police and crime commissioner

“No go areas” and holding power to account


nick alston

It is, I suspect, a mark of how far into the realms of political geekery I have slipped, that fair game as Friday evening entertainment is watching recordings of public meetings on YouTube. For those worrying for my sanity, I should point out that my evening has also included a trip to the library, and may yet feature a film or two.

The meeting, though, in question was a public meeting from last week with the Chief Constable of Essex Police Stephen Kavanagh, alongside the Police & Crime Commissioner for Essex Nick Alston, and his deputy Lindsay Whitehouse. Thrilling, eh?

I didn’t attend the meeting, but given that a crime and policing is — in my opinion — shaping up to be a big issue in Southend as budgets are cut away to nothing (a subject I mean to return to in future blogs) it is something I am happy to make time for.

Read on…

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Independent Audit into Thames Valley PCC’s Expenses


anthony stansfeld jon harvey chauffeurI’m not sure if blogging does make any difference to the real world, but on the strength of recent evidence I might have to start trying fancy dress. It certainly seems to have d for my good friend (and fellow PCC-scrutiniser) Jon Harvey.

After turning up to the local Police and Crime Panel meeting dressed as a chauffeur we actually seem to be getting somewhere on Anthony Stansfeld’s cavalier use of expenses.

Read on…

Thames Valley Police Commissioner Proves Me Right


anthony stansfeld would you buy a used car from this manCast your minds back to last October/November. The political sphere was abuzz with the impending elections for Police and Crime Commissioners across the country. I, at the time, was warning anyone who would listen that the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley — one Anthony Stansfeld, always the favourite to win the poll — was unfit for the job.

He was, I said, lacking in any ideas to improve the police, any ingenuity as to what the role was for, and a “cavalier attitude to transparency“. His only discernible policies were that the new commissioner would have a chauffeur, and that he would focus on “rural crime”. Predictably, come voting day a combination of atrocious turnout, atrophied safe Conservative areas, and some truly dreadful independent candidates, Mr Stansfeld won.

Now, I genuinely don’t like saying I told you so. Me being right about Mr Stansfeld gives me no pleasure, for the simple fact that it changes nothing. But it seems that was right, and that my concerns were well founded. So bully for the voting residents of the Thames Valley.

Mr Stansfield has achieved his only concrete policy, and acquired a chauffeur (on an apparent salary of £19,700 of taxpayers’ money), as well as one of Thames Valley Police’s Audi A6 cars. This despite the millions of pounds of cuts to front-line policing that the police service is having to make.

But that’s not all. According to the Daily Mail (and believe me, I hate to link you there) Stansfield’s acquisition of said car came only after he tried to fiddle expenses rules so that the police force (i.e. all of us) paid for his journey to work. Mr Stansfeld couldn’t claim the 37 mile journey from his home to the HQ in Kidlington. So he moved his office to a small, part-time police station in Hungerford, meaning that travel to Kidlington was no longer travel to his main place of work (and thus could be claimed).

Money well spent, then.

For a bit of political balance, here’s what the chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (the bleedin’ Taxpayers’ Alliance, for God’s sake — it’s practically a Tory campaign group) had this to say:

Anthony Stansfeld’s pop-up office appears to be part of a cynical scam to milk the system for as much cash as possible.

It’s hard to disagree really, particularly when it seems that the man is still a councillor (with an allowance) on West Berkshire Council.

I think that Anthony Stansfield is a disgrace. But the problem isn’t limited to one bad egg. The entire Police and Crime Commissioner system is flawed, and should be torn down at the earliest available opportunity. Salaries of £85,000 are being handed out to these people in order to politicise police budgets and take accountability. Whatever party banner that person stands under, this cannot be a good route to be taking.

Anthony Stansfeld is not the only problem with Police Commissioners. But he is an excellent example of why we should not have them.

UPDATE: The man himself has spoken up. Anthony Stansfeld has told the Witney Gazette:

I am extremely good value for money. If I could hire myself I would charge a lot more.

Modesty and humility is the order of the day then? The biggest emerging problem that I can see is that there is no actual way of holding Mr Stansfeld (or any PCC for that matter) to account. There is no oversight body, no review tribunal, no ethics board. Police and Crime Commissioners really do seem to be a law unto themselves.

The Thames Valley Police Commissioner results (and what they mean)


So, it’s all over. The votes have been counted, collated, and are in the process of being picked over by those sad individuals with nothing better to do with their time (such as myself). But Anthony Stansfeld has been elected as the first Police and Crime Commissioner, so congratulations are due to him.

Below I have assembled a breakdown of the results by candidate and first/second preference. I feel mine are more accurate than the BBC’s, as for reasons best known to themselves they have decided not to include the spoilt ballot figures. Personally, I think spoilt ballots making up over 3% of the total vote is worthy of mention, but anyway:

Name 1st pref 2nd pref Mandate
STANSFELD, Anthony (CON) 76,011 — 33.60% 94,238 — 54.76% 7.28%
STARKEY, Tim (LAB) 56,631 — 25.00% 70,403 — 40.91%
HOWARD, Geoff (IND) 31,716 — 14.00%
HOWSON, John (LD) 20,511 — 9.05%
COOPER, Barry (UKIP) 19,324 — 8.53%
AWE, Patience Tayo (IND) 14,878 — 6.57%
SPOILT 7,445 — 3.29% 7,445 — 4.33%
Total 226,516 172,086

So there you have it. The turnout was a mere (and embarrassing) 13.3%, which is the lowest turnout I’ve ever seen in an election. When I say that Commissioner Stansfeld has the support of only 7.28% of people in the Thames Valley, it’s not sour grapes, but an underscoring of the real winner of these elections: voter apathy.

