCCs are replacing Police Authorities. Greater Manchester Police Authority has been in operation for seventeen years and is made up of nineteen individuals. A Transition Board will ensure that the progression from Police Authority to Police and Crime Commissioner is as smooth as possible.

Many of you will have seen the televisions adverts of the Home Office about the elections. For those who haven’t, the adverts show a series of crimes, including a mugging on a bus as well as a robbery at a corner shop. A cynical, but perhaps accurate, analysis would be that these adverts were an attempt to create a wave of interest in the elections, through scaremongering. The commercials almost suggest that the appointment of a PCC will miraculously put a stop to these crimes. It’s arguable that the Home Office could have used these adverts to convey a clear message explaining two things: the reason for the policy, and the roles of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Here in Greater Manchester, there were six names on the ballot paper: Tony Lloyd (Labour), Matt Gallagher (Liberal Democrat), Roy Warren (Independent), Michael Winstanley (Conservative) and Steven Marcus Woolfe (UKIP). It is notable that there aren’t any female candidates standing for the office of PCC for this constabulary. A similar under-representation of women is true in many other counties. This suggests that more must be done to attract women to the role. In four years’ time when the first PCC’s term of office is complete, the Home Office must go further to encourage women to stand as candidates. This may even generate greater interest among female voters in local policing.

Labour Party candidate, Tony Lloyd, won the election as the overwhelming favourite to become the constabulary’s first Police and Crime Commissioner. Lloyd has stood aside from his position as the Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, seeing his colleague Lucy Powell succeed as the first Labour MP to be elected for this constituency. Historically, the Manchester area has been politically safe for Labour. For example, Manchester Central has voted Labour since the seat was created nearly fifty years ago. Mr Lloyd enjoyed a majority of 51.2 percent, although statistically this only represents 7.1 percent of the electorate.

Leading up to this election, there have been two key difficulties faced by the Conservative Party. Firstly, the coalition government is largely unpopular at the moment. YouGov released data last week, which showed that sixty per cent of people disapprove of the current government’s record to date. There is palpable concern, particularly in more deprived areas, that cuts to public services will damage communities in an irreparable way. The second national problem faced by the Tories is their failure to attract high-profile candidates to stand for election. This is partly due to the strict eligibility criteria, which means that individuals cannot run if they have committed the most minor criminal offence in their youth, for example. However, the Labour Party have managed to bring out the ‘big guns’ such as former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

Is this election important for students in the city? Well, we know that one in ten students are victims of crime during their time in Manchester. However, the government is committed to twenty per cent cuts to the budget of each constabulary and this will unquestionably limit the effectiveness of the role of the PCC. The depleting resources, which will result in the loss of almost three thousand police employees here in Manchester, mean that a fall in crime is unlikely – regardless of who wins at the ballot boxes on Thursday.

Nationwide, less than fifteen percent of the country turned out to vote in the 41 English and Wales police force areas that held elections. The Electoral Commission watchdog has called for an investigation into the proceedings of the inaugural Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Only time will tell whether Police and Crime Commissioners are more effective than Police Authorities. At a cost exceeding one hundred million pounds, it is easy to see why there is disillusionment as to how worthwhile last Thursday’s elections were.


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