Matt Bennett, the Conservative candidate for the £100,000-a-year role of West Midlands Police Commissioner, tells Neil Elkes that tough measures to tackle anti-social behaviour are at the heart of his campaign.
The battle for the job of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner will be one of contrasts.
While former Birmingham councillor Matt Bennett, 36, will portray himself as an outsider to the force, Wolverhampton Labour councillor Bob Jones has been a Police Authority member for two decades and chaired the national organisation.
Labour, which did not want the police commissioner elections in the first place, are making this contest a referendum on government police cuts, while the Tories are talking about anti-social behaviour, police station closures and a crack down on alcohol licences.
Having been confirmed as candidate a month after Coun Jones, following a series of primary elections, the Tory challenger also has a bit of making up to do in the campaign stakes.
But seeing himself as more the people’s champion, challenging the police to deliver on his targets, rather than the police officer’s friend is the tone of his campaign.
And he has a track record of making demands of the police service as one of a handful of councillors who last year challenged an angry Chief Constable Chris Sims over what they saw as poor detection rates and the closures of local police stations.
Should Bennett win the November 15 election he shall have the power to hire and fire the chief constable.
He said: “A programme of tough measures to combat crime and antisocial behaviour will be at the heart of my campaign. The needs and priorities of the public are at the heart of my programme.
“Anyone who suffers from antisocial behaviour in their area, anyone who is a victim of or witnessed a crime will get a better deal.
“Most police officers I know work hard to protect the public, but the way the police force operates needs to become more responsive to ordinary people.”
While being an outsider to the police, he spent four years as councillor for the Stockland Green ward where anti-social behaviour was a key issue and was in particular involved in campaigns to stop the spread of off-licences and supply cheap booze in the neighbourhood.
He was for the last 12 months Birmingham City Council’s head of children’s social services overseeing the implementation of an improvement plan which followed years of failure in the department. It appears the service was getting back on track when he and the Tory-Lib Dem administration was voted out in May.
His policy commitments include making more resources available to tackle anti-social behaviour hot spots, a pledge to keep local police stations open as they ‘provide the public with reassurance’ and a policy of strong police objections to new pub and off-licence applications due to the confirmed link between alcohol and crime.
A further key will be a contract with the public so that every citizen knows what to expect from their police forces and a commitment that the police commissioner will hold a public meeting in each of the 28 West Midlands constituencies at least once per year.
Walsall councillor Mohammed Arif has been chosen as Mr Bennett’s deputy, with specific responsibility for procurement and delivering improvements in local police units.
Mr Bennett added: “I am delighted to have Arif on board. He is a very effective politician with a good track record and knowledge of the Police. I know we will make a great team and bring in the changes the public wants to see.”
The Liberal Democrats have not yet announced their candidate. Several independents are also thought to be preparing their challenges.