The West Midlands’ police chief has explained why he thinks he should lose his job.
Police and crime commissioner spoke out as the Labour party suggested that his own position would be scrapped if they win the next general election.
Bob Jones said he believed the costs and complex bureaucracy surrounding his post could have led to some frontline officers losing their jobs.
Mr Jones, who became the force’s first directly-elected commissioner last November, said the existing arrangements around the commissioner post were “massively complex” and expensive – and might have contributed to cuts in police numbers.
And he also warned that having separate commissioners for every force may be holding back attempts to save money by running joint services such as helicopters and armed response services, with neighbouring constabularies.
They could then use the cash to pay for community policing accountable to local residents, he said.
Mr Jones was furious when proposals to share with Staffordshire were abruptly axed by commissioner Matthew Ellis – and announced without even bothering to tell the West Midlands force.
Mr Jones backed Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who revealed this week that Labour could go in to the next election with a commitment to scrap police and crime commissioners.
Whether to continue with the current system was one of the “important questions” Labour would face as it began work on its manifesto, Mr Balls said.
The coalition government introduced police and crime commissioners to replace police authorities, arguing that they would make police forces into more accountable and responsive to local needs.
But the change was opposed by Labour, and by Mr Jones, a former chair of West Midlands Police Authority who was the Labour candidate in last year’s poll.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Jones said: “I have an immense amount of sympathy for what Ed Balls is saying. He’s pointing out that in a whole series of areas the Government’s decided to spend a lot of new money on things which don’t really seem to have much public support and don’t have much logic about them, and police and crime commissioners are a good example of that.
"It did seem to be that if people were asked what they would prefer, rather than a new breed of politicians, it would be better to have spent that money on frontline services and keep police officers on the streets.
“So I’m very sympathetic to his position and I’m more than happy to look at the position of police and crime commissioners. Because its structure is byzantine and complex and adds duplication.”
Rather than a police authority which worked closely with a chief constable, forces now had police and crime commissioners operating separately from chief constables along with a new police and crime panel set up to hold the commissioner to account, he said.
“It’s a massively complex route as to who does what and how you hold people to account. So there is massive inefficiency and confusion put in to the new structure.”
The Government had also imposed new rules designed to increase transparency – but these imposed extra costs, he warned.
“We are having to give information about individual contracts and the cost of redacting commercial information is again one of the most complex, Byzantine bits of bureaucracy I have ever seen, which is extremely costly. But obviously one person’s bureaucracy is another person’s accountability.”
Mr Balls also hinted in his speech that Labour might revive proposals to merge police forces and other emergency services.
The last Labour government also considered merging forces, and plans were published in 2006 to merge West Midlands Police with Staffordshire Police, West Mercia Constabulary and Warwickshire Constabulary.
These were dropped when they proved to be too controversial, partly due to opposition from the West Mercia force.
But Mr Balls asked: “Does it really make sense to have separate costly management and bureaucracy for so many separate government departments, agencies, fire services and police forces – the same number as when this Government came into office – all with separate leadership structures and separate specialist teams?”
Mr Jones said he believed forces in the wider West Midlands region would work more closely together and share some services, but the current police and crime commissioner system may be holding them back.
“It may well be that, particularly in places like the West Midlands, where people don’t really identify with the West Midlands, we could do something based more on local plans and local boards holding things to account, and hopefully above the key role of local policing commander we could see much more sharing of resources for the more specialist activities at a higher level.”
He added: “There is considerable scope to do that, which is hindered by having separate police and crime commissioners.
“If you had effective accountability in places like Birmingham, Coventry and other areas then people wouldn’t really mind who was running specialist services like helicopters, armed response vehicles and so forth.
“I think it’s possible to merge back office, specialist facilities and actually enhance accountability by having things like local policing boards.”
In a speech setting out Labour’s plans for the economy, Mr Balls revealed the party’s general election manifesto could include a pledge to scrap the next round of elections for commissioners, due to take place in 2016, which would mean the current crop of police and crime commissioners would be both the first and the last.
He said a future Labour government would spend money on housing and transport.
He said: “When we are losing thousands of police officers and police staff, how have we ended up spending more on police commissioners than the old police authorities, with more elections currently timetabled for 2016?”
The way police forces are managed and the potential for mergers will be considered as part of a review currently being carried out by Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police chief, on behalf of the Labour party.
However, Tory Treasury Minister Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove, said Mr Balls was not “remotely credible”.
He said: “Ed Balls is incapable of admitting that Labour spent and borrowed too much in government, he has opposed every single tough decision we’ve taken to cut the deficit and he’s still saying Labour would borrow billions more.”