Fears over cost of elected police commissioners

THERE are fears in Comet country over a government initiative to introduce elected county police commissioners, an initiative which will cost around �2m for Herts and Beds.

Police commissioners for each police authority will be selected by public vote in November. The estimated cost of the election is �50m nationwide, including an estimated cost of around �1m in both Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. The cost will be met by The Treasury.

Commissioners will be paid between �65,000 and �100,000 per year.

The plan has sparked opposition over cost as well as the effect it could have on policing.

David Bell, parliamentary spokesman for North East Herts Labour party, said: “We are not at all happy about the whole idea, because it doesn’t have continuity, for one thing. You change the commissioner every four years and it’s going to be a politician. I know there are politicians on the police authority, but there is a range of parties.

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“It will play to the feelings of the people. There’s the cost to the county, and a cost to all the political parties as well.”

Mr Bell also expressed concerns over the way the election would be run.

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Originally, it was going to coincide with local elections, but will now be held six months later. The voting system will be different to the first past the post system used in local and general elections.

“It may confuse people a bit,” he added.

“We have not used it for other things. I don’t expect we would get a very good turnout.”

Stevenage Borough Council voted against electing police commissioners before Christmas.

Council leader Sharon Taylor said: “I don’t support it and fought very hard when it was put forward.

“You end up politicising policing. At the moment, you have a group of cross-party people and magistrates on the police authority, and that provides a good choice and balance.”

Cllr Taylor added that there are areas of policing which are very important, but tackling them wouldn’t win any votes for a police commissioner.

“There’s a danger that those very important things will not get funded as they need to be. All the power is in that one person.”

She added the Labour party group has “no names in the frame yet” for a candidate.

Letchworth and Baldock’s MP Oliver Heald defended the reforms, citing the London mayor as a successful example of an acting police authority commissioner.

He said: “It seems to have worked there, and they have seen a drop in crime by about 10 per cent. I think it makes the police have a clear understanding of the public’s concerns.

“I don’t want policing to become political, but it doesn’t seem to have happened in London. I think Boris Johnson has explained what the public’s concerns are without being political. So I think it’s up to whoever the commissioner is to think about everyone in the county, or area.

“In terms of Hertfordshire, I would like the commissioner to make sure rural areas and semi-rural areas, like market towns, are properly policed.”

He added elected commissioners would be more accountable and representative of voters’ views.

A spokesman for Herts Police Authority said the government wishes to give the public a more direct say in local policing through the ballot box, and the authority “fully accepts that”.

She added: “We are now concentrating on ensuring a smooth and effective transition from the Police Authority to the Police and Crime Commissioner, ensuring that we hand over the governance of policing in Hertfordshire along with top rated performance, and financial stability.”

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