A number of elections were postponed from this May and are due to take place in May 2021 instead. Readers of Gwydir will be very aware that the Welsh Parliament elections are next year but it is not just Wales that will have the spotlight on it, writes Mia Rees.
There will be planned and postponed elections taking place across Great Britain. Next year will see Scottish Parliament elections, Local Government elections in England, and across England and Wales, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections.
The Police and Crime Commissioner elections were one of the elections that was delayed due to COVID-19. Candidates had been selected, many of them spoke (or planned to) at their party conferences in the spring and campaigning had started. Spring 2021 will be “Take 2” for wannabe Police and Crime Commissioners and currently we have no Conservative Commissioners in Wales.
To be clear, in this article I will not be debating whether we should have Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). I fully acknowledge that people have very mixed views on the creation of PCCs. This article seeks to highlight what they do and how their actions impact us and our communities – and therefore why PCC elections matter and are worth voting in.
The first Police and Crime Commissioner elections were held in 2012 and were characterised by spoilt ballot papers, the success of independent candidates, and low turnouts. Turns outs vary hugely between elections but by all accounts, the turnout in 2012 was terrible – between 10 – 20% in most areas.
The turn out in 2016 was a bit higher with an average of 23% to 26% but that was still pretty terrible.
One of the reasons often cited for low voter turnout is a lack of knowledge – people don’t know what Police and Crime Commissioners do or why their election matters. This article hopes to shed some light on this so you can see why it is worth the effort to vote in 2021.
So what does a PCC do? The job description is to:
- Appoint and hold the Chief Constable to account
- Work with local communities to coordinate a joined-up response to local issues – including local authorities, health, education, charities and businesses
- Consult with local people and publish a Police and Crime Plan for their area
- Work with national and local criminal justice partners
- Fund crime prevention
- Commission local victim support services
- Set the police budget and how much the public pays towards policing via council tax
- Some are also responsible for their local Fire and Rescue Services
Through these powers, they strive to make their communities safer and deliver a better policing service to their local area. It is important to note that they are not in charge of the day to day operation of these services but should set the direction and priorities. Some have compared them to elected mayors or council leaders, but with a distinctly different focus.
It has been argued that policing and criminal justice isn’t thought about by the public until they are directly affected by or interact with the system. But this is a short-sighted view. The safety of our communities impacts our everyday lives. It affects how safe we feel walking down the street, at work and in our homes.
If we are victims of crime we want to know that our matter will be dealt with professionally and sensitively. That we will be supported and the right person is in charge.
Your local Police and Crime Commissioner has a huge impact on all this.
In the list above you will also notice that Police and Crime Commissioners set the budget for their force. This is a massive tool which allows local PCCs to decide what elements of policing get funded and by how much. For example, they can choose to focus more on prevention, and which organisations they work with to do this. This power cannot be understated. We all know that he who hold the purse strings holds the power.
The Police and Crime Commissioners themselves also receive a salary. The PCC for South Wales, Alun Michael, receives a salary of £85,000 and he employs a team to support his work. Alun Michael’s Team of three are all paid over £68,000. These sums are substantial and we should be making sure that those receiving them are delivering for their communities.
Finally, the role of PCCs has been critical in coordinating much of the work in relation to the policing challenges brought about by COVID-19. As the rules have changed and people have been confused police have been expected to support communities and challenge those putting others at risk.
Before I finish, a quick word on voting. The PPC elections are not as simple as one cross in one box – they use the supplementary vote system. In this system, voters mark the ballot paper with their first and second choice. If no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the top two candidates go on to a second-round in which second-choice votes of the eliminated candidates are allocated in order to produce a winner. The election for London’s Mayor uses the same system.
I hope this article has gone some way to explaining why it is worth thinking about and taking your time to vote in your local Police and Crime Commissioner elections next May. Look out for opportunities to engage with the candidates and ask them what their priorities will be for your area. These issues are too important to just not care.
Mia Rees is a Conservative Councillor for Whitchurch & Tongwynlais on Cardiff Council.