Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Police Commissioner nonsense

I have just attended a meeting of the Electoral Review Panel, where we debated a number of issues including the likely forthcoming election for a Police Commissioner for "Devon and Cornwall" in May 2012.

It was an issue that I also covered in my column in this week's Cornish Guardian. It was as follows:

At the present time, the work of Devon and Cornwall Constabulary is overseen by a Police Authority made up of ten appointed councillors and nine independent members.

But this will all change if the Government gets its way. And it will be bad news for Cornwall.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is slowly winding its way through Parliament and includes a proposal for a single, elected Police Commissioner to run each police area.

It also proposes that each commissioner would be scrutinised by a Police Board, once again comprising appointed councillors, but weaker than the current authority.

Many people, including representatives of police officers, have spoken out against the politicisation of policing.

I share this view and question how making police matters into an electoral football once every four years will benefit local communities.

I also consider it wrong that so much influence could be vested into the hands of one individual.
It seems to me that the legislation put forward by the Conservative-led Government has clearly not been thought through.

It specifies that the election of commissioners should be via a form of preferential voting. And yet, only weeks ago, the Conservative Party led opposition to the introduction of a similar voting system for elections to the Westminster Parliament. What double standards.

Cornish communities would also be at an electoral disadvantage, as the population of Devon is approximately twice that of Cornwall and our local interests could easily fall below those of our neighbours.

Most ludicrously of all, it is proposed that every principal authority in Cornwall and Devon should nominate one councillor to serve on the board.

This would leave Cornwall massively under-represented. Our 530,000 residents would be expected to make do with just one board member. The Council of the Isles of Scilly would also have one representative, for its 2,000 residents.

Devon (population 1,140,000) would meanwhile have 11 people on the board – one representative for each of Devon County Council, the two unitary authorities (Plymouth and Torbay), as well as the eight district councils (East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon).

It has to be asked – how did the Government manage to come up with such a ridiculous proposal that can so distort the membership of the panel? Politicians from all parties are continuing to make representations on this issue and last week Cornwall Council formally wrote to the Home Secretary.

It remains to be seen whether central Government is listening and will act.

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