On Thursday 5 May, it’s your chance to decide who becomes the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Voting will take place between 7am and 10pm at the Parish Hall.
But what are the PCC elections about, and how could the result affect you?
It’s the second time elections have been held for a Police and Crime Commissioner. The first election, held in 2012, saw an infamously low level of participation. Wiltshire had a 15.8% turnout, marginally higher than the national average. Nationally, however, that remains the lowest turnout for a non-local election in peacetime in the UK.
Reasons given for the low turnout vary. One of main explanations, cited by the Electoral Commision, was lack of awareness. Many people said they did not know who their local candidates were, and what they stood for. Even more worringly, there was general confusion over what the Police and Crime Commissioner was for.
So what does the Police and Crime Commissioner do?
The Police and Crime Commissioner (or “PCC”) is responsible for the efficient and effective policing of an area (in this case Swindon and Wiltshire).
The PCC does not make decisions at an operational level. (Overall responsibility for day-to-day policing rests ultimately with the Chief Constable). However, the PCC is responsible for deciding how resources should be prioritised and setting the overall strategy of the force. They are responsible for the appointment of the Chief Constable, and, should the need arise, their suspension or dismissal.
The PCC is responsible for holding the police fund, from which the police are financed. Most of the funding comes from Central Government. However, just under 40% of funding comes from the police precept, which forms part of our council tax. The Commissioner ultimately determines what the precept should be. For example, for the year 2016/2017, the current PCC has budgeted for a 1.9% precept rise, with the committment that the increase will be dedicated to local policing, enabling the protection of local policing teams.
Who are the candidates?
There are four candidates this time around. Although each refers to a political party in their election address, the PCC must swear an oath of impartiality when they are elected to office. The intention is to make it clear that, like the police, they are there to serve the people, not a political party or one section of the electorate.
Angus Stuart MacPherson, Conservative, is the current PCC. He says he is the only candidate with a track record for delivery in the PCC job. He points to the fact that Wiltshire has the lowest police precept in the South West, and that his PCC office and police panel costs less than the old authority. He says he has worked hard to put more officers in the community by “smarter working, better technology and a reduced rank structure.”
John Fairlamb Short, UKIP, former Swindon Borough Council Deputy Chief Executive, says he will stand up for Wiltshire’s corner, against Whitehall. He wants Wiltshire Police “to take the fight to the criminals, by increasing street policing and cutting bureaucracy and waste.” He plans to do this by increasing frontline police officers (through freezing PCSO recruitment and making savings in back office costs). He also wants to increase the number of Special Constables and facilitate a new Offender to Work Scheme.
Brian George Felton Mathew, Lib Dem, has a five-point action plan; cut management to free front line police, design crime out of neighbourhoods, reform drug laws, promote restorative justice and prioritise cybercrime. “Let’s be tough on criminals, kind to victims and communities,” is his strap line.
Kevin David Small, Labour Party, a Swindon Borough Councillor, says “Honesty, Integrity, Openness and Transparency” are his guiding principles. His aim would be to create an environment where people feel safe whether at home or out in their local community. ” He says he would promote neighbourhood policing teams so that they have a visible presence in every village and neighbourhood, and that they are seen as an integral part of the local community
You can read more about the candidates by downloading the Choose My PCC booklet.
What about rural crime?
The Countryside Alliance has drawn attention to the need to prioritise rural crime in its Police & Crime Commissioner Manifesto.
But what do our local candidates think about rural crime?
Brian Mathew refers to the need to rejeuvenate Neighbourhood Watch and Farm Watch in his manifesto.
Angus MacPherson points out that he has commissioned Community messaging in support of Neighbourhood Watch. He says Wiltshire is a rural county that he regularaly has meetings with the NFU and CLA to discuss rural crime.
John Short would like there to be a point of police contact in villages, and acknowledges that there can be as much crime in rural areas as urban ones. Unfortunately, a lot of rural crime may go unreported, possibly through a belief it will not be investigated, or fear of intimidation (for example, from poaching gangs.) This is something he believes should be actively addressed.
The forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections may not be grabbing the headlines in the same way as the Brexit/Bremain debate. However, the outcome will impact at a local and grassroots level. On Thursday, don’t forget. Use your vote.