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Sussex Police Commissioner: Who will get your vote?
The ballot papers can now be drawn up for the elections for the first Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.
Whoever wins will become one of the most powerful figures in the county, with the right to hire and fire the head of police and control a £250 million budget but the election has failed to ignite the interest of the public.
What was originally mooted as a non-party political post is being contested by the three main Parliamentary parties, the UK Independence Party and only one independent candidate.
On November 15, the voting-age population among the 1.6 million people in Sussex will be asked to choose between them.
In the last Parliamentary elections, if all the Sussex constituencies were taken together, the Conservatives took 46.4% of the vote, to the Lib Dems’ 27.7%, Labour’s 16.5% and UKIP’s 4%.
Along with an £85,000 salary, the new commissioner will have the power to hire and fire the chief constable and set the police budget, share of council tax and overall policing plan.
A police and crime panel will scrutinise the work of the commissioner but will only have the power of veto over council tax levels, which he or she will set each year.
Two independents who had said they wished to stand have dropped out. Matt Taylor and David Neilson were not on the list of nominations published on Friday.
Chichester Liberal Democrat Andrew Smith had come forward in the summer but later withdrew.
Newhaven councillor David Rogers was approached by his party in the eleventh hour and agreed to stand.
Victim Support has organised a Question Time-style event due to take place today at the Brighthelm Centre in North Road, Brighton, at 6.30pm – but it will not include canditate Conservative Councillor Katy Bourne, who is unavailable.
Politicising the police
Plans for the new police commissioner have sparked controversy.
Former Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair said this weekend that a voter’s boycott of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is “the only way we are going to stop this”.
He said the policing areas were too big for people to properly represent.
Mark White, chairman of Sussex Police Federation, said: “We have similar concerns that this is going to politicise policing.
“The police authority, while it had its faults, consisted of cross-party membership, magistrates and independents which we felt gave good coverage across the whole of Sussex. It was widely representative.
“Policing should be independent from any political party. There is the potential here for politics to come into policing, which it shouldn’t.”
The Green Party has not put forward a candidate, with the party’s Brighton and Hove chairman Ray Cunningham branding the change from the police authority a “big mistake”.
He said: “This blatant politicisation of the police is bad for the force, bad for the community and bad for democracy.”
Facts and figures
During their five-year term the Police and Crime Commissioner will:
- Have the power to hire and fire chief constables.
- Set police budgets.
- Hold the police to account.
- Set out a five-year plan for policing.
- Have a duty to regularly talk to and consult with the public.
To be in the running, candidates had to put down £5,000 – which is returned if they win 5% of the vote – and 100 nominations.
A cap has been put on the amount of money each candidate can spend on their campaign – at £219,983.
Councils have contacted residents, urging them to register in the elections, and the Electoral Commission is sending out 21 million leaflets nationwide.
Sussex Police Authority held its final meeting at its Lewes headquarters in Brooks Close on Thursday.
The body was made up of councillors, reflecting the political complexion of East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove, and independent people.
It has overseen Sussex Police since the force was created in the ’60s, following up on work previously carried out by the old borough Watch Committees.
Since 2010, the authority has had the task of approving £51 million cuts.
The loss of 550 police staff and 500 officers was announced as the main method of saving money – although those estimates have now been slightly reduced.
A policy of forcing officers to retire after 30 years’ service has been dropped and some recruitment is expected to begin in the spring.
The North Downs and West Downs divisions were merged, while the major crime branch, forensics services and firearms provision have been merged with Surrey Police.
The police and crime commissioner will have to identify another £900,000 savings to stay |within reduced central Government budgets by 2015.
But another Government spending statement is expected on December 5, which is likely to restrict the financial options of the incoming commissioners and may limit their ability to raise money by raising the police’s council tax precept.