Richard North, 17/12/2012  

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I don't recall whose bright idea it was originally to have elected police commissioners (although we see the idea in the 2005 Conservative Manifesto and in a Cameron speech of 16 January 2006: "There are various options for achieving such local accountability. Police Authorities could be directly elected. They could be replaced by an individual who is directly elected, like a police commissioner. Or elected mayors could fulfil this role").

However, in largely ignoring the elections, the general public displayed a greater degree of judgement than the progenitor(s) of the idea.

Needless to say, despite the near-universal lack of enthusiasm for this additional and useless layer of bureaucracy, we are having to pay the bill – and in more ways than one. Firstly, there is the growing scandal of the deputies, with police commissioners appointing friends, relatives and political associates to posts worth up to £68,000 a year, with charges of "cronyism" abounding.

Such scandals are being picked up by local newspapers, giving them a whole new vein to mine, one of the latest coming from the Shropshire Star, where former Staffordshire policeman Barrie Sheldon has been appointed by Bill Longmore to the role after working with him during his campaign to become West Mercia's first police and crime commissioner.

Now, there is even a dedicated blog called Top of the Cops, its latest post dealing with the strange behaviour of Lancashire's police commissioner Clive Grunshaw. This man, it seems, has an imaginative way of accounting for his expenses, being accused of "double claiming" mileage payments.

The Tory leader of Lancashire County Council, Geoff Driver, has called for Grunshaw to resign. "It doesn’t give a good impression of whether the police and crime commissioner can be trusted", he says.

Strangely, Driver then adds: "The people of Lancashire are entitled to expect the utmost highest standards of honesty from their Police and Crime Commisioner and if he is shown to have been claiming for the same journey from the police authority and the county council he should resign". No mention there of a prosecution, but if the man has been cheating on his expenses, this is a criminal offence.

This, though, is only the smaller part of the whole, with one police commissioner proposing to appoint 17 new staff, including four assistant commissioners on salaries of £65,000, to take over from the six existing staff employed by the police authority he replaces. That is serious money compared with the petty cash trousered by errant commissioners who have trouble keeping tab on their expenses.

The real problem, though, is the political belief that elected officials are a means of solving problems – the false idea that "democratic" elections are a means of resolving issues which would otherwise need structural reform. Those who favour such ideas have a very limited understanding of the nature of democracy, and have in this instance have created a whole raft of new problems, without solving any of the existing ones.

And in all this it is important to remember that, should anyone in disgust at this new system, refuse to pay their police precept component of the their Council Tax – by way of a protest – they will be being arrested and imprisoned. These days, chasing Council Tax defaulters is the only thing the police do well, but the advent of the police commissioners means they are going to have to get even better.


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