They control a budget of more than £170m in public cash, have the ability to increase your council tax and tell our police force what to prioritise – so why aren’t electors more interested in Police and Crime Commissioners?
As the vote draws near for choosing our next North Wales PCC we look at the role, how it’s funded and what the key issues are.
The position carried with it a budget, responsibility and political influence but many people are at a loss to either name their PCC, or adequately explain what function they perform.
Turnout failed to top 42 per cent in the 2016 run-off, up on 2012’s turnout of less than 15 per cent, so is the electorate missing a way of influencing what our police force’s priorities are by ignoring the vote?
The first thing to consider is what the North Wales PCC actually does and what the post-holder will be responsible for.
PCCs are elected in 40 of the 42 force areas in England and Wales.
The only exceptions are in Greater Manchester and London, where their Mayor is the de facto police commissioner too.
However many people still don’t understand what PCCs do and why they are needed.
The role was introduced by the UK Conservative Government as part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
While chief constables head operational policing, commissioners are supposed to be the public’s elected voice within each force.
The commissioner has the power to hire and fire the chief constable and hold them to account over performance.
The post holder sets the budget and council precept (the portion of your council tax you pay for policing) and police priorities for their term of office, which are reviewed each year.
The police budget for 2021-22 is £173.4m and the annual police precept, the policing portion of council tax, was set at £305.55 per household from April this year.
It is also the PCC’s job to work with community safety and criminal justice partners to promote joined up thinking in dealing with crime, the perpetrators and their victims.
One interesting fact many have overlooked is how PCCs can join their local fire authority or, after consulting with the public, submit a business case to replace it and become a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for their area.
If they did this they would assume the same responsibilities for their fire service as they do for policing, with the ability to hire, fire and hold to account the chief fire officer, set budgets, precepts and priorities.
To stand for election as the PCC the candidates each have to stump up £5,000 – great when you are backed by a political party but it could discriminate against someone standing independently, without the means.
For running the office of the PCC in 2021-22 there is a budget of £955,000.
The PCC’s current salary is £71,400 and there are 13 other staff in his office, with salaries ranging from £87,914 for chief executive and monitoring officer Stephen Hughes down to staff earning £28,725 at the lowest end of the scale.
In addition a budget of £1.69m covers grants made by the office and schemes it runs like CheckPoint Cymru, which aims to keep low level offenders out of jail.
Most of the funding for PCCs comes from central Government with about a third coming from the council tax precept.
The rest of the precept cash is added to Home Office funding to make up the police force’s operational budget.
Checks and balances
The PCC has to be accountable to someone, or something, and that body is known as the Police and Crime Panel.
It sits about once a month and consists of 10 local authority members from across the six counties of North Wales.
Each county gets two seats, apart from Anglesey and Denbighshire, which get one each due to their smaller populations.
However, importantly, the chair and vice-chair roles are filled by independent members – giving the PCC more public accountability.
Its job is to hold the PCC to account and it receives a progress report from the commissioner at each meeting and an annual report.
The panel is also tasked with approving the PCC’s budgets, approving recommendations for the police’s council tax precept and looks into the effectiveness of the commissioner’s crime reduction initiatives.
Arfon Jones recently called the North Wales Police and Crime Panel “toothless” which left a few members understandably vexed.
This year’s candidates are:
Cllr Andy Dunbobbin (Labour)
Pat Astbury (Conservative)
Ann Griffith (Plaid Cymru)
Mark Young (Independent)
Unlike the Senedd elections the PCC poll is decided by the supplementary voting system.
That means on May 6 you can vote for your preferred candidate and then your second preference.
If after the ballots have been counted no candidate has amassed more than 50% of first choice votes, the two leading the poll go into a run-off.
The second preference votes from the losing candidates are checked and any for the two remaining candidates are added to their totals.
The winner is the candidate with the most votes after the run-off.
Electors vote in their normal polling station and the results are sent to Flintshire where they are collated.
This is because by convention the most senior in the returning officer role in North Wales – in this case Flintshire council’s chief executive Colin Everett – takes on the duty, as he does for the Senedd regional votes.
Counting will take place on Sunday May 9, two days after all Senedd constituency and regional votes have been declared.
Deadlines for postal votes, proxy votes and registration are the same as for the Senedd elections.
A little known fact about the declaration of the winner is the post starts seven days from the date of the election but the victor must submit a “declaration of acceptance of office” within two months.
If that doesn’t happen, the post becomes vacant and a by-election will be called.
Within North Wales undoubtedly one of the biggest issues communities face is so-called county lines drug dealing involving gangs from major English cities, notably Liverpool and Manchester.
This brings with it “cuckooing” where gangsters and dealers take over the homes of vulnerable people as a base for their local operations.
Domestic violence, sexual violence and child sexual exploitation have been policing priorities during the previous PCC’s term.
However cyber crime has seen a big increase during the pandemic, as organised criminal gangs have seen drug supply routes curtailed by the restrictions of movement and moved into other areas such as fraud.
Also the public always want to know there will be enough police on the streets, so they’ll respond in time if they’re needed.
Arfon Jones reached out to suitable low-level offenders and tried to keep them out of prison through the CheckPoint Cymru scheme, which allows those who break the law to enter into a “contract to engage”.
If they meet the terms of their social contract, which also includes multi-agency help, they stay out of jail.
It was hoped it would cut the numbers reoffending.
The poll takes place on May 6, alongside the Senedd elections and the results will be announced on Sunday, May 9.