Sunday 11 November 2012

I don't want to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner but it seems that I better had #pcc

(Edited 14/11/12 to add candidate replies from Farooq Mohammed and Rupert Moss Eccardt, and to add more nuance to the section on links.)

I'm sorry, dear readers, this post is political.  It's not overtly party political (unless you view dislike of the English Democrats as overtly party political) but it does discuss, at length, forthcoming elections set up by the government because they decided to change how things are run.  If that's likely to make you cross, or uppity, or wish you weren't reading this blog then it's probably best to leave now and come back for the next post and we'll say no more about it.

I'm also sorry dearest readers, because I am cross about this. I have been cross about it all week, and the feeling's not lessening, so I'm just going to have to write and hope that it helps.

Next week, on Thursday 15th November, England and Wales (excluding London) are voting to elect people to the brand new post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), one person for each of the 40-odd police forces.  These PCCs will replace the existing Police Authorities (one per force).  Police Authorities are (or were) defined as follows by the Association of Police Authorities:
A police authority is an independent body made up of local people.
Together with the Home Secretary and chief police officers, police authorities are responsible for the management of policing in England and Wales.
Police authorities make sure that you have an efficient and effective local police force.
Police Authorities mostly had 9 councillor members and 8 independent people from local community.

PCCs are described thusly by the Home Office:
The job of the police and crime commissioner will be to ensure the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police, building confidence in the system and restoring trust.
They will aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within the force area. They will do this by:
  • holding the chief constable to account for the delivery of the force
  • setting and updating a police and crime plan
  • setting the force budget and precept
  • regularly engaging with the public and communities
  • appointing, and where necessary dismissing, the chief constable
It will not be for the PCC to tell the professionals how to do their job - the legislation continues to protect the operational independence of the police by making it clear that the chief constables retain direction and control of the forces officers and staff. The operations of the police will not be politicised; who is arrested and how investigations work will not become political decisions.
So, in principle it looks bland and similar.  But although the PCC won't legally have power over daily operational policing, they can hire and fire the Chief Constable, write plans and set the budget.  That's quite a lot of power, and whilst committees can be terrible things, too much power in the hands of one person isn't necessarily so great.  I don't argue with the suggestion that there should be someone in charge of keeping the police honest, but I do have a gripe with pretty much every aspect of this PCC business.

I'm going to look at the Principle Of The Thing, how the elections are seemingly being run, and then I'll look at our local candidates.  At the end are links to more information.

The Ranty Bit
I do not think that control of public services should be made political. Whether or not candidates or incumbents have party allegiances, by making this a voting issue, it makes control of the police political. Candidates will, the very nature of the thing, being appealing for votes, and probably therefore by promising to do populist things. I'd rather have the police run according to evidence gained through rigorous academic and practical research, not through unsubstantiated popular "hang 'em, flog 'em" opinions (the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire debate was preceded by vox pops all calling for "MORE BOBBIES ON THE BEAT!!!", which isn't necessary a good way to reduce crime). Policing is complicated. I do not understand how best to do it. I want the mechanisms of government to ensure that qualified, capable people run the police for me. I simply don't know how to choose the best person to do that - and I'm not sure how most other people can, either.

These Wretched Elections
Not only is the principle of PCCs in my opinion seriously flawed, these elections don't seem to be run very well at all.

The candidates have very large areas, compared to council or parliamentary elections, over which to campaign.  They have been given no free mailshot to voters, as happens in parliamentary, mayoral and European elections.  This likely unfairly disadvantages independent candidates, who do not have party finances and volunteers to help get the message out.  Of course, some independent candidates may well have money of their own, or from their businesses: but do we want this role bought by the richest candidate or to have a candidate in the pocket of some company of other? Very many people are reporting that they've heard absolutely nothing from any of their local candidates.  This happens often enough for other elections, it's true, and that's a great shame.  But these elections are, or should be, much less about party policy (the basis for most voters' normal voting choices, I'd guess): how can we choose if we know little about the candidates?

The governmental decision to make a website the primary source of candidate information mirrors other decisions (such as that to make claiming Universal Benefit primarily online) which disenfranchise those (older people, poor people, people with disabilities) who can't, or find it difficult to, access information the internet.  Just the sorts of people who, as we're always saying, rely on the public libraries that are being closed down to get access to the stuff they need to be active members of society.

There have, I understand, been some hustings events in various places.  Reports suggest that these have been poorly attended, but I strongly suspect that that's at least partly because they've been poorly advertised.  If there have been any events in Cambridge then my repeated searches have turned nothing up...

