Norfolk police commissioner role to be debated

County councillors are set to come to a decision on whether they are for or against an elected police commissioner for Norfolk.

Ministers are planning to replace the existing police authorities, made up of elected county councillors and independent members from the community, with the commissioners by May 2012.

Such a move would see the public directly elect a police commissioner, bringing to an end the current Norfolk Police Authority, made up of councillors and independent members.

The government says that will make forces more accountable and reconnect the public with policing, but critics argue there should be no politics in policing and commissioners could make decisions motivated by their own electoral gain.

At a Norfolk County Council meeting at the end of July, Green county councillors put forward a motion calling for County Hall to write to the government and MPs to request the proposal is abandoned.

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But Roger Smith, Conservative councillor for Henstead, tabled an amendment to the motion, suggesting that, while many councillors might share the sentiment of the Green's motion, it was premature to write to the government and MPs.

He suggested that, before the council committed itself, officers should draw up a report to go to the council's overview and scrutiny panel.

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That report, drawn up by Peter Burnham, head of community safety at Norfolk police, outlines the responsibilities the police and crime commissioner would have - such as appointing the chief constable and holding them to account, setting a five-year plan determining local policing polivies and setting the annual force budget.

The report also states it is not clear what funding will be provided in Norfolk to support the commissioner's office and staff, or what funding will be available to support the electoral process.

The report does not suggest what view councillors should take, but members will be asked on Tuesday to consider the motion from July and comment on before making a recommendation to the council's cabinet.

Green councillor Stephen Little, who seconded the original motion, said he was pleased it would now be debated. He said: 'There seems to be quite a consensus of opinion that this is a bad idea and it was frustrating that it was kicked into the long grass last time. 'It would send a powerful message if a Conservative-run council were to make a strong statement about this.'

The EDP has stated that it does not believe an elected leader of our constabulary is needed or wanted, a stance which has been backed by former Home Secretary and ex-Norwich South MP Charles Clarke and Stephen Bett, the current chairman of the Norfolk Police Authority.

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