BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Police and Crime commissioner elections

2:33pm Tuesday 13th November 2012

This Thursday is decision time for Gwent’s first police and crime commissioner elections. DAVID DEANS, KATEY PIGDEN, MELISSA JONES, CHARLES BOOTH and KEILIGH BAKER report.

ELECTORAL doom and gloom has been predicted for the first ever police and crime commissioner election – but a survey has found voters may be more clued up than perhaps thought.

An Argus survey of 100 people across Gwent has found that 90 per cent of them know about the election on November 15, while 72 per cent know what it is for.

However, only a small group of 26 knew the four candidates who are running. While not a scientific survey, our snapshot of views taken from people in Blackwood, Monmouth, Chepstow, Pontypool and Newport indicates that efforts have at least alerted the electorate to the fact that a vote is to take place.

The government has run a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the elections, but hundreds of thousands of people across Gwent will have also received either postal ballots or polling cards in the last few weeks. However, many have said that while they are aware of the names of people running in the election, they know little about them.

Some said that while they know it has something to do with the police, they do not know precisely what the election is for.

The results may raise the question again as to whether the government should have done more to alert voters to the candidates and what they stand for. Some running have previously complained about the lack of a publicly funded mailout, which is available during general elections in the UK. Campaigning itself is a challenge for those nominated, with candidates fighting an election across five local authority areas.

Christine Wilkins, 62, from Blaendare, near Pontypool, said she only knew about the election from “what I’ve heard on the news”.

Meanwhile, Ivor Simmonds, 72, from Pontypool, said he hadn’t had any information on the candidates.

Gordon Tittley, 66 and a stall-holder at Pontypool outdoor market, said he had had a voting form but wasn’t sure about the candidates.

Aaron Price, 33, from Malpas in Newport, said: “I work for Newport Transport so I’m hoping a new commissioner will make sure there is more of a police presence around Newport.”

Valarie Morgan, 53, from Chepstow, said: “I don’t remember having anything through the door about it. I know what it is but not what I’m supposed to do.”

Phyllis Clayton, 71, from Monmouth, said: “I think it’s ridiculous they are asking us to vote on people we have never heard of.”

Claire Wooley, 41, from Oakdale, runs Wooleys Florist, which is the family business on High Street.

She said: “I know about the election and I have had a flyer through the door about the police commissioner election. I don’t know who the candidates are, but I will be voting and I have had my card.”

Tracey Safiri, 48, from Blackwood, said: “I know the election is for the something to do with the police. I’ve seen the advert on the TV but I don’t know who the candidates are.”

Malcolm Long, 71, of Monmouth, said: “I learned about the election three weeks ago when somebody said I had to go to a polling station and I asked why.”

Role of commissioner explained – but a low turnout of 18% predicted

THIS Thursday Gwent voters will be faced with a choice over who they think should be their first police and crime commissioner.

They will be able to pick from four candidates -– two from established political parties and two independents – who if elected will have the power to hire and fire the region’s most senior police officer and hold Gwent Police to account.

But it is uncertain how many people will bother to vote, with predictions that the turnout will be derisory.

The Electoral Reform Society says it thinks there will be a turnout of just 18 per cent – the lowest in history for a nationwide poll.

The PCC and their staff will replace the current Gwent Police Authority but commissioners will not run the police, with the chief constable keeping control of officers and staff.

But the commissioner will be able to hire and fire the chief constable of the force – currently Carmel Napier. PCCs will be required to publish a five-year police and crime plan that sets out the priorities for the force and how resources would be allocated. Commissioners will also take on the staff of the Gwent Police Authority, although they will be able to remove existing staff within the constraints of their contracts or appoint new members if they wish.

They can also appoint a deputy PCC, who would not be subject to political restrictions that other members of PCC staff would. When it comes to his salary, the elected police and crime commissioner for Gwent is set to become one of the best-paid elected officials in the region, earning £70,000.

That’s more than three times the £22,596 allowance Gwent Police Authority chairwoman Cilla Davies gets and more than the basic AMs’ and MPs’ salaries of £53,852 and £65,738 respectively.

The Home Office has said it does not expect the running costs of PCCs to be more than that of existing police authorities.

The Gwent Police Authority’s budget came in this year at £768,350.

Readers give candidates an online grilling

ALL four commissioner candidates took to Twitter last week to answer our readers’ questions in the Argus’ first ever online hustings. The candidates faced a barrage of queries from our readers – which they responded to through the social media service.

Asked why people should vote for him, Hamish Sandison told readers he would be a “commissioner for the people and not the police”.

Ian Johnston stressed his local credentials as a man that “knows Gwent”.

Nick Webb said stopping repeat offenders, supporting victims and having a credible budget would be among his priorities.

Chris Wright said he had “real, relevant policing knowledge.”

Reader Maria Powell asked what was the biggest crime issue facing Gwent.

Mr Sandison said drug and alcohol misuse, while Mr Webb singled out anti-social behaviour. Mr Johnston said anti-social behaviour was “top of every poll”. Mr Wright said drugs were the biggest issue because of the criminality surrounding their use.

Reader Emily Jones asked under what situations would the candidates be willing to fire the chief constable.

Mr Wright said he would fire the chief constable if the priorities of Gwent voters, set out in the policing plan, were not being met satisfactorily.

Mr Sandison said he would ask the chief constable to consider their position if they were unwilling to deliver local policing priorities.

Mr Webb said he would only do it if there was a breach of commitment to protect the people of Gwent, while Mr Johnston said dismissal would be a rare occurrence.

Elections will use a new system

VOTERS will get to use a new system that will allow them to choose their second preference for the commissioner role.

It means that people who back a candidate that comes third or fourth could still have their vote counted.

Each ballot paper will list the candidates standing in the area, with two columns next to their names with a space for a cross.

To vote for your first-choice candidate, mark a cross in the firstchoice column. To vote for your second choice candidate, mark a cross in the second-choice column.

You should not mark more than once cross in each column. If you make a cross on both columns for the same candidate, your ballot paper will still be valid but it would not be counted as making a second choice.

Second preferences will come into play only if no candidate gets 50 per cent of the first preference votes cast when counted.

If that happens, the two highest polling candidates go through to a second round of counting. Voters for third and fourth place candidates will have their second preferences redistributed to the top two.

Whoever has the most votes after the second-round of counting is elected.

THE four candidates are:

● Ian Johnston – independent, retired senior police officer from Oakdale, near Blackwood

● Chris Wright – independent, retired police sergeant from Llanbradach

● Hamish Sandison – Labour, lawyer from near Usk

● Nick Webb – Conservative, PR consultant from Newport

 

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