Friday talking point - As police authority chairman resigns - do you agree with commissioner plan?
07:47 21 September 2012
Archant copyright 2011
An emotional Stephen Bett last night pledged to “put Norfolk people first” after he resigned as police authority chairman and cut his Tory ties in readiness for his campaign to become police and crime commissioner.
Conservatives: Former army colonel Jamie Athill, who was educated at Gresham’s School before a career in the army, was elected Norfolk’s Conservative candidate – ahead of three others – following open primaries in July.
Labour: Steve Morphew, the former Norwich City Council leader, was selected as Labour’s Norfolk police and crime commissioner candidate in June.
Liberal Democrats: The party has yet to reveal its candidate for Norfolk.
Independents: Stephen Bett, former Norfolk Police Authority chairman, has announced he is to stand as an independent.
Mervyn Lambert, who runs a Garboldisham-based plant hire, sales, rental and servicing firm has also indicated he is to stand as an independent candidate.
The closing date for those wanting to put their names forward is October 19. The elections are on November 15.
Mr Bett yesterday formally announced his intention to stand as an independent candidate in the race to become the county’s first police and crime commissioner, who will have the power to hire and fire the chief constable and set budgets, after he quit as chairman of the police authority.
The announcement, which came at the end of a meeting of the authority at police headquarters in Wymondham, brought to an end 16 years of service on the authority, the past six of which were as chairman.
A teary-eyed Mr Bett also resigned from the Norfolk County Council Conservative Group(NCCCG), meaning that he will no longer take the Conservative Whip at Norfolk County Council, and quit the North West Norfolk Conservative Association (NWNCA).
He said he had been “proud” to have served on the authority for so long and see it “develop into one of the most efficient and effective in the country” but added the time had come to step down.
“I have always been open about my desire to be the police and crime commissioner for Norfolk – I don’t believe that local policing should be entangled with party politics,” he said. “Rather than toe any party political line, I have stood up for what I believe is right for Norfolk people. I will never do any different, especially when it concerns the safety of our communities.
“I’ve led Norfolk Police Authority on a non-political basis working with colleagues from across the political spectrum to drive improvements in the police service which have, by anyone’s standards, been startlingly good.
“We’ve slashed crime in successive years and become well-known as one of the safest counties in England –Norfolk people have lived with this reassurance since June 2009.
“I’m determined to continue this good work. I’m also determined to see through the plan that the authority has put in place with the constabulary to make the cost savings demanded by central government.
“This is a plan that has been heralded by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary as one of the best in the country – that’s high praise indeed – and I don’t believe there is anyone currently better placed to do that.”
Mr Bett, who missed out on being selected as the Conservatives’ police and crime commissioner candidate for Norfolk in July, said he has been “overwhelmed with the level of support” he has received from the public over the summer, which has confirmed his decision to throw his hat into the ring.
“At a time when funding is reducing, we need an experienced commissioner who has shown they can drive out savings through efficiencies and collaboration, protect the front line and maintain quality services for the people of Norfolk,” he said.
“I’m proud of the recent performance of the constabulary and what has been achieved with the consent of our most important partners – the public – who have backed the authority’s plans to create a modern, efficient and effective constabulary. Yes, I believe there’s more to do, but we have set out on the right direction.”
Mr Bett also paid tribute to his colleagues on the authority and the constabulary. He described them as a “great team” who together have “delivered excellent service to the people of Norfolk”.
Elections for police and crime commissioners, which are to replace police authorities in England and Wales, take place in November.
Mr Bett, who estimates an independent election campaign will cost him between £30,000 and £40,000, revealed he will have James Morgan, president of the NWNCA spearheading his drive, after he resigned as association president.
“I’m going to have a go and if people don’t want me to do it then fine, at least I’ve had a go,” he added.
Following Mr Bett’s resignation, members elected Robin Chapman, currently vice chairman, as the new chairman and David Reeve as the new vice chair of the police authority in its final few days before it is replaced by the incoming police and crime commissioner.
A statement read on behalf of Mr Chapman, who was not at the meeting, said both the authority and the constabulary had much to thank Mr Bett for. “I wish you well in your venture to become police and crime commissioner and shall miss your advice and counsel.”
Jenny McKibben, an independent member of the authority, said Mr Bett had done a “great job” and helped put the force in a strong position by thinking strategically about the future.
Mr Bett, who lives in Thornham, near Hunstanton, with his wife Philippa, is a county councillor for North Coast division and said he would remain so until the next county council elections in May when he would stand down.
His decision to stand as an independent candidate for the £70,000 a-year-post might yet split the Tories who have former army colonel Jamie Athill standing for them after he impressed voters at two open primaries held in Norwich and Swaffham in July.
Derrick Murphy, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, said he had no thoughts on Mr Bett’s resignation “whatsoever”.
He said: “Stephen has decided to go for the police and crime commissioner. I as a Conservative will be supporting the Conservative candidate but it’s up to individuals to do what they want to do.”
Directly elected police commissioners, who take up office on November 22 and serve a four-year term, will oversee the work of police, which ministers say will make forces more accountable.
Critics argue it puts too much power in the hands of one individual and risks politicising the police.
n A panel of professionals and public figures agreed there was no place for politics in policing at a question session ahead of a vote to elect the first county police and crime commissioners.
The panel, which met at Suffolk Police headquarters, felt that the first police and crime commissioner must serve to set priorities without interfering with the role of the chief constable.
Lord Tebbit, former chairman of the Conservative Party, said that the role “could go horribly wrong” if the chosen candidate attempted to make a mark politically.
In Suffolk voters will choose between Labour candidate Jane Basham and Conservative Tim Passmore in November.