When the Conservatives created Police and Crime Commissioners I thought it was a bad idea. The fact that at their inaugural elections only 14% of those eligible to vote in Crawley cast their ballot was a fairly clear sign that the public agreed with me. With the ability to look back with hindsight six years later, I now believe the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners was an extremely bad idea.
I have huge respect for our Police force. In addition to working alongside the Police as Leader of Crawley Borough Council, I was a member of the Police Liaison Committee from when I joined the council until it was disbanded and I have alternated between being a full member and a substitute member of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel (which replaced the Police Authority and in principle holds the Police and Crime Commissioner to account) for the last three and a half years. Giving the Police the tools they need to do their job and ensuring residents are kept safe is something I feel incredibly strongly about, but it’s simply not happening.
The budget for Sussex Police is set by our Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner and over recent years Crawley Labour has repeatedly highlighted the appalling way in which the finances are being managed. Neighbourhood policing is being cut year-after-year while the Sussex Police budget runs at a surplus! The situation is so bad that despite the Police and Crime Panel being dominated by Conservative representatives, the Commissioner regularly comes close to losing votes on major issues and even had their proposed precept rejected in 2014.
The Annual Report which went to today’s meeting continued that record of failure. While residents face police cuts, the Commissioner’s own office saw its budget increase by 11%, apparently just so they could fund their land-grabbing attempt to take the Fire Service from West Sussex County Council. I’m no fan of the way West Sussex County Council runs the Fire Service, but given the state of how the Police are being treated that’s probably the only thing I can think of which would actually make the problem any worse. Meanwhile they’re continuing to underspend on their staffing budget and their capital estimates are almost 40% off! That is nothing short of utter incompetence and it has to stop.
Police aren’t a luxury, the rule of law is essential for any form of civilisation to exist and it used to be at least one area of state spending the Tories would support. The new Tories don’t even appear to respect that and, much like the military, so long as we have these Tories in Westminster and in Lewes it seems we’re doomed to see yet another essential service crumble.