Police and Crime Commissioners

On the final day before the US elections this week, President Obama urged Americans "to exercise this precious right that we have" and vote.

In the same way, l hope that local people will use their vote in the new elections for Police and Crime Commissioners next Thursday, 15th November.

These elections will matter to us in West Sussex.  Too many issues which affect us locally are decided either in Whitehall or by quangos, when it's local communities who should be determining priorities. 

This is especially true of policing.  None of us can choose our local police force - they are natural monopolies.

At present, forces are held to account by police authorities, appointed bodies including local councillors.  They do worthy work, but I've yet to meet a constituent who's known who the chairman is.

So these authorities will be replaced with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.  These individuals will take over the powers of police authorities - setting the policing plan and budget, deciding how much to raise from local council tax for the police, and appointing or dismissing the Chief Constable.

But, like the Mayor of London, they will exercise these powers with a direct mandate, and will be visible and accountable to the local community.

They will be powerful figures, so there are checks and balances.  The operational independence of chief constables will be retained in law.

Our system rightly prevents politicians from interfering with police officers, who alone decide whether to investigate or arrest.  Every Police and Crime Commissioner will swear a public oath of impartiality on taking office, promising to serve the whole community without fear or favour.

At a meeting between West Sussex MPs and council leaders a fortnight ago, we discussed the persistent local problem of travellers who invade private land.  Everyone agreed that more effective action is needed.

And then someone said: "Of course, after 15th November, there'll be someone we can go to who can get this sorted out."

And that's the point.  The elected PCC for Sussex will give local people a voice in the fight against crime.

That's why these elections matter.  And that's why I hope that people will exercise their precious right to vote next week.

You can find out more about the candidates in Sussex by visiting www.choosemypcc.org.uk or telephoning 0800 1 070708.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at nick@nickherbert.com.

Christopher N Howarth