Poll: Concerns expressed again over plan for police commissioner in Norfolk

Plans to bring an elected police commissioner to Norfolk have again come under fire from local councillors.

In recent weeks the EDP has called for the scrapping of government plans to replace police authorities with directly-elected commissioners.

At County Hall yesterday councillors gave representatives of Norfolk Police Authority a grilling about the current plans after a report was prepared for the meeting of the community services overview and scrutiny panel.

The chief executive of Norfolk Police Authority, Chris Harding, stood up to some tough questioning, flanked by the author of the report Peter Burnham, head of community safety at Norfolk police.

Mr Harding quickly made it clear that he was not present to offer his opinion on the situation but would do his best to answer questions in his role as a civil servant delivering a government directive.

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That report outlines the responsibilities the police and crime commissioner would have – such as appointing the chief constable and holding them to account, making a five-year plan determining local policing policies and setting the annual force budget.

Leader of the council's Labour group, George Nobbs, asked Mr Harding: 'Do you know anybody who supports this proposal?'

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Mr Harding replied: 'Yes, the government. It is in the current coalition agreement that they will support this. Locally the media have drawn attention to this situation, particularly in the EDP, and I think that is very good that the public are being made aware of the proposals.'

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.

It was one of those points that Ian Monson, councillor for The Brecks, questioned.

He asked about the accountability of the proposed commissioner, saying: 'I was talking to a senior police officer and they were very lukewarm to these proposals. I'm wondering how the relationship between the police commissioner and chief constable is going to work?

'We may get through many chief constables if we don't have a commissioner who can develop a good relationship with their chief constable. There is a great danger of this so is there any type of qualifications the commissioner must have?'

Nigel Shaw, councillor for the Woodside division, added that the prospect of the commissioner not being able to be sacked by anyone was 'ridiculous' and tantamount to 'a one-person quango'.

The councillors were advised that any criminal conviction of more than two years was one of the 'limited circumstances' that would bring about a commissioner being sacked and told that a chief constable could only be sacked by the commissioner with the support of two thirds of a supporting police and crime panel.

Fiona Williamson, councillor for Lakenham, questioned how turnout for the elections to choose the commissioner would be representative of the whole of Norfolk when turnouts for wider-ranging political elections were already so low.

Mr Harding said that plans to hold the elections on the same day as county council elections were being discussed - with the supplementary vote system being used for the commissioner election - and that government resources were planned to advertise and inform the public of the elections.

Feedback from the scrutiny panel will be asked for at a county council cabinet meeting next Monday before a decision on whether to write to the government and MPs to request the proposal is abandoned.


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