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Police Commissioner

Police CommissionerIn 'Copping for it - a dim view?' (part of 'Snippets February 2012') we said that later this year, on 15th November to be precise, we were going to have an election to choose a 'Police Commissioner', and we promised to keep readers updated with what was happening.

In the event, our headline turned out to be unexpectedly prophetic.

It seems to us that Police Commissioners belong in places like Gotham City rather than England but be that as it may, Government is currently pressing ahead with its plans.

As we said at the time "We're not that much enamoured of the idea in principle to be honest. Concentrating power into fewer hands is never a good direction for democracy, and the whole ‘directly elected’ thing is pointless in our view unless you also make each candidate set out their financial plan for their term of office – showing how much they will spend, broadly what they’ll spend it on, and how much of that will come from taxation. That way you have something objective to judge them on.

Surprisingly, (because we don't agree with him on almost anything else, and least of all his disgraceful handling of the Jean Charles de Menezes killing) we find ourselves close to the same camp as that of Lord (formerly Sir Ian) Blair who has said the Government's plans for elected police commissioners are a "completely terrible idea that has not been thought through".

So we're going to briefly summarise/reprise our February article as an introduction, then bring readers more up to date.

The present system in Lancashire is that a Police Authority (a sort of committee) which has 17 Members, gives some overall direction to the Lancashire Constabulary.

Broadly speaking, the Police Authority members are responsible for making decisions on behalf of the local community about setting priorities for policing and budgets, (eg the part of our Council Tax which is spent on Policing).

They have no control over operational policing (which remains the responsibility of the Chief Constable), but they can, and do, set what they consider to be overall budgets and priorities.

When there is not enough cash to do everything, they decide how much priority should be put on say, community policing, or on more serious crimes, and where anti-terrorism fits in, and so on.

So who's on the Police Authority? And how do they get to be there?

Well, seven members are appointed from Lancashire County Council, one each comes from the Unitary Councils of Blackburn with Darwen, and Blackpool.

The remaining eight are independent members, selected on merit following public advertisement.

But later this year, the Police Authority is to be abolished and disbanded on the instruction of Government - who say they think Police Authorities are remote, and no-one knows about them - so they're changing the whole system.

We sort of have to agree that most folk have little or no connection with the Police Authority.

But that's not to say the Police Authority don't listen, and they haven't done a good job in the past.

In fact we have first-hand experience of them doing exactly what they should do when, (supported by the Police), we started our campaign to make nightclubs pay for the policing necessary to prevent the disturbance that was being caused when the nightclubs closed in the small hours and disgorged their customers to walk home - causing litter and the evacuation of stomach and bladder contents onto pavements and gardens en-route.

It was only a previous national Government in thrall to the drinks industry who put a block on that proposal. The police, and the Police Authority, and the County Council all supported it.

The Police Service itself stands quite separate from the Police Authority because - as we understand it - the Police are technically Her Majesty's Constabulary and, at the end of the line, they are (thankfully) answerable to the Crown and not directed by Government or Parliament.

We say 'thankfully', because the last thing we need on top of all the draconian and intrusive 'security' legislation we have had in recent times is a police force acting at the behest of any Government.

So that's the background - what's been going on since our February report.

Well, firstly, Government and others have been busy putting out all sorts of guidance and regulations about how it will all work. In fact they've put so much garbage out on what can and can't be done, that it looks to us as though whoever is elected will be pretty much hamstrung before they even get to open their desk.

One of the LGA guidance papers ("Commissioning for better public services") struggles to define what 'commissioning' is, but finds it easier to say what it is not. They say :

  • Commissioning and procurement are not the same. Procurement is the process of acquiring goods, works or services from providers and managing them through a contract. A commissioning strategy may result in procurement, but could just as easily result in a policy change or an information campaign. There are many ways to deliver outcomes.
  • Commissioning is not privatisation or outsourcing. Commissioning does not start with a preconception that services should be provided by a particular sector or type of provider. Who delivers the outcome remains the choice of the council or the partner organisation based on the recommendations form the commissioning process.
  • Commissioning is not just about the bottom line. It is about finding the most efficient way to deliver services, but it is also about creating value – for example, reducing inequality and environmental degradation and improving well-being – by incorporating environmental, social and economic costs and benefits into decision making.