Thames Valley voters simply did not turn out on Thursday, and from everything I’ve heard it’s simply because they do not believe that we should have an elected Police Commissioner.

I am, of course, disappointed that Tim Starkey did not win. I wasn’t in favour of the role, but I thought he was definitely the best candidate and would have made the best job of it (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?). It was always going to be a long shot, but still. Disappointed.

And more disappointment over the Liberal Democrat candidate only polling in fourth. Don’t get me wrong, normally hardship for Clegg’s party would be a cause for giggles (and many hearty giggles were had over their losing their deposit in Corby), but John Howson lost out to “Independent” Geoff Howard, a man who has formerly been a member of Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP, and who offered absolutely nothing to voters. I am forced to conclude that he garnered many votes simply because he ran as an independent.

I’m a touched surprised that UKIP’s Barry Cooper didn’t do better than he did. Possibly it was his views on police armament which hurt him, or maybe all of the fringe-right eurosceptics stayed at hime. It’s hard to tell really.

But none of it changes the outcome. After what has frankly been a disaster of an election (and of policy execution) Anthony Stansfeld will head the Thames Valley Police until May 2016. I still have a great many concerns about him, and I worry that he will be a model of unaccountability in the role — which is ironic, really.

Hopefully he won’t now be refusing interviews with the media and refusing to answer questions put to him, but I have my doubts. At any rate, with the support of only 7.28 of his constituents, and offering no concrete policies in his campaign to boot, I am adamant that he has no mandate at all for radical changes to policing. And you can be sure I will call him out if he attempts any.

I suspect that, regardless, he has just been made a patsy for police cuts to come and rising crime as a result. But his success would benefit all of us, and is in all our interests. So I wish him the very best of luck. I reckon he’ll need it.

Thames Valley Police Commissioner Hustings in Wokingham


The most common thing I hear from people when I talk to them about the Police & Crime Commissioner elections —  now less than three weeks away — is that they have no idea who the candidates are, or what policies they are standing on.

It’s an understandable problem, really. The Thames Valley is a big area, and the elections have been both terribly timed and remarkably unpromoted, given that they’re for a major new public office. Unless voters have specifically gone looking for candidates’ positions (or maybe not even then) or they have been canvassed by activists then there is little chance they will have much idea what each candidate is proposing.

So local hustings have been of primary importance in this campaign. There have been several already, but Wednesday will see the candidates coming to Wokingham for a public debate. The Finchampstead Society will be hosting a debate at 7:30pm at the Memorial Hall (Wokingham, RG40 4JU) where the candidates will be speaking and available to answer questions.

As far as I’m aware, only the three main party candidates have confirmed attendance: John Howson (Lib Dem), Anthony Stansfeld (Conservative), and Tim Starkey (Labour). Which leaves the two remaining independents and the UKIP candidate may well not be there. But it’s better than nothing.

I shall be there, and I urge any residents of the Thames Valley area who can make it to join me. This is a serious and major public office, and we are running a real risk of allowing a candidate to sleepwalk into it with no real scrutiny or democratic process. Come along on Wednesday evening, and put your questions to the people vying to be your first Police & Crime Commissioner.

Anthony Stansfeld’s first policy


With the general lack of awareness of the Police Commissioner elections, hopes of a high turnout are slim to non-existent. But there’s still a certain arrogance in anyone presuming victory weeks before votes are even cast.

And yet, that seems to be exactly what the Conservative candidate in the Thames Valley Anthony Stansfeld is doing.

Despite running a campaign apparently without any policy ideas, Stansfeld thinks he already has it in the bag. His website is a pretty clear indicator of his campaign: mostly empty, with a national news stream, and last updated over a month ago. Indeed, his primary selling point seems to be making a link between his sitting on the Performance Committee of Thames Valley Police Authority (which the Police Commissioner would replace) and an increase in crime detection.

Except, that the committee meets once every three months. Do we really believe that he is the sole driving force behind this?

But it goes further than that. The police are facing millions of pounds of budget cuts, cuts which are taking officers off the front line (in direct contravention of Conservative promises). Police pay is frozen and their morale is in the pits, and what is Cllr Stansfeld doing?

Brilliant. Anthony Stansfeld’s first actual policy of this election: a car and chauffeur, ready for when he is anointed Police Commissioner. He hasn’t even won the election yet, and he’s already spending police service money on himself — rather than fighting and preventing crime. Might I suggest, people of the Thames Valley, that you elect someone else? Someone who has ideas for how to improve policing? Someone whose ego isn’t the complete extent of their campaign?

Elect someone other than Anthony Stansfeld.