Added to this, the Home Office, via the Electoral Commission (I think), was supposed to be distributing a booklet about the PCC role and the elections in general to every household.  I've yet to hear of anyone who's received one: the only thing that many people know about the elections is that they've received a polling card. Further to that, people who have requested a copy, or other information, over the phone have apparently been getting a very poor service, too.  No booklet means that even if you have internet access, you don't know where to look online to find candidate information.

Either this shambles is the result of deliberately, even maliciously poor deign, or (more likely) very shoddy implementation. We really ought to be able to do better as a country, though. It makes me cross.

Cambridgeshire Candidates
Now, much as I wish I could just be cross about a Rubbish Thing and leave it at that, there is a choice to be made here, because someone's going to get this role and I'd like to do my part in making sure the outcome is the least bad one possible. In Cambridgeshire we have seven candidates. They have spoken in a Radio Cambridgeshire debate, all have websites and other web presences, some have contributed to other PCC information sites, and they've all be asked the following two questions by me. (Questions picked, almost at random, from my personal list of bugbears.)
Question 1: What role do you think the police have in ensuring road safety for all road users, but particularly cyclists, and what would you do as PCC to improve road safety?
Question 2: What is your opinion of the recent government decision to close the national Forensic Science Service. How would you support the creation of rigorous policies and practices for the retention of forensic science archives in the Cambridgeshire force?
And here are my summaries of their positions and (where received) their answers to my questions.  I do advise you to read their statements for yourself.

Ansar Ali, Independent
One-sentence summary: A long-time community advocate who believes he has the existing knowledge of policing to be an effective PCC; wants the police to be more responsive and to communicate better.

Sir Graham Bright, Conservative
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Believes that privatisation of some services and collaboration between forces is a good way to save money and become more efficient; views members of the public using the police as customers who deserve a good service.

1: Road safety is important to all road users and
pedestrians making people aware and education is one of the key ways of
making our roads safer. At the moment road safety is promoted and funded
by the police and local councils. I would like to review what is being
done at the moment and see whether a co-ordinated effort could be more
effective. The problem is you only need one bad driver, cyclist or
irresponsible pedestrian to cause a very serious accident. I would want
to see that road safety was featured in our schools as that gives a firm
foundation. I recently spent some time with a group of volunteers who
operate Speed Watch. I was very impressed by the way in which they had
effectively reduced the number of instances of speeding motorists and I
intend to offer them additional support.

2: Forensic Science is an important part of catching criminals. As you may
already be aware Cambridgeshire is co-operating with Bedfordshire and
Hertfordshire. It is my aim to extend that co-operation to Suffolk,
Norfolk and Essex. With this very large grouping, there is absolutely no
reason why we should not set up several specialist facilities for all
forces to use and, of course, this would include Forensic Science. I
believe this is the right way forward and I will set about immediately to
develop this co-operation because in other areas, such as human resources,
payroll and I.T. support, I believe we could make effective savings that
could go towards more police on the front line.

Paul Bullen, UKIP
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: More police on the beat, wants strong tough laws on people who steal and threaten property, he values are: "straight-dealing, integrity, plain-speaking, honesty, and forthright defence of law-abiding people".

Stephen Goldspink, English Democrats
web (party website)
One-sentence summary: The official party name given is actually "English Democrats - 'More Police Catching Criminals'" so it won't surprise you to know that he's a zero-tolerance on anti-social behaviour and more visible police candidate.

1: The police should be around to enforce the law regarding cycling. We need
more resources on the front line to do this. Please see my leaflet for
pledges around this.

2: The fact that this service has existed for years and years show the decision
was all about cost, not effectiveness. Strange how, in other areas, they
are all for centralisation. I suspect there is no going back, although I
would be in favour of doing so. I think we need to collaborate with other
forces and experts and develop one set of rigorous policies and practices
for national adoption - much more efficient and cost effective; I'd promote
and champion this.

Farooq Mohammed, Independent
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Says he is the only genuinely independent candidate and can bring a fresh new approach; will ensure good police response although this doesn't necessarily mean more police on the streets, which is unaffordable and not the best use of resources.

1: As a father of four I have always cycled with my children and indeed, still do so occasionally with my youngest who is aged 13. I do get frustrated sometimes when motorists cut in sharply and show little or no consideration for those on bicyles. In a city like Cambridge which has one of the largest cycling populations in the country, I can imagine this is even more of an issue at certain times. The police's role as always is to uphold the law, and it may be that encouraging more bike patrols would give greater insight into driving behaviour - I would certainly be in favour of making bike training more accessible to traffic officers so they understand both viewpoints.
Here in Peterborough we are fortunate the Green Wheel and many miles of safe cycling routes but I am sure even more can be done across the county to highlight and improve road safety for all users especially as high fuel prices and greater emphasis on 'green' issues means more people are taking up cycling.

