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West Mids PCC contest: ‘the most expensive, unwanted and unheard of election ever’

West Mids PCC contest: ‘the most expensive, unwanted and unheard of election ever’

🕔31.Jul 2014

There are just over three weeks to go until two million registered electors in the West Midlands get an opportunity to choose a new Police and Crime Commissioner.

And without tempting fate, it is surely fair to say that this will go down pound-for-pound as the most expensive, unwanted and unheard of election in the annals of public service.

It will cost about £4 million to stage the by-election on August 21 to find a successor to Bob Jones, who died suddenly earlier this month. Unfortunately by far the most interesting aspect of the entire affair will be the side bets placed on just how low the turnout is going to be.

In November 2012, when Mr Jones was elected, just 238,384 people bothered to vote – a pathetic 12 per cent turnout. And that was with PCC elections being held across the country on the same day.

The 2012 elections had the benefit of a Government campaign urging people to use their vote. Granted, it was a tepid and uninspiring campaign, but an attempt was at least made to create some interest in the contest which cannot really be said about the 2014 election.

It seems a fair bet , since the by-election is to be held slap bang in the middle of the summer holiday season, that turnout will plummet even below the 2012 level. The possibility of single figures cannot be discounted. Eight or nine per cent perhaps?

An eight per cent turnout would mean that only 158,000 people were bothered to take part, putting the cost of the by-election at £25 per person. Now, while we are constantly told it is impossible to place a value on democracy, it seems likely that such an outcome in the West Midlands could pretty much put paid to the long term future of the PCC system.

There are four candidates to replace Mr Jones. All are men, there is one BME contender. They are David Jamieson for Labour, Les Jones for the Conservatives, Ayoub Khan for the Liberal Democrats and Keith Rowe for UKIP.

Campaigning, if you can call it such, has hardly been inspiring so far.

At least Labour arranged for shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper to deliver a major law and order speech in Birmingham and at the same time endorse Mr Jamieson’s candidacy.

Both she and Mr Jamieson faced the tricky task of committing themselves to ‘no privatisation of our police’ just days after West Midlands Police awarded a £25 million “digital transformation” contract to American firm Accenture.

Those with long memories will recall that Accenture was involved in a bid to develop a £12.7 billion computer system for the NHS in England and Wales, which went horribly wrong. The company pulled out in 2006 when work was running two years behind schedule and the project was scrapped five years later.

Nevertheless, Ms Cooper and Mr Jamieson ploughed on, with Mr Jamieson declaring there would be “no privatisation on my watch”. Ms Cooper said Labour would “stop the handover of core public policing to private companies”.

The pair attempted to make a distinction between privatising core police services under the control of the chief constable or the PCC, which is a no-no, and privatising non-core services such as IT which apparently is quite acceptable.

To underline this distinction, acting police commissioner Yvonne Mosquito issued a statement insisting that the appointment of Accenture was just the sort of change programme “strongly supported” by Bob Jones and would cut costs and enable police officers to work more effectively.

Ms Mosquito added: “I understand that people may have concerns about this decision to involve a private sector company, but would like to offer my reassurances that this is not the outsourcing of policing to a contractor.  Accountability for the delivery of policing services remains, as ever, the responsibility of the elected Police and Crime Commissioner.”

All of this prompted a social media attack by Ayoub Khan, who used Twitter to claim that privatisation of police services had indeed already taken place on Labour’s watch. Khan folllowed this up with a lively spat with Labour councillor Jess Phililips about her appointment as vice-chair of the Police and Crime Panel and Birmingham’s ‘victims’ champion’.

It’s Khan’s second tilt at becoming PCC. He was the Liberal Democrat candidate in 2012, although not without controversy since he was once referred to by a high court judge as “scurrilous” for allegedly making false allegations of vote-rigging against a Labour councillor – something that Khan vehemently denies.

Khan, a barrister, tried to have Elections Commissioner Timothy Straker QC’s “scurrilous” remark struck out, but the High Court rejected his appeal. He was, though, cleared of misconduct by the Bar Standards Council.

The by-election candidates have taken the opportunity to set out their manifesto on the website which is where it can be seen that Mr Khan is actually a hero on the mean streets of Aston.

He explains: “It was in 2003 that I came face to face with the true impact of crime.

“I heard a loud bang and rushed out of my house. Not fifty yards away, a man had collapsed, bleeding from gunshot wounds. The gunmen were still around, but, as I had some first aid training, I knew what I had to do.

“I have nothing but praise for the emergency services that day — ambulance, police, and the NHS. I just kept him alive — it was they who saved his life.

“Some people call me a hero, but I just did what anyone would do: responded to the need.”

There is not much about the policies Mr Khan would adopt if elected PCC, other than a promise to work tirelessly with the police.

Mr Jamieson is promising to keep recruiting new police officers “despite the Government cuts”, although he does not explain where the money to fund this for any period of time is to be found.

Les Jones, a former Conservative leader of Dudley Council, was, perhaps, lucky to get the nomination for PCC since he quit the Tory whip earlier this year to sit as an independent and then  rejoined the party last month.

His election statement promises to free police to fight crime by cutting red tape and to fight for tougher sentences for criminals, although there is no detail about how this might be achieved.

UKIP candidate Keith Rowe promises to be “a strong and independently minded leader, bringing a no-nonsense common sense approach to policing and a tough time for criminals”. All of the usual UKIP boxes are ticked including adopting a zero tolerance approach to all crime and “punishing criminals” more effectively.

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