Labour’s candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Bob Jones, has warned that he doesn’t have a “magic wand” to produce the money required to replace 2,000 coppers whose jobs are disappearing as a result of Government spending cuts.
Mr Jones said he would campaign for a “fairer” Whitehall police grant, encourage the merging of back office administrative functions among neighbouring forces and develop smarter ways of working in order to release fresh investment for front-line policing.
The councillor for Wolverhampton, with almost 30 years of experience on the West Midlands Police Authority, won the Labour ballot to be the party’s official candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on November 15.
Labour’s dominance in this year’s local government elections makes Coun Jones the hot favourite to become Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
He would be the second highest profile UK police chief outside of London with the powers to appoint and replace the chief constable and to set crime fighting and policing priorities.
PCCs will replace existing police authorities and have specific duties to ensure community safety.
Coun Jones plans to appoint Birmingham Labour city councillor Yvonne Mosquito as his deputy commissioner. Coun Mosquito was the only other candidate in Labour’s selection ballot.
Coun Jones’s selection was announced in Birmingham by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who attempted to underline the tough financial decisions that the first PCC will have to take.
The West Midlands force has to save £126 million over four years. More than 2,700 jobs are likely to be axed, including about 2,000 uniformed officers.
Mr Miliband said Labour had not wanted PCC elections to take place. Money spent organising the polls would have been better used funding the police, he added.
He urged electors to treat the PCC poll as a “referendum on what’s happening to the police service”, but was careful not to commit Labour to restoring all of the cuts.
Ms Cooper said Labour would spell out its plans at the next General Election in 2015, but any announcement would depend on the circumstances at the time. She said that Labour would have supported the Government if it had limited budget cuts to 12 per cent because the figure could have been delivered without an impact on front-line policing.
The Chancellor’s decision to cut 20 per cent from funding over four years was damaging police services and making it hard to deliver “sensible efficiency savings”, Ms Cooper claimed.
Coun Jones promised to campaign for a fairer police grant settlement from the Government.
He claims that the West Midlands has been cheated out of almost £100 million by a decision to reward police forces in Tory-supporting areas in the Home Counties. “There’s a massive disadvantage to the West Midlands. We are taking three times the cut in percentage terms than areas like Surrey.”
One of his first actions would be to set up a staff council to include representatives from the uniformed and civilian parts of the police force. The body would be encouraged to devise “smarter” ways of working, enabling more resources to be released to boost front-line police services.
The success of his first few months in office is likely to depend to a large extent on the working relationship between Coun Jones and West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims. The pair will have quickly to come to agreement on the separation of responsibilities, hammering out a protocol to decide who does what.
Coun Jones admitted there could be uncertainties about Mr Sims’s role. He added: “We are committed to the independence of the chief constable. But clearly there are a number of grey areas.”
One important area to be sorted out, he said, would be controversial proposals to save money by closing or reducing opening hours at front office desks at police stations across the region.
It remained unclear whether the cutbacks fell into the remit of the chief constable, who is in charge of operational matters, or should be the responsibility of the PCC because there was a direct community interest.
Coun Jones added: “Clearly there will have to be some discussions with the chief constable.”
- Labour is the first of the main political parties to choose PCC candidates across the country. Former MEP Simon Murphy has been selected to stand in West Mercia, while former Government Minister James Plaskitt will be the candidate in Warwickshire.
- There are two Conservative candidates, former Birmingham city councillor Matt Bennett and retired police officer Joe Tildesley, who is a Solihull borough councillor.
Coun Bennett attacked the selection of Coun Jones, describing him as representing the status quo. He added: “ He has been a member of the Police Authority for many years and has taken part in recent decisions to close police stations, make staff redundant and the current botched attempt to privatise or outsource services.
“He will, of course attempt to distance himself from all of these decisions but he was a part of them as were his Labour colleagues on the Police Authority. The selection of one of the old guard shows how much the Labour Party resent the intrusion of democracy into local policing.”