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Do people really care?
17 Nov 2012

Who's your commissioner?
Who's your commissioner?
There are two Lloyds, two Hoggs, only one Jones, and he’s not from Wales. In Wales, contrary to expectation, there is only one Michael and the day started with a win for a MacPherson and ended with a MacPherson coming last.

In between there was much drama. As indicated by the first declaration in the results of who will become the new police and crime commissioners (PCCs), Wiltshire’s independents polled enough together to overtake second place, other independent candidates across the country must have thought their message of keeping politics, and political parties, out of policing may just be getting through.

That proved to be the case as momentum grew and some independents not only did well, they trounced their political opponents. The electorate did not take kindly to the political shenanigans and mud-slinging of the Conservative in Kent and residents of Dorset turned their backs on political allegiance to elect the former cop by a long way.

One particular line on returning officers’ returns was a common theme; spoilt or rejected papers were exceedingly high as many of those who did vote chose to spoil their papers in disgust at the running of the election. Those who actually went to the polling stations were so much in the minority that broadcasters struggled to find people to interview. And as those polling booth attendants who saw no-one all day must have had a moment to consider how much the election was costing when every single registered voter either chose to stay away or could not be bothered.

It seems the majority of the public still do not know who has been elected as their police and crime commissioner, especially as Lord Prescott failed in his attempt in Humberside.

Some are arguing that we should get on and make the best of a bad job, police and crime commissioners are here and will take up their office on November 22. Personally, I would like to know how well these new commissioners will be held to account and through what forum. The police and crime panels are expected to sit every three months and I can’t see any more local journalists and members of the public turning up than under the previous regime. I can’t help asking whether the reason police authorities had such a low profile was because that is the nature of police governance at a force level outside of London.

Now the Government’s election spending has ended and the media lens has turned back to Savile, Hillsborough and other controversial subjects, will the public forget about PCCs until they too are embroiled in scandal or they seek our vote again in four years’ time?

The Government says the measure of success of the reform will be whether PCCs reduce crime and not turnout. This would be such a false measure as most candidates put reassurance above crime reduction in their promises and, as crime is already falling and there are many variables at work, it will be almost impossible to show the PCC’s effect on such a measure.

The main reason the Government uses for implementation of such an expensive reform at a time when budgets are being slashed is the lack of accountability of policing locally and the invisibility of police authorities was evidence of a democratic deficit. Let’s hope the public do not refer to them as they do other local politicians; only ever hearing from them when there is an election.

The real success must be in achieving huge savings while protecting services over what will be four difficult years for policing. That will take three things; collaboration, innovation and tough decisions. The first two are unlikely to get any media coverage while the latter all too easy to make into headlines, not that they will be sought for that reason.

We all need PCCs to work but I doubt their efforts will make them any better known than the bodies they replaced, apart from when there are millions of pounds to promote them and have people waiting in polling booths for the public to turn up, or not, and announce their verdict.

For clarification: The two Lloyds mentioned are Tony and David (Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire PCCs), Ron and Tony Hogg were elected in Durham and Devon and Cornwall, Alun Michael was elected in South Wales but his son failed in his bid to be the PCC for North Wales. Angus MacPherson was victorious in the first area to declare (Wiltshire at 4am) while Tam MacPherson came last in the final area to announce its result (Devon and Cornwall just after midnight).

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