Tyne & Wear

Northumbria PCC candidates debate future of policing

Northumbria Police make an arrest
Image caption Officer numbers have fallen at Northumbria Police

Police and crime commissioner candidates in the Northumbria force area have clashed over the effect government spending cuts would have on policing in the region.

During a debate in Newcastle organised by the North East Women's Network, the Labour and Conservative candidates argued over the impact of funding reductions.

Vera Baird, Labour's candidate and a former solicitor general, claimed the cuts were unsustainable and damaging.

Speaking to the BBC afterwards she said: "The Inspectorate of Constabulary who oversee the police service said to the government that 12% was the right level of cuts and beyond that the quality of service in the policing would deteriorate.

"George Osborne introduced 20% cuts. We don't favour sudden cuts as deeply and as quickly as that. We would follow HMIC's advice and would have made only 12% cuts."

Community voice

But Conservative candidate Phil Butler disagreed.

He said: "As the police and crime commissioner I'm not going to be the chancellor of the exchequer, I'm not going to be able to tell George Osborne what he has to do with the national deficit, this job is focused on being the police and crime commissioner and that's being the voice of the community.

"I will work with the cuts that we have. I've already identified a million pounds of savings from slashing bureaucracy and we'll use that to reinforce the front line and bring down crime even further."

Image caption Vera Baird lost her seat as a Labour MP at the 2010 general election

Home Office figures show cuts to police force budgets have seen reductions in the numbers of officers in the Northumbria force area in recent years - from 4,102 in March 2011 to 3,921 a year later.

However, Home Office figures also show a reduction in total crime of 9% in the year to June 2012, when compared to the previous year, in the Northumbria force area.

Politicisation risks

The elections for police commissioners take place across England and Wales - except for London - on 15 November.

Commissioners will oversee the work of police forces and draw up a policing plan, taking responsibility for dealing with victims of crime.

They will not not have control over day-to-day operational matters, which will remain the remit of the chief constable.

They will have the power in some circumstances to appoint and dismiss chief constables, but will themselves be overseen by a policing panel made up from local councillors and other co-opted members.

The Conservatives - who made the pledge in their 2010 manifesto to introduce crime commissioners - say the role will make policing more accountable and transparent. Critics say it risks politicising the work of the police.

Image caption Conservative candidate Philip Butler is a former police officer

'Very well run'

The Liberal Democrats nationally do not back the idea of police and crime commissioners, but are standing in some contests, including in Northumbria, where Peter Andras is the party's candidate.

Mr Andras was not able to attend the hustings event organised by the North East Women's Network due to work commitments.

His agent Anita Lower attended in his place and said her party would not seek to interfere too much in the running of the police service if its candidate was elected, but would listen to what the public wants.

"The thing about a commissioner is they are not there to run a police force," she said.

'I'm a businessman'

"Northumbria is a very well run, well organised police service. However, the commissioner is the opportunity to give the public their voice about what is important to them in the policing service."

Also at the hustings event was the United Kingdom Independence Party's candidate for the Northumbria crime commissioner post, Alistair Baxter.

Image caption UKIP's Alistair Baxter said he was simply a "member of the public"

He said he and his party would try to remain above political squabbles and that he would, if elected, bring his experience of business and life to bear on the role.

Mr Baxter said: "I'm a businessman, I'm a member of the public, I am not a politician and never have been and I've never been in the police force.

"I do feel already that this has been politicised by some of the other candidates to an unacceptable level."

He added: "I have a long history of community and church involvement and what I am able to do with this latter part of my life is something to make a difference in other people's lives."

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