No benefit and all the costs of misguided police commissioners
Independent candidate Brian Greenslade, who came second in last year's ballot to elect Devon and Cornwall's police and crime commissioner, reflects on the first year of the office.
Firstly a big thank you to Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer and the police service for Cornwall, Devon and Scilly Isles for reducing crime figures, despite the budget cuts, and continuing to make our area one of the safest places in the world to live, work and visit.
I believe their job would have been simpler if the Government had not pushed through the dotty idea of police commissioners who have now been in office for nearly one year.
As I and many others predicted this would be more costly and lead to politics in policing and make the governance of policing far less visible than before.
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Sadly the PCC for our area, Tony Hogg, has just helped to prove these concerns are true. Within the last few weeks the Western Morning News has reported on how Commissioner Hogg has inflated his office head count and costs. Evidence that PCCs are more expensive than the former police authorities.
We have also witnessed Mr Hogg rushing to pin the blame for a likely fear that the police will miss their crime reduction target by 2% this year onto the police service. Presumably his attempt to deflect blame from himself. Evidence of the way PCCs bring "politics into policing".
When we had police authorities, debate and decisions affecting our police were in public and easily reportable by newspapers like the Western Morning News. Now Mr Hogg takes decisions behind closed door. Evidence of police governance is now less visible than before.
Having many years experience of dealing with the police budget, as a member of the former police authority, I felt ready, had I won the PCC election last year, to have reduced the former police authority budget by £500,000 over the three-and-a-half year mandate.
These savings would have gone directly to pay for police officers at the sharp end. This better use of resources could have helped the police to have met their crime reduction target and most certainly been better for police morale than the profligate approach adopted by Mr Hogg.
What would I have done to achieve this? Firstly stop paying for a separate office in Exeter for the commissioner and moved into the police campus at Middlemoor.
Secondly, cut out the duplication of senior posts between the police and commissioner's office. Thirdly, sought to share the senior posts that are required with other PCCs like neighbouring Dorset.
Fourthly, instead of appointing new extra posts to the commissioner's office, communications and marketing for example, bought in whatever additional resources that might be needed from other bodies like local government as and when justified.
Police authorities, like local councils, met in public and their debate and decisions were regularly reported by the Western Morning News and others. Mr Hogg can take decisions without such openness to the public being required.
This "democratic deficit" troubled me and had I become the PCC for our area it was my intention to hold "decision days" in public where I would have taken key decisions firstly by explaining what was proposed and why and giving the public/staff reps the chance to ask questions and make points before a decision was taken.
These "decision days" would have been held across the two counties and the Scilly Isles and the press, radio and TV could have attended and reported upon these events. That would have been real challenge for the PCC.
I believe this would have been more effective challenge for the PCC than the police and crime panels the Government set up who frankly do their best but have very little power. So much for the Government's claims of "rigorous accountability".
When I attended the panel meeting which examined Mr Hogg's budget proposals for 2013/14, I fingered the increased staffing costs shown in the report. Mr Hogg has just ignored that and gone on and inflated his head count to the detriment of the Police Service.
While the introduction of police and crime commissioners is not Mr Hogg's fault but, rather a result of the Prime Minister's desire to subject the police to his political whims and prejudices, there was much our PCC could and should have done to have made the flawed system work better for the public and the police in Cornwall, Devon and the Scilly Isles.
Little wonder only 15% of the electorate bothered to vote at last November's election.
All of this a far cry from the promise of improved policing for the public made by the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and the then Police Minister Nick Herbert. The priority should be coppers not commissioners.