The Labour politician bidding to become the West Midlands’ first elected police and crime commissioner has warned there is no magic wand to generate extra funding for the force in an age of austerity and cuts.
But Coun Bob Jones, a former chairman of the National Association of Police Authorities, believes that a strong case can be put for the West Midlands securing a greater share of the government’s police and crime spending – with the right commissioner and the right mandate.
The Wolverhampton councillor pipped Birmingham rival Yvonne Mosquito for the Labour candidacy, also a long serving Police Authority member, and in the spirit of a good natured, if lively, selection battle, immediately announced her as his deputy, should he win on November 15.
It has immediately become clear that as far as Labour is concerned, the cuts in policing, particularly in the West Midlands, will be the key campaign issue.
Indeed, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that while his party does not support police commissioner elections, the party was bound to offer candidates and treat them as a referendum on government cuts and use of private firms to provide some police services.
It is a view shared by Coun Jones.
“The big issue is fighting not just the scale of the reduction, but the fact it’s been implemented in such a way that is a massive disadvantage to the West Midlands,"
"We’ve taken a bigger share of the cuts than almost any other force in the country. Three times more than Surrey. A major job of the commissioner is to fight hard to make sure we get a better deal.”
It is an area where he believes he can make an impact.
He trots off the funding figures he has learned over the last few years on the Police Authority, the body made up of councillors and independent representatives from across the region which the Commissioner will replace.
“We were awarded £27 million less last year than the government’s own formula thanks to floors and ceilings they imposed. On the same system Surrey gets an extra £6 million over what they wanted. If they lifted that ceiling it would make a huge difference here.”
“I am not going to have a magic wand to produce more money. We have got to make the books balance. But a better deal from money already spent would transform services in the West Midlands.”
He agreed that the election will likely be referendum. “Many would see it as that. If a candidate argues for a better deal and is given a strong mandate, that can only strengthen that case.”
Both Jones and Mosquito have already stated their vehement opposition to the proposed privatisation of some police services, including neighbourhood police patrols.
Coun Jones said: “We voted against this. It’s unethical having people making key decisions on criminal justice accountable to private managers and shareholders, rather than officers accountable to the law and community.”
But he said he would not rule out private companies coming in to run areas like IT as long as the chief constable maintained control over the implementation.
One of the key roles of the Commissioner will be to hire and fire the chief constable. Already, Labour candidates have signed a pledge not to interfere with the chief’s operational independence and not exert undue political influence, but the definitions could prove difficult to pin down.
“We have guaranteed the independence of the chief constable, but clearly there are a number of grey areas within that such as the debate around front desks – is that an operation policing matter or is that a matter of community interest,” said Coun Jones.
“There will be a clear discussion and a protocol drawn up for these areas.”
At the launch event it was clear from the retired police officers, police federation representatives, residents groups and outside agencies dealing with young offenders, and victims that there is widespread hostility to the notion of a police commissioner.
There was also upset at the perceived erosion of neighbourhood policing which residents’ groups felt had been a major success.
Sita Malhi, who owns an off-licence in Lower White Road, Quinton, said that the police response to an armed robbery at his store had been good in terms of dealing with the crime itself, but after that there was little, if any, follow-up to reassure the community, which had been afraid for some time afterwards.
Coun Jones said that while campaigning, the question most frequently asked is why is the Government spending upwards of £125 million holding elections for a whole new class of politician when they could spend that on policing and police officers – which he believes would fill that gap in community policing.
He also believes that the existing system of accountability is adequate but, as a former chairman of the West Midlands Police Authority (between 1995 and 2000), he probably would say that. He rejects the idea that, being unknown to the wider public it is bound to be ineffective. In fact, he says its wider membership drawing members from across all seven West Midlands boroughs, as well as a number of politically independent members, makes it more representative than a single politician.
But as there is no referendum on the elected commissioner, he says that the Labour Party must challenge for it, and, in the words of Labour Party leader Ed Miliband this week, “make the best of a bad job”.