Voters to pick who will be top boss in police
IN 12 months time a revolution in British policing begins — with a cross on a ballot paper.
For the first time ever the public will get the chance to vote for "police and crime commissioners" who will have power over their local force, with the ability to set policing priorities and hire and fire chief constables, and with control of budgets running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
The elections will take place on November 15, 2012, with the commissioners taking power just a week later.
Each force will have a commissioner — and as well as a serious amount of responsibility, the jobs come with salary of around £85,000 a year.
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The government says the new posts will make the police more accountable to the areas they serve but opponents say they will lead to politicisation of policing and will be a waste of money at a time when budgets are being squeezed — some estimates put the cost of elections at £100 million, which will have to come from Home Office funds.
Among the names being mentioned for the new jobs for the South Wales and Dyfed- Powys forces are former Llanelli AM Helen Mary Jones, Pembrokeshire Council leader John Davies and Cardiff MP Alun Michael — but Westminster has said it hopes non-politicians will also consider standing.
Alan Fry, chief executive of the South Wales Police Authority, said: "Let us make no bones about it — this is a major change to the governance of policing and this person will be powerful and influential.
"It will affect everyone in South Wales and we cannot underestimate that. It is their individual responsibility to make sure there is an effective and efficient police service in South Wales and to hold the chief constable to account."
Plans for the commissioners were forced through Parliament by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in the face of strong opposition, not just from the House of Lords but from many MPs, as well as senior police officers, local councillors of all parties and AMs.
The posts will be open to people aged over 18 who are resident in the force area they wish to represent, and who are a British, Commonwealth or European Union citizen.
Civil servants, judges, police officers or staff, members of the regular armed forces, employees of a council within the force area, employees of a police-related agency, and employees of government agencies are not allowed to stand — MPs and AMs can but would have to resign their seats if they won.
Candidates will have to be nominated by 100 people and stump-up a £5,000 deposit to stand, and they can spend no more £7,150 plus 6p for every registered voter in the force area on their campaign — in the case of South Wales Police, that comes to a total of more than £80,000.
The functions of the future commissioners are currently carried out by police authorities which are made-up of 19 members — a mix of councillors from each local authority in the force area, along with independent representatives.
Some have questioned whether one directly elected commissioner can represent an entire force area, especially ones with big and diverse populations like South Wales Police, or those that cover large areas like Dyfed-Powys, which is geographically the biggest force in Wales and England.
However, Home Secretary Theresa May has said the commissioners will help to "transfer power back to the people".
But Shadow Welsh Secretary and Neath MP Peter Hain has raised fears about the impact of the new posts.
He said: "I have very serious concerns about this plan which go beyond party politics and to the heart of the policing system in Britain, which is based on integrity and impartiality."
In 12 months time, we may begin to see who is correct.