POLITICS FILE: New role gives public greater say on policing

11:38am Wednesday 27th June 2012

By David Deans

It is an election that has yet to capture the imagination of voters, but later this year people in Gwent will pick the first police and crime commissioner. We take a look at what’s involved.

ON November 15, the people of Gwent will be faced with a choice over who should be able to hold Gwent Police and its chief constable to account.

The police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Gwent is set to become one of the best paid elected officials in the region and will be able to hire and fire the most senior officer in the police force.

There are fears that PCCs will politicise policing and that the turnout for the autumn election will be low, with one opinion poll claiming only one in four people are aware that the elections are being held.

But the government argues the police should be accountable to an elected official who will represent the needs of his or her voters – and who the voters can sack at the ballot box if they are unhappy with them.

The commissioner and their support staff will replace the Gwent Police Authority (GPA), which does not face a direct election, although includes local councillors among its members.

Commissioners will not run the police – much like the current GPA does not run day-to-day policing – but are expected to be the voice of people in the region. Anyone hoping to stand for the PCC election will need a £5,000 deposit as well as 100 signatures from people registered to vote within the force area.

The successful Gwent PCC candidate will earn £70,000 – more than three times the £22,596 allowance Gwent Police Authority chairwoman Cilla Davies receives and more than the basic AMs and MPs salaries of £53,852 and £65,738.

It is however less than the £95,801 that can be earned by Welsh Ministers like John Griffiths, Newport East AM, and the Assembly presiding officer Rosemary Butler,AMfor Newport West.

Probably the most important power PCCs will hold will be to hire and fire chief constables.

This power means the commissioners can take on the most senior officer within the force although the chief constable – currently Carmel Napier – will appoint all other officers.

Once elected, commissioners will be required to publish a five-year police and crime plan which sets out the priorities for the police force.

The plan, which must be written in consultation with the chief constable, has to lay out what the commissioner’s objectives are for reducing the region’s crime and disorder and how resources would be allocated.

PCCs will have a duty to regularly consult the public and will also set the police precept – the amount that is added on to your council tax bill to help fund the force – and set the annual force budget.

The Home Office says PCCs will not be able to tell the police how to do their job and that chief constables will keep control of the force’s officers and staff.

Despite reassurance from the government that PCCs will not politicise policing, there have been widespread fears that the role will do precisely that.

Commissioners’ employees such as the head of paid staff will be “politically restricted” and must be appointed on merit, according to the Home Office, but the commissioner can appoint a deputy who is not subject to those restrictions.

The Home Office says it doesn’t expect running costs of PCCs to be any more than that of existing police authorities – Gwent Police Authority’s budget this year is £768,350.

Commissioners will themselves be scrutinised by police and crime panels – which will be made up of councillors from local authorities within the force area and two other members.

With £53,000 a year in funding the panels will be able to review the police and crime plan, the commissioner’s annual report, veto decisions, request PCC papers and call PCCs and chief constables to public hearings.

Former officers in frame for post

SO FAR three men are in the running to become Gwent police and crime commissioner, who will serve a four-year term.

Welsh Labour has selected Hamish Sandison, a laywer from near Usk who previously ran as a parliamentary candidate in Monmouth in 2010.

Two retired policeman have announced they will run as independents: Ian Johnston, former head of Gwent CID, and Chris Wright, a former Gwent Police sergeant, have put themselves forward as independent candidates.

The Welsh Conservatives are still at the early stage of their selection process – although most of its candidates are expected to be selected by the end of July.

The Welsh Lib Dems are not putting up a candidate, while Plaid are yet to decide whether to back an independent candidate in Gwent or field its own.

Ron Davies, former Caerphilly councillor and former Welsh secretary, has indicated his interest in the role.


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