2: The decision to close the NFSS has been made and we have to live with it. As I understand the situation the archive service is still operational and those same rigorous standards independently regulated will apply to the Cambridgeshire force. Any changes would be carefully considered after thorough consultation with experts whose advice would guide local decision making.

Rupert Moss-Eccardt, Liberal Democrats
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Professes to be a life-long public servant, with connections in government that enable him to understand the issues.

1: The police have a responsibility to keep the whole community safe, and that does, of course, include road safety. Fortunately the Cycling Campaign's survery is now 'live' so I would encourage you to have a look at all our answers there.
In summary, though, I would make it easier for people to report poor driving, work with the Community Safety Partnerships and the County Council to improve the streetscape and have targeted campaigns to deal with all road traffic offences.

2: The FSS closure was, quite simply, a mistake. There is no longer an independent, reliable source for forensic services. The recent failures at LGC show how dangerous this is.
I am grateful you have raised the issue of forensic material retention. It is of course important but I hadn't realised that the force may not be doing it properly. Can you let me know what you know of this or point me in the right direction, please? Interestingly, the project I'm working on at the moment has a significant forensic element.

[I've contacted Mr Moss-Eccardt to explain that I don't know of any specific problems and to clarify that I'm just interested in how, given the times of change in Force governance and forensic services poor practice caused by insufficient resources and care can be avoided.]

Ed Murphy, Labour
web | twitter
One-sentence summary: Government cuts are ruining the police and forcing privatisation; he will stand against all privatisation.

1: The police have a lead role in ensuring road safety for all road users, but particularly cyclists. I would also look at more grant aid and commissioning work from local voluntary, community and mutual organisation to improve road safety. This can be everything from helping cyclists learn about safety to redesigning streets And signage. Obviously we also need to work with relevant local authorities and agencies. I am a bit biased towards cyclists and have always put the pedestrians and cyclists needs above those of the motorist when it comes to resource allocation. Just addressing the imbalance of past policy makers there. There are very different cultures in place in different parts of Cambridgeshire - In the north of the county I am presently involved implementing campaigns and thankfully some local action plans to stop pavement parking and remove vehicles parked on cycleways. Speeding is also a key issues and the fact is that recent reductions in funding for speed reduction will mean more injuries and deaths. In particular I support 20mph and Home Zones in appropriate areas to improve road safety.

2:  I question whether the decision to close is the national Forensic Science
Service is the right one as we need to ensure we have the tools to do the
job of policing and making successful and correct prosecutions.

Where to find out more 
I'm bunging links up on Diigo - you can refine the choices with the tags on the right. In particular, here are links relating to Cambridgshire, including other people's blog posts and articles from the local media. Do be aware: I'm not selecting for quality, so evaluate everything for yourself.  Lots of different organisations are writing about this, and I haven't investigated who they all are.

Postscript: Spoiling Your Ballot
If you are in a constituency where the candidates look uniformly bland, then spoiling your ballot does seem a half-sensible thing to do.  Spoilt ballots have no legal standing, I don't think - even if there are more spoilt ballots than votes for any other candidate it doesn't affect the result - but they are counted up, and it at least feels like you're doing *something* about the situation.  But here in Cambridgeshire we have an English Democrat candidate standing, and I can't very well note vote for someone, anyone, else in case my not voting lets the English Democrat in.  (Although at least our English Democrate candidate isn't suggesting, as does Robin Tilbrook in Essex that "If elected every police station in Essex will proudly fly the Cross of St George and will promote Essex’s celebrations of St George’s Day").

I don't know for whom I'll vote - should I go with what candidates say in their statements, or how they engage people on Twitter, or whether they've replied to my email, or how well they write? I just don't know.


  1. A very useful summary, we received a postal vote, so I went on the website to do research having only received one flyer. Am concerned that there will be a very low turnout because of the lack of information and the general lack of interest

  2. How sad to hear your bigoted views.

    Stephen Goldspink a former conservative is married to a black lady.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to research and write this post. I hope it encourages rational debate rather than anonymous and inconsequential comments.

  4. When some intrepid keyboard warrior or drive-by troll happens along I always think of this:

    Lord knows why...

  5. We did get a leaflet from the Electoral Commission and one flyer from the Tory candidate. He was our ward councillor and is standing down from this, so we also have a ward by-election at the same time. We had a visit from the Tory council candidate, but absolutely no other information other than polling card. Our one independent candidate was a high-ranking police officer in a different area, so understands police force workings, but how independent would he be?