Posted on 16th May 2011
The recent vote by the House of Lords to reject directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners from the Government's controversial Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill has been enthusiastically welcomed by members of Derbyshire Police Authority.
The Authority’s Chairman, Philip Hickson said that the vote was a milestone, and represented a voice of reason when the proposals were being considered.
He added: “We have consistently made our own concerns clear, including issues regarding the rushed timescales, the loss of proper representation, the potential for politicisation of the police and the cost of the proposals. It appears that these concerns have been heeded and in the House of Lords at least, sense is prevailing.”
In a debate in the House of Lords last week, Baroness Angela Harris put forward an amendment proposing that Police Commissioners should be appointed (not elected) by a police and crime panel, in much the same way that the Chairs of Police Authorities are currently selected. The proposal won support by 188 votes to 176.
Baroness Harris said directly elected police and crime commissioners posed "great risks to policing" and raised doubts about who would have the power to hire and fire chief constables.
"I am very concerned that the evidence base for making this change is incredibly thin and the consequences of implementing it have not been thoroughly researched or properly thought through," she said.
However, the Home Office has said that it intends to press ahead with the plans to abolish Police Authorities in favour of directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners, costing at least an additional £101m over the next five years.
“I simply fail to see the reasoning,” said Mr Hickson. “How can one person, with an immense portfolio of responsibilities, be representative of all the communities in Derbyshire? Added to that, we know from research into the proposals that there is very little public appetite for this expensive reform.
“If Commissioners are introduced next year, they will come on board at possibly one of the most complex and challenging times for the police in history. The Olympics will be a few short weeks away and the financial challenges will be taking effect as a result of the four year spending cuts that are being applied by the Government. All the experience within the 17 member Police Authorities, which is helping to manage these funding gaps, will be simply thrown away. It is neither logical nor responsible to expect one individual to walk in, take over and manage such a complex and important business.
“If there is a case for change, and I’m not saying the current system is perfect, then let’s have a proper public debate on the issue, which takes into account the view of all those involved. Let’s work on what we have and build on this as opposed to throwing it all away.”
With the Bill still to be debated clause be clause in the House of Lords, timescales for its return to the House of Commons are uncertain. What is clear though is that there is still a lot more work required on this Bill and more public debate needed.
Meanwhile, Police Authorities will have to wait and see what impact, if any, the Lords intervention will have.
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