We regard this as being pretty muddled thinking, sloppy logic and inept housekeeping - which does nothing but dilute accountability.

Secondly, despite its view that the (soon to be 'former') Police Authority is a waste of time, Government has required the creation of something called 'Police and Crime Panels.'

The idea here is to make each Police and Crime Commissioner answerable to the public via these panels for the delivery and performance of the police service in their area. The Police and Crime Panels will scrutinise the actions and decisions of the Commissioner, and make sure information is available for the public, enabling them to hold the Commissioner to account.

Yes really!

So in practical terms, what they have done is abolished one committee, replaced it with another, and inserted a 'Commissioner' between that committee and the police. And that's progress.

Whenever there is a new committee like this, and it has a basis in party politics (as this will), terrific infighting goes on behind the scenes to set it up. Machiavellian moves abound as those in power seek to strengthen their control, and to make sure 'the right' people (for which, read those that share their view and will remain beholden and ever so grateful) are elected onto the committee.

Panels are to be made up of at least 10 elected representatives (councillors or elected mayors), one from each local authority (unitary, county and district) within the force area, and two independent co-optees.

So it has happened in Lancashire. Except, as far as we can find out, there won't be eight members of the public responding to adverts as there were on the former 'Police Authority' - because the places are all councillors or their nominees. None is going to be advertised.

The Home Office (from our taxes) will provide £53,300 a year to fund each panel - to cover support and running costs. Expenses of up to £920 will also be available to each member.

Ho hum.

Another unedifying aspect arises from the power scrabble amongst those who would influence the new commissioner and the panel, as they vie for the right to do so.

For example, the Local Government Association recently published "101 ways councils can help PCCs" and it has also published various "candidate surveys" and helpsheets, and it operates a blog for prospective candidates to contact each other.

They say "The LGA is proposing to be a national representative body for the police and crime commissioners once they are elected. This is a dedicated resource aimed at candidates who are standing for election as a PCC in their area." A prospectus they have published outlines how they plan to do this.

They also note that "5 July 2012: The Transitional Board of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and members of the Local Government Association's (LGA) leadership met yesterday to discuss how they could act together to support the work of elected Police and Crime Commissioners at both the local and national level in the public interest."

You can read into that statement a minor skirmish in the battle to be the top association.

Numerous other organisations are competing for the 'professional affections' of prospective commissioners and panels, all of whom want to maintain their powerbase by claiming to be the representative body or association for the new genre of cop steerers.

At the moment it's a race to be first, and it's likely to be quite vicious and manipulative behind the scenes.

Also going on now is the selection of party political candidates to contest November's election.

Still stinging from the resounding "NO" vote that the public gave to Directly Elected Mayors in the recent referenda, and probably with more than half an eye to events in Hartlepool, where, in 2002, residents elected Stuart Drummond masquerading as 'H'angus the Monkey' over all other candidates, and the town's football mascot became its Directly Elected Mayor, the Government has more or less ensured that only party political candidates will be standing as Police Commissioners - they have said each candidate will have to stump up £5,000 in order to stand for election.

In June, the Local Government Association said "Police and crime commissioner candidates believe that party politics will be the most decisive factor in how people vote in this November's elections, according to the first survey of candidates."

The survey found that PCC candidates believe:

  • Party politics will have the most bearing on how people vote. 78 per cent said they thought political party would be among the factors that had the most bearing. 53 per cent said they thought it would be the most important factor.
  • Tackling anti-social behaviour would be a top priority for 69 per cent of candidates, while 50 per cent said clamping down on alcohol-related crime and disorder. Only one respondent said gun and knife crime would be a priority area.
  • Voter turnout will be low, with 75 per cent of candidates saying they expect it to be less than for council elections. 17 per cent said they thought turnout would be about the same.
  • Local councils were identified as a key partner organisation to work closely with by 89 per cent of candidates, while 67 per cent said the probation service and 58 per said voluntary sector organisations.
  • Media profile will be a key factor in how people vote, according to 69 per cent of candidates,
  • 61 per cent said knowledge of crime issues in local area would also be a decider.
  • One in three (33 per cent) thought experience of working for or alongside the police would be a vote winner.

