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Friday, August 23, 2013

A monster that must not be allowed to grow out of control

The Telegraph reports on a new initiative by the Policy Exchange think tank, who are determined to build on their idea of Police Commissioners by expanding their remit and their powers.

They have called for called for a significant expansion of the commissioners’ role to oversee the fire and ambulance services, prisons and probation. They also suggest that the current cap on the “police precept” should be abolished, with PCCs able to charge an extra sum to pay for alcohol and drug treatment, prison places, electronic tagging schemes and mental health care.

This is not the sort of decentralisation that Britain needs, not least because it would involve a reversal of devolution in Wales and Scotland and the creation of an all-powerful figurehead with little or no checks and balances on his or her actions.

The point is that there are already elected bodies who could, given the powers, deliver this sort of co-ordination and joined up thinking at a local level. Why reinvent the wheel again by feeding the monstrous office of police commissioner, when the same outcomes can be achieved in a more democratic, accountable and transparent way by empowering local councils, setting up a properly federal system of government or just making sensible provision for devolved nations?

Concentrating powers into the hands of one individual with few checks and balances leaves the system open to abuse. As Labour Assembly Member, Mike Hedges argues into today's Western Mail on the subject of elected Mayors, in recent years the British political system has become more obsessed with the world of American politics, where the likes of directly elected mayors are the norm and personality takes over from policies as the focus in elections:

Just because something works well in one country doesn’t mean that it would work well here in Wales, and from my experience the politics of governments and local authorities is far too complex for us to put our faith entirely in one individual.

At a time when people throughout Wales are concerned about the quality, reliability and sustainability of local services delivered by local councils, I seriously doubt that local authority governance change is high on the list of anyone’s priorities.

In my opinion, directly elected mayors are nothing more than expensive “white elephants” that achieve nothing that cannot be achieved by the current structure.

We need to stop obsessing about gimmicks and start concentrating on making the system work better and in a more accountable way.
USA gave up on directly-elected police commissioners many years ago. As I recall an eminent American criminologist telling it, the last elected police commissioner could not be at his desk for his last day at work, because he had to appear in court on fraud charges.
Electing local councils by STV would make a huge difference to opening things up. Then, give them a lot more power. People will start taking an interest.
What we need is democratic accountability - we have a whole regional tier of government in Wales no coherence in boundaries - I'd like to see 5 regions established, with councils elected by stv to take over education, health and social services, the police, fire, ambulance and transport - this would democratise an existing layer of government and also create some coherent regional planning in Wales. See http://acardiffvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/regional-and-local-government-in-wales.html
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