Sir Alan Beith: police commissioner should not be political
DID you vote in the election for the Police and Crime Commissioner?
If so, you were among only 16 per cent of those entitled to vote. And only one elector in ten voted for Vera Baird to be the Commissioner for Northumbria. Why was that?
Forget the excuses. It may have been November, but so was the by-election at which I was first elected for Berwick and 84 per cent voted then on a much colder day. The real reason is that people were never convinced that elected police commissioners were a good idea. Many were worried about party politics being involved in policing, and that led to quite a few independent candidates being elected (which, to be fair, the government had suggested should happen).
I shared some of the public’s doubts, and I was glad that my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Lords secured amendments to make sure that the chief constable’s decisions on particular cases could not be interfered with by the new commissioner.
The commissioner is responsible for the budget and overall policing plan. What she will do is currently done by a police authority whose members are predominantly party political, including councillors, and hardly anybody knows who represents them on this authority.
So the present system is pretty weak on public accountability and transparency. It will be much easier to hold the police commissioner to account for how they carry out the job.
Northumbria Police have a very good record, and it shows up in continuing reductions in crime. I hope that our well respected chief constable, Sue Sim, is able to work successfully with the new commissioner, and that she and other chief constables stand firmly against any politicising of the police. The public will support them if they do.
Which brings me back to Mrs Baird, the new Northumbria police and crime commissioner. She is a lawyer. In 1983 she was the unsuccessful Labour candidate against me in the Berwick constituency, so she knows where we are, in the rural north of the force’s area. Later she was elected Labour MP for Redcar, and served as solicitor-general in the Blair/Brown government.
At the general election two years ago, she was defeated in Redcar by the Lib Dems. So she pursued a new career path by winning the Labour nomination for Northumbria police commissioner which, given the number of Labour-held constituencies in the Force area, looked a certainty.
So it proved to be, despite the mass public abstention from the vote. Now she needs to make clear that she will not approach her new responsibilities in any party political spirit, and that she recognises the needs of the more rural north of Northumberland, as well as the issues of crime in Newcastle, Tyneside and Sunderland, which tend to dominate.
She also needs to build on the co-operation which is beginning to develop between public services, social services and the criminal justice system to cut re-offending and stop young people getting involved in crime in the first place.
It WAS a privilege to take Mr and Mrs Gibson from Highcliffe and their two lovely grandchildren to No 10 Downing Street to hand in their petition with 11,000 names backing the dualling of the remainder of the A1.
It is a campaign they have pursued in memory of their son, who lost his life a year ago on the A1 in a multiple collision which was much more serious because it was on the single carriageway.
It took courage for Mr Gibson then to come with me and put forward his argument in person to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, who was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling in Northumberland.
But the official sitting alongside will have briefed him on all the roads in the country where there are many more accidents and much more traffic, which are competing for inclusion in the programme.
We pointed out the economic and national strategic importance of the road. We got a courteous hearing and a promise that the secretary of state will visit to see the road for himself.
JUST in time for Christmas, those who so cruelly lost their Christmas savings six years ago in the Farepak collapse have been receiving limited payouts from the receivers.
Now it has been accepted, as many of us thought all along, that the auditors of Farepak’s accounts, Ernst and Young, did not do their job properly.
Meanwhile, the Commons is debating another collapse in which a lot of people lost their savings. Arch Cru and savers in Equitable Life are receiving compensation payments which, although welcome after a long wait, also serve to underline how much greater was the amount they lost from corporate mismanagement.
Sir Alan Beith is MP for Berwick.
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Weather for Berwick-Upon-Tweed
Monday 20 May 2013
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