WITH powers to dismiss the Chief Constable, determine crime fighting priorities and control the policing budget, the new Police and Crime Commissioner will have huge potential to change how Lancashire bobbies operate.
With less than four days to the election to decide who will win the prestigious title and £85,000-a-year salary, Lancashire Telegraph crime reporter Vanessa Cornall examines the role and its implications for the force and the public.
AFTER spending more than £1 million in Lancashire alone on Thursday’s elections, the government is still facing the prospect of possibly the lowest turnout in any election held in this country.
There are fears that just one in ten electors will bother to go to the polls, giving rise to serious concerns about the ‘mandate’ that winning candidates will assume.
As for the role itself, opinions are polarised.
Those in support, including its chief backer David Cameron, point to the greater accountability afforded by the commissioner system which, they argue, will do more to address voter concerns.
Opponents’ concerns include fears that politics will be brought into play, with commissioners overstepping the boundaries and embracing policies which reflect their political dogma. Some sceptics say that PCCs may even start interfering in ongoing police operations and are worried they could abuse the power they will have to sack the chief constable.
The new supremo, who will set budgets, will replace the current Police Authority committee made up of councillors, magistrates and lay people in a move the government believes will bring sharp focus on the role of overseeing the county force with a single political figure knowing he or she will carry the can in an election every four years.
The big salary and high-profile role as Lancashire’s chief crimebuster have lured four candidates to throw their hats in the ring.
All four Lancashire candidates promise just that and pledge they will not be interfering in Chief Constable Steve Finnigan’s day-to-day decisions.
They are Liberal Democrat, Afzal Anwar, a barrister from Nelson; Conservative Tim Ashton, a Lancashire County Councillor for Lytham and formerly cabinet member for Highways and Transport; Labour county councillor Clive Grunshaw, a former member of Lancashire Police Authority from Fleetwood; and UK Independence Party candidate Robert Drobny, a former Deputy Mayor of Preesall near Poulton-le-Fylde.
Registered voters will have received polling cards telling them how and where to vote. Further details can be found at http://www.aboutmyvote. co.uk/how_do_i_vote/voting_systems/police_and_crime_ commissioner.aspx The commissioner will be scrutinised by a Police and Crime Panel (PCP), chaired by Blackburn with Darwen council leader Kate Hollern.
It will provide supervision of the new commissioner and guidance when he faces difficult and controversial issues while ensuring political leanings are not brought into play on operational issues.
The difficulty here, some argue, is that the panels themselves can sometimes have political agendas.
But concerns about the new system being over-politicised are likely to come down to the personalities involved.
In some areas, with voices of reason in play, it may well turn out to be a great success whereas other counties could see headline-grabbing PCCs acting irresponsibly. At its best, an effective commissioner will be a leader who brings councils and other local agencies together to improve the criminal justice system whether that’s tackling child protection issues, getting more bobbies on the beat or simply improving the processing of offenders through the courts.
And yes, the PCC should ensure that the chief constable is listening to the concerns of the public – without interfering in day-to-day operations.
In the coming weeks we will discover which type of commissioner we have voted in.