Former home secretary Charles Clarke has backed the EDP’s call for the government to scrap its plan for directly-elected police commissioners.

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Fears that political interference could undermine policing are among the key concerns voiced by the influential former MP.

The coalition’s plan for elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) is aimed at ensuring the forces of law and order listen to the concerns of ordinary people.

Ministers say the role, which is an integral part of reforms in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, would transfer power to people instead of the “remote and invisible” police authorities which it will replace.

However, Mr Clarke, who was police minister from 1999 to 2001 and home secretary from 2004 to 2006, said there were real fears over direct political involvement in operational policing.

He said: “Senior police officers generally are very concerned about the elected police commissioner’s role because they believe it will bring serious uncertainty to the way in which they carry out their policing decisions.

“I would say I’m delighted the EDP has come out against the idea of elected police commissioners for Norfolk. I hope that all the MPs in Norfolk will listen to their position.”

In particular Mr Clarke points to the interventions carried out by London mayor Boris Johnson, who sacked the Metropolitan Police leader, Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, in 2008 and this year removed his support from Paul Stephenson.

Mr Clarke said police must be able to focus upon their operational responsibilities without political distractions, and directly-elected commissioners would bring partisan politics into the heart of operational policing and diminish police confidence.

He added: “The campaigns will oversimplify the difficult issues around policing.

“For example, it is quite possible to run a campaign saying ‘arm the police in Norfolk’, even though it is not a matter that should be decided by elections of that kind.

“Or we could see a campaign from other people saying the police should not be policing the drug consumption issues, because drugs should not be illegal.

“These kind of campaigns, which would be very populist in tone, would simplify and distort.”

Yesterday the EDP voiced its message to the government that an elected leader of our constabulary is not needed or wanted.

Here’s a recap of what we said:

“As things stand, next May we will go to the polling booths to vote for an elected Police and Crimes Commissioner with a mandate that includes the power to hire and fire the chief constable and setting the force budget. The cost nationally of this new system, according to Home Office figures, will be more than £130m, plus another £50m for elections every four years.

That is hardly chicken feed in an age of austerity and belt-tightening.

It is open to debate what makes the government think an elected commissioner is better qualified to oversee Norfolk Constabulary than the chief constable and Independent Police Authority.

Officially the reason for the reforms given by home secretary Theresa May in July 2010 is that they are about ‘reconnecting police and the people’. In Norfolk that would appear to be trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

Our chief constable is accountable to the local Police Authority and has to stand by his record. The letters pages of this newspaper are not inundated with readers’ grumbles against the constabulary.

Indeed the EDP has been proud to use the headline ‘safest county in the country’ more than once in recent years.

And in the past few weeks HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has praised efforts by Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies to work jointly to make combined savings of £38m over the next four years. That praise has been nothing less than effusive: “the collaboration proposals are some of the most ambitious and well-planned in the country”. The change plan was described as “exemplary”. HMIC has advised other forces to talk to ours for advice on how to make savings in backroom functions while protecting the frontline.

So Norfolk Constabulary does not appear to be broken and does not need fixing with the government’s broad brush approach.

Police and politicians have never made comfortable bedfellows and there is a very real danger in these reforms of creating a politicised police force. What if the commissioner wanted to be populist and put more bobbies on the beat in the city? That would be interfering with the chief constable’s guaranteed operational independence. If he refused, presumably the commissioner could say, Lord Sugar-like, “You’re fired!”

What if the US President-style commissioner wanted to extract Norfolk from the cost-cutting exercise with Suffolk and exert his own authority? Presumably the savings would be lost from shared IT, human resource, finance and administration and in creating joint policing and criminal justice units? That would mean the commissioner would have to raise the council tax precept. But that might be rejected by the newly-created independent Police and Crime panel, set up to replicate the police authority, who have power of veto over precept levels.

Oh dear, now the election of a commissioner has actually created problems where ones did not exist.”

15 comments

  • I agree with AT. In addition Charles Clarke says “Senior police officers generally are very concerned about the elected police commissioner’s role because they believe it will bring serious uncertainty to the way in which they carry out their policing decisions" Mr. Clarke, please explain what this drivel means?

