Adam Simmonds is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire
It will come as no surprise to anyone that I won’t be voting Labour in a few weeks’ time. But it was with a real sense of disappointment that I read its criminal justice policies.
I love our country and our system of government, and really enjoy elections – the policy debate in particular. I like to hear good and new ideas; challenge myself to look beyond the party political spin and reflect the ‘possible’ that often comes through in manifestos. But this election has produced a real poverty of ambition from Labour.
When Tony Blair was Shadow Home Secretary he made sense. He fundamentally challenged ‘the system’ to do better. His ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ characterised a mood that still exists today. I can say with confidence that Blair had the ability to convince members of the public that Labour were going to make a difference. But their current shadow home affairs team is possibly the worst in a generation. It also threatens to put progressive and necessary reform at risk, taking us all backwards and possibly endangering our communities, not making them safer.
Firstly, Labour have maintained their ‘political point scoring’ attitude by refusing to back down on their determination to scrap Police and Crime Commissioners.
They have decided this by choosing to outright ignore members of their very own party who currently hold these positions. Labour PCCs up and down the country have recognised and utilised the potential of our role to reduce crime and build safer communities in our areas. One example is Vera Baird, the Labour PCC for Northumbria, who has led the drive to tackle violence against women and girls in her county. Vera is succeeding in delivering actions such as launching the ‘Safe Newcastle’ project to ensure the safety of women and girls in the night-time economy; and promoting a model domestic violence policy to 120 employers in her county.
I have also been working closely with Paddy Tipping, the Labour PCC for Nottinghamshire, to share back–office functions through the Cheshire Multi-Force Shared Service to drive efficiency and reduce costs. This is just one example of collaboration between forces despite political allegiances. Despite such significant work – which could not have happened without PCCs in place – their own party have refused to take notice.
What is even more pitiful is the supposed ‘savings’ that will be made if PCCs are scrapped. The figure of £50 million has been used throughout Labour’s plans that will apparently be put back into frontline policing. This figure can be discarded straight away, given that the 2016 elections are already planned to run alongside local government elections – reducing this proposed saving almost immediately. But there is an even greater difficulty.
If PCCs are scrapped, they will need to be replaced by something, or someone. Yet Labour, for the duration of their term in Opposition, have not bothered to plan what they will replace PCCs with. The manifesto includes vague ideas about giving the public a ‘say over the appointment of local police commanders’. I can’t imagine those who perceive PCCs as politicising the police would be too happy with electing those at the commander level. At the end of the day, whatever replacement Labour are finally able to come up with will require excessive time, resources and money to implement.
To make matters even worse, Labour have also pledged to introduce ‘a new statutory Local Policing Commitment, guaranteeing neighbourhood policing in every community’.
Police and Crime Commissioners, including myself, have prioritised the protection of neighbourhood policing from the first day we came into office. In Northamptonshire, I have committed to maintaining police officers numbers at 1,220, from day one until today. I am transforming the way in which we provide the public with visibility and reassurance through our drive to recruit 1000 Special Constables by May 2016. We are on 400 or so so far – the highest per head in the country.
On a national level, it should be welcomed that both the Conservatives and Labour recognise how important neighbourhood policing is, but Labour’s plan to enshrine this in law is completely flawed. They have already highlighted that they will not dictate the numbers to do this, or how this will be done, leaving Chiefs with the discretion to decide. If you are to trust Chiefs to decide how they will protect neighbourhood policing, then it should be easy to trust them with the decision to do so in the first place.
Furthermore, it is ironic that Labour are so contradictory in their principles. They want to protect local neighbourhood policing, but are willing to scrap locally-elected Commissioners who are best placed to protect this and make decisions for their local area, on behalf of the local people. To take away decision-making at the local level, or return to former Police Authority days where no single person is accountable or visible for protecting neighbourhood policing will be disastrous and destroy public confidence.
I welcome without hesitation Labour’s commitments to tackle crimes such as child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse – crimes that are finally receiving the national attention they have deserved for so long. But, yet again, Labour contradict themselves by committing to other actions that will inevitably mean their focus will be taken away from these important issues. Scrapping Police and Crime Commissioner’s, reversing legislation, coming up with a workable replacement and legislating for this will take up valuable time, resources and money. Would Labour not be better off leaving PCCs where they are, and instead focusing on tackling the important crimes they have committed to?
It is a great shame that Labour are too intent on playing politics to accept that in reality PCCs can help them to reduce crime, protect neighbourhood policing, and continue their work on serious crimes such as the abuse and exploitation of children. The Conservatives are the only party that has committed to a deliverable plan that will continue our success to reduce crime across our country. The Conservative’s commitment to develop the role of Police and Crime Commissioner’s is vital if we are to continue to reduce crime in our local areas and be accountable to the public for doing so.