Government has recognised the risk of politicisation and has inserted a requirement that all Commissioners will have to "swear an oath of impartiality when they are elected to office in November." Yes Really!

This is nothing more than a flimsy cloak attempting to hide the Emperor's nakedness. No-one will tell us that a party official ceases to bring their underlying political values and beliefs to the table simply because they have been elected as a Police Commissioner. You can almost predict the priorities that a Labour one will have - and a Conservative or Liberal Democrat one for that matter. Sure they will treat people equally, but the game will be rigged to their political preferences before they start treating anyone.

We wholeheartedly deprecate the way Government has gone about this wrong headed scheme. It should abandon the idea before it is too late. It is a recipe for politicisation of our police force, and it will bring 'Mexican Standoff' budget-setting into a really important part of public life (as is now being seen in at least two places in the north of England, where Directly Elected Mayors are having their proposed budgets overturned by the equivalent of the proposed Crime Panels).

There are also rows going on with the judiciary. Arguments are taking place about who may stand as a candidate, with one judge ruling that serving Magistrates were banned from standing as Police and Crime Commissioners. We're advised that following pressure and challenge, this has since been reduced to something like..... magistrates must ask themselves – “whether it is possible to hold office as a PCC and a magistrate”, with the prompt that “it is the firm view of the senior judiciary that the two roles are not compatible”

There are similar arguments going on about leafleting, and who can (and can't) undertake such activity.

see the interesting 'Top of the Cops' for more information

Talk about 'not thought through'

This a useless idea, incompetently prepared, and ineptly delivered.

Almost no-one (apart from politicians) wants it, thus it has no democratic justification.

When a Government loses the support of its electorate; when it cannot vivify its ideas by convincement alone, and it is reduced to compelling the enactment of its ideas by force of law, it ceases to have the moral authority to govern. It is doomed.

Speaking of 'compelling by force of law', our readers might be interested in this little snippet from within the 'Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012' published last week.....

"61.—(1) A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which

(a) before or during a PCC election, and

(b) for the purpose of affecting the election of any candidate as police and crime commissioner,

makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct is guilty of an illegal practice, unless the person can show that the person had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, the statement to be true."

So we will have to be careful with this next bit.

Then you have to look who is being chosen as the party candidates.

Being a Police and Crime Commissioner is - according to no less than the Prime Minister - a 'big job for a big local figure'

Probably not who he had in mind, but arguably the biggest candidate so far, is John Prescott (now Lord Prescott) - He's shaping up for the Humberside job.

Locally, the first chap to throw his hat into the ring was (as we reported back in February) Ribble Valley businessman and Councillor Kevin Horkin. The Cliteroe Advertiser and Times recently said this of his withdrawal from the election stakes:

"The high profile entrepreneur and Clitheroe town and borough councillor announced his shock withdrawal after he was knocked out of the contest to become the official Conservative Party candidate for the new post, to be elected in November this year.

He said he was “disappointed” at not being selected and is standing down because he believes it is “highly unlikely” an independent candidate will win.

“My objective was to become a Police and Crime Commissioner who would highlight public concerns and get the job done, rather than being a bureaucrat,” said Mr Horkin. “However, it seems the Conservative Party doesn’t want to listen to people with fresh and challenging ideas.”

He added that eight people were selected by Conservative Central Office as potential candidates in Lancashire, of which only four turned up for formal interviews on Friday night.

“It’s been a bit of a fiasco,” he said. “However, I’d just like to thank all those people who have offered me their support over the past five months. There’s always a next time!”

Although Mr Horkin is out of the race, the Conservatives have not yet selected their candidate, with a final selection meeting set for July 14th. The remaining hopefuls as official Conservative candidate are thought to be Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver, fellow county councillor Tim Ashton and former police officer Sam Chapman"

As they say nowadays "Oh My God"

You don't need to be Brain of Britain to guess where this story is going, do you?

Who have the Conservatives selected to stand as their candidate to set the budget and direction for the Chief Constable and the whole of the Lancashire Police Force?

Who is it that has the outstanding characteristics that will guide our policing for the future?