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    Beady

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • AT is spot on - for starters let get rid of ACPO, a government quango which is overpaid by the tax payers. Getting rid of it would cause no harm whatsoever. C Clarke quoting the removal of Ian Blair and Stephenson as supporting his argument confirms to me that he is completely wrong. With regard to the supposed £180 million cost, I challenge EDP to produce figures supporting this supposed cost. Have you made it up?

    Report this comment

    andy

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • Running elections is expensive and politicians seem anxious to ensure sure that the inefficient and wastefull practises carry on. No ID at the booth, fraudulent postal voting for all and sundry, rather than electronic voting, as well as a hefty bill for counting staff could all be streamlined. Abolishing a non functional electroal commission that has no powers to scrutinise, nor the staff to undertake such scrutiny of rotten burroughs, make this agency superfluous.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Friday, August 19, 2011

  • Perhaps someone could enlighten me on this one. As I understand it, a parliamentary majority is responsible for passing the acts of parliament which become law and it is the duty of the police to enforce these laws. The police, therefore, are politicised by definition as was ably demonstrated by Mr. Clarke's government which, I believe, passed over three thousand new acts.

    Report this comment

    Thoreauwasright

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • Charles Clarke is accountable for his remunerations and expenses, the travel perks and allowances he received whilst in office, and he was removed by the voters, albeit by a small margin, it is inconceivable that his words count more than one. Voters should not be facing a fetacompli candidate, elections should offer a choice of two at least and as mentioned by others, why should there only be an ACPO candidate?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • "Our chief constable is accountable to the local Police Authority and has to stand by his record" Exactly - Mr Clarke has blown his argument out of the water. The toothless Police Authority is accountable to no one. There are no means by which the tax payer of Norfolk can have any influence on the way Norfolk is policed.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • NRG: Do you consider the EDP campaign to be wanting to be easy on crime then? I find it amazing how the Cameron fans always want spending cut (in particular any Labour ideas) but will happily see £180m spent on this one.

    Report this comment

    anglia_squared

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • I'm always suspicious of people who are against simplifying what they see as 'difficult issues' - (and I take this sort of thing very seriously!)

    Report this comment

    Thoreauwasright

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • I think democracy is wonderful in as far as it allows frothy-mouthed knee-jerkers to air their ill considered prejudices in letters and comments columns. I can even accept they get an equal vote in electing politicians, but I really don't want to live in a country where they have direct control of the Police. For once an EDP campaign I can wholeheartedly support!

    Report this comment

    Tressells Broadbrush

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • Seem to remember that old nuLabour shout of pre-election 1997....tough on crime,tough on the causes of crime!!! As most of the rioters appear to be either born or schooled during the nulabour reign, we should completely ignore this out of touch failed MP.

    Report this comment

    nrg

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • Andy - The Home Office themselves have said it would cost £130m to set up and run in the first year. According to other newspapers, running the elections would cost £50m every four years (a similar tune to most elections). The Home Office states that running costs would be £80m every year and that new officials could earn as much as £122,000 a year under the plans. You can try to accuse the EDP of making it up but it seems to well publicised the costs behind it...

    Report this comment

    anglia_squared

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

  • "Fears that political interference could undermine policing are among the key concerns voiced by the influential former MP" - The last government became past masters at undermining the police service. The Home Office micro managed the police service, introducing target after target and tying it`s hands with endless red tape, form filling and social engineering legislation. Charles Clarke, like the rest of his party, seem to have collective amnesia about what they actually got up to during their time in government.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • Seeing as he shares the view of the EDP, should we therefore not take the EDP seriously either?

    Report this comment

    anglia_squared

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

  • What's that noise? Oh don't worry it's just another overpaid civil servant with his snout in the trough - That's all this will be pee more money up the wall when we don't have any, what a great idea

    Report this comment

    Richard_Waugh

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

  • I would like to see ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) cease to exist. It receives public money yet it conducts itself like a private company. As for Charles Clarke, he, Blair, Brown and Mandelson did so much damage to this country during their time in charge that nobody should ever take any of their views seriously again.

    Report this comment

    angry taxpayer

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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