This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A critical test of the PCC structure

A week from now, the polls will be open across the South Yorkshire police area to elect a new Police & Crime Commissioner. This will be the second by election for a PCC: the first was in the West Midlands and followed the untimely death of Bob Jones. The turnout in that election was 10.4%

The South Yorkshire poll could not be happening in more politically controversial circumstances: not only does it follow the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal & subsequent tardy resignation of the former Labour PCC, police conduct matters, long past but still very raw, also feature (Orgreave & Hillsbrough). The four candidates (Conservative, English Democrats, Labour & UKIP) featured on a live webcast a couple of days ago, in a live Star and Sheffield Telegraph Question Time-style debate. (I would say it was more oak, pine & cedar that QT style!)

The election will be a critical test of the PCC governance structure. Given the context, if this by election does not gain at least a 35% turnout (roughly equivalent to an average turnout in a local authority election), then the claims that PCC role is all about popular democracy & local accountability will be simply null and void.

As a (British!) democrat, obviously I hope that the turnout will exceed this minimal threshold and perhaps even match what we saw in Scotland a few weeks ago. I want people to be actively engaged with the future of policing, crime and community safety. (For the record, I also want the NHS to be much more democratically accountable, and far less stitched up by professionals with dubious conflicting commercial interests as I have reported on before. Why isn't it Tory policy to have elected Health Commissioners too?)

Despite the political protestations of the (neutral civil servant?) Chief Executive of the Office for the Police & Crime Commissioner of the Devon & Cornwall in an article in Police Professional a few weeks ago that he has:
worked in both recent governance arrangements – the police authority and the current PCC set-up. It is true that the power in police authorities was spread across the 17 to 21 members. This, in itself, might not be an issue. The issue – and Labour and the Lib Dems seemed determined to repeat this with their emerging proposals – is that police authorities found it impossible to make decisions.
...I assume he will have read the Stevens Report and subsequent statements by front bench spokespeople from both Labour & LibDem parties. In his role as the impartial professional adviser to the PCC, he would know that democratic accountability is a key ingredient in both emerging policies.

Mr White also reflects on whether the public do or do not want PCCs, that it would be an 
interesting challenge to any politician to see how much the public would lend their support to any of them.  
Chief Executive Mr White might want to reflect upon how many people vote in other elections which is the critical way in which most citizens show their support...

Let us all reflect on the implications of the South Yorkshire PCC election, eight days from now. It will be fascinating to see who wins and what the turn out is...


  1. I always vote and I believe in democracy, but I won't be voting for these candidates and I object to the role of PCC so I'll spoil my vote like I did last time in the PCC election.

    1. Fair point Tom. I count an intentionally spoiled ballot paper as a vote.