There are plenty of opportunities for people to vote next Thursday.
Whether it’s for the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the mayoral elections in London, Bristol, Liverpool or Salford, or one of the many local council elections, many voters have multiple opportunities to go to the polls. And as we look ahead to June, there’s the EU referendum looming on the horizon too.
However there’s been far too little coverage so far of one of the most important set of elections also taking place next week – the police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales. After initially opposing PCCs back in 2012, the Labour Party has now given PCCs its support. And for those seeking greater accountability from police forces (especially in light of the Hillsborough inquest), for people worried about the safety of their neighbourhood and rising crime, as well as the 200,000 strong police officer and police staff workforce, these elections matter a great deal. So here are five reasons why the PCC elections matter:
Cuts – police forces in England and Wales have been cut to the bone for six years by a government that claims cuts make no difference to crime fighting. Yet crime figures released last week (see below) show that this is nonsense. Since 2010, police community support officers (PCSOs) have been slashed by 30 per cent, police staff (999 call takers, scenes of crime officers etc) have been cut by 20 per cent, and police officers by 13 per cent. In the Metropolitan Police, where the London Mayor is responsible for budgets, PCSOs have been cut by a staggering 64 per cent – twice the national average.
Crime rates – for the second time running, official figures show there has been an alarming increase in recorded crime across England and Wales. In particular, violent crime (including sexual assaults and knife crime) have risen sharply. There’s a direct correlation between cuts and crime rises that put all of us at greater risk. Police cuts matter – so we need strong defenders of police spending in place.
New role for PCCs – most people won’t know, but PCCs could be about to gain significant new powers, taking over responsibility for fire and rescue services if the Government gets its way. UNISON believes that this is a mistake, lacking justification or local support and with major employment and legal implications. But despite this, the vast range of services they may soon be responsible for means these elections matter.
The future of neighbourhood policing – experience and evidence show us that community and neighbourhood policing helps keep crime down and makes people feel safer. And yet in recent years this is fast disappearing. One PCSO who is a UNISON member, responding to a recent survey, told us: “There is no time for community policing anymore,” and with government cuts to the sector that’s a concern shared by many. But on May 5 many of us will have the chance to vote for more neighbourhood policing.
The importance of campaigning – of course there’s another reason why the PCC elections matter – and that’s the impact it will have on Labour’s electoral prospects. Many of the areas with PCC elections next week have few Labour representatives, so the opportunity to get out on the doorstep and work to get a Labour representative elected is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Especially if it helps get out the Labour vote, raise contact rates, and help get more Labour MPs – and a Labour government – into Parliament at the next election.