Martin Terry, the Independent Party Group councillor for Thorpe ward and portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste & Transport, has announced his intention to stand for the position of Police & Crime Commissioner for Essex.
I tried to think of something witty or funny to preface it with, but there really is just that. Cllr Terry wants to be the next Police & Crime Commissioner.
So regular readers will know that I have been a ceaseless critic of the idea of elected Police & Crime Commissioners since their inception. They are, in my view, a wrongheaded misuse of democracy, expensive, and have offered no discernible benefit over the previous arrangement.
In Essex, the (Conservative) Police & Crime Commissioner Nick Alston has seemed nothing more than a PR man, wheeled out whenever the police make a mistake or have to make cuts. To the casual observer, he seems to have no power whatsoever.
So what would Cllr Terry do differently? Well, it’s not abundantly clear.
His big announcement in the Southend Echo included two policy points: to rethink the £63m cuts to Essex Police, and to review the turning-off of streetlights across Essex at night. Except, and here is the rub, even were he to pull off the fantastically unlikely feat of winning the position, neither of them are policing-based reforms and neither are things he could do anything about.
True enough, the Police & Crime Commissioner is responsible for setting the police budget. But as Cllr Terry should have learnt from being in administration on Southend Borough Council, a large part of what you are able to do is dependent on how much money you get from the government. I don’t for a moment believe that the leadership of Essex Police wanted to announce £63m-worth of cuts, but their hand has been forced by how much the Home Office is cutting them by.
Could Cllr Terry reverse that? Well, it’s hard to believe that an Independent, with a political history which includes the Labour Party, would have more pull with Home Secretary Theresa May than her party colleague Mr Alston. Particularly when Cllr Terry’s personal support is within one ward of one unitary authority and he has no political allies in Westminster to apply pressure on his behalf.
And the streetlights? Well, regular readers will know from my frequent boasting that the lights have stayed on in Southend. This is due to the fact that the cost-saving measure has been taken by Tory-controlled Essex County Council. So how would Cllr Terry manage to turn the lights back on? Even the district councils beneath the county council have struggled to bribe Essex to turn the lights back on.
To be sure, Cllr Terry’s announcement makes the race to come more interesting from a mischievous blogger’s perspective, but the fact that the only two policies that he has announced would require powers that a Police & Crime Commissioner does not have just underscores my belief that rather than wasting yet more money electing a powerless new PCC, we should be scrapping the role and replacing it with something fit for purpose.