It's none other than our own 'Dim Tim' - One of Fylde's elected Councillors for St John's Ward in Lytham, and representing Lytham on the County Council.

The same chap who's driving the 20mph speed limit scheme through Lancashire.

Now, before we get a nice, proper police officer knocking on the door of counterbalance towers for falling foul of section 61 of the 'Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012' - let us just set out the reasonable grounds that we have to believe, and our actual belief, that Cllr Ashton deserved the 'Dim' epithet.

Chiefly (though not only, because we're not going back as far as the time he and others were censured by the council to which they had been elected for improperly removing wayside benches from St Annes and transporting them to Lytham), our use of 'dim' naming relates to his role as the Fylde Cabinet Member and Portfolio Holder responsible for the Streetscene shambles.

As we documented at the time, (and over several articles), he failed to see that the department for which he was responsible was spending without adequate financial control, and without even knowing how much they had spent. Following a depot fire, (for which his department was not adequately insured) they spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in staff overtime, cannibalising bin lorries, and hiring in bin lorries.

This resulted in Fylde's Finance officer having to report an unexpected overspend of £609,000 and a failure to achieve predicted income of £100,000 giving a total loss of around £700,000 to the Council.

counterbalance reported our concerns about the budgeting and accounting failure that had reached us when we published 'No Accounting for Fylde' in August 2007, but it was not until five months later, when we published our major article 'Incompetence or Fraud?' in January 2008 that the Council partially admitted what had happened and Cllr Ashton was forced to defend his role in the fiasco.

We said at the time " 'Street Scene' (The name for a department that includes all the manual workforce - bin men, gardeners, sweepers etc) - is overseen by Dim Tim, and run on a day to day basis by an officer called David Jenkinson. This department has incurred what the report calls "a significant potential overspend" during this year.

We think it looks like spending that is completely out of control."

It was.

The process to recover that reported loss of £700,000 cost us the closure of both our swimming pools and more.

And what did Cllr Ashton have to say at the (long delayed) inquiry into how the losses came about?

As we reported in 'What a Waste' in March 2011, Cllr Ashton told Fylde's Scrutiny Committee who investigated the matter: "It was unfortunate it happened, I regret it...... that it happened..... but I don't think anybody acted in a way, deliberately, to act wrongly in what happened, and at the end of the day nobody died"

And now the Conservatives have chosen him as the person who would represent them, and be in charge of the whole of the Lancashire's Police budget, directing policing priorities in circumstances where people really do die.

You have to wonder what planet they are living on to have chosen someone with his record.

His Streetscene department went on to make such a bad job of running the waste disposal contract (where Fylde emptied the bins for Wyre Borough), that *Wyre wouldn't even let Fylde bid for the work* when the contract came up for renewal.

So, for those, and other reasons, we awarded him the Dim epithet.

And were not the only one to do so.

In a Council debate on 5 March 2010, Cllr Elaine Silverwood was responding to his assertions about the swimming pool closure when she said "Councillor Ashton, we are not against the St Annes baths re-opening, we'd love to see it re-open, so either you choosing not to listen, or you must be dim - I can't make my mind up which it is"

So we believe what we have said regarding Cllr Ashton's former performance in running the 'Streetscene' department is true and factual, and we believe it constitutes reasonable grounds for us to believe, as we do, that the use of 'dim' is not improper in this context.

So if one choice is Dim Tim, who else might there be to vote for?

Well it seems that so far, Labour have put forward a seasoned and experienced councillor from Wyre called Clive Grunshaw who represents Pharos Ward in Fleetwood. He also represents Fleetwood East on the County Council. He, at least, is a member of the existing Police Authority, so presumably has some idea of what he is talking about.

That said, the only time we have seen him perform has been at a couple of County Council roadshows in the YMCA in St Annes and, to be honest, we were singularly unimpressed.

So with around 80 days to go before we vote, those are the only two candidates for Lancashire.

With that as the choice, we honestly couldn't vote for either, so unless something changes, we'll probably spoil the ballot paper with "None of the above" in order to show how dissatisfied we are with what is happening.

There may be more candidates still to declare of course, and the Government could yet see sense and call the whole thing off, but we admit that's unlikely, so we'll bring readers more in the run up to the election itself.

Dated:  25 August 2012


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