“At present you, the people of the West Midlands, have the right to vote in order to democratically elect your Police and Crime Commissioner. The Conservative Party and its West Midlands Metro Mayor intend to abolish your democratic right to vote; end direct accountability to you; remove your choice as to who represents you; and transfer power from you, the people, to the Mayor. Make no mistake, this is not an evolution or a merger. It is profoundly undemocratic, it is deeply divisive, and it is nothing more than a proposed hostile takeover”.
In this article, we share the thoughts of Simon Foster (West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner) on why he thinks that proposals to merge the role of the PCC into the Mayoralty would be undemocratic; against the very principles of devolution and based on assertions that the Mayoral model has worked elsewhere – with ‘no such evidence and arguably, where the evidence base is to the contrary”.
At present you, the people of the West Midlands, have the right to vote in order to democratically elect your Police and Crime Commissioner; the Commissioner is then directly accountable to you; you have an opportunity to exercise a choice as to who represents you; and that power is vested in you, the people.
I believe in, the need for a democratically elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner; directly accountable to you; the importance of you having an opportunity to exercise your choice as to who represents you; and that power should remain with you, the people. That was the Manifesto commitment on which I was elected in May 2021 and it is a commitment set out in my Police and Crime Plan.
The Conservative Party and its West Midlands Metro Mayor intend to abolish your democratic right to vote; end direct accountability to you; remove your choice as to who represents you; and transfer power from you, the people, to the Mayor. The Mayor wants to take the power away from you and transfer it to himself, so he can appoint someone of his own personal choosing, on the basis of patronage. It is a matter of serious concern that we have a government and a Mayor that are prepared so casually, to dispense with the democratic rights of the people of the West Midlands.
Make no mistake, this is not an evolution or a merger. It is profoundly undemocratic, it is deeply divisive and it is nothing more than a proposed hostile takeover. This cynical power grab is in no-one’s interest, other than that of the Conservative Party and its West Midlands Metro Mayor.
Why is that you might ask? Well:
Firstly, Conservative Party candidates have now stood for election to the role of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner on four occasions. On each and every occasion, they have been roundly defeated and have failed to be elected.
Secondly, the Conservative Party Mayor has already failed on two occasions to execute a takeover of the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner. On the first occasion, in March 2019, he was defeated by a majority of the constituent authorities who voted against the proposal. On the second occasion, the Mayor and his fellow Conservative candidate both stood for election in May 2021, on a Manifesto supporting the takeover. The Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner was defeated.
Thirdly, on the basis of the electoral evidence available, the fact of the matter is, that as a consequence of its appalling, lamentable and shameful record over the past 12 years, the Conservative Party is not trusted by the people of the West Midlands, when it comes to policing, crime, community safety and criminal justice.
The Conservative Party and its Mayor have plainly calculated that the only way they will be able to exercise the functions of a Police and Crime Commissioner in the West Midlands, is to abolish your right to vote, remove your choice, deprive you of your power and to circumvent the democratic process altogether. They plainly do not want to subject themselves to the will of the people for a fifth time, with the prospect of yet further failure.
Such is the extent of their desperation, they are including a dedicated clause in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (‘the amendment’) currently before Parliament, that has no purpose, other than to remove the existing requirement for consent of all of the constituent Councils of the Combined Authority, so as to enable the Mayor to abolish your right to vote, your choice and your power, simply on his sole say so. Whether this amendment becomes law or not will be determined by MPs that have no connection with or interest in the West Midlands. That is entirely contrary to the Mayor’s professed support for devolution, because this will transfer power away from the constituent authorities and you, the people, to the Mayor.
This proposed hostile takeover, would reduce democratic oversight and scrutiny of policing, crime, community safety and criminal justice. West Midlands Police has a budget of £680 million. These areas involve complex matters of serious public concern and interest. They require focused and full-time attention, led by someone who has been democratically elected by and is directly accountable to the people, not simply appointed by the Mayor on the basis of patronage.
In the event of a transfer of the Police and Crime Commissioner functions to the Mayor, it would be the largest, most complex and high risk combined authority function, yet under the Mayoral model, these functions would be delegated to an unelected appointee, with the consequence that the people are excluded from determining who is to represent them in fulfilling the functions of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
The Mayor has relied on the following submissions in support of his intention to abolish your democratic right to vote; end direct accountability to you; remove your choice as to who represents you; and transfer power from you, the people to the Mayor. Each of these submissions can be dismissed in short order:
Firstly, is the bare assertion that there is clear evidence the Mayoral model has worked elsewhere. There is no such evidence. Arguably, the evidence base is to the contrary and there is certainly none that it has worked any more effectively or efficiently. The Mayoral model currently operates in three areas of the country. The two areas in which it has operated for the greatest length of time are London and Manchester. The Metropolitan Police Service was placed in special measures in June 2022. Greater Manchester Police was placed in special measures in December 2020 and was only removed in October 2022.
Secondly, it is said that the West Midlands is anomalous for not having adopted the Mayoral model. To submit that, because other areas have adopted an alternative model, the West Midlands should do so, is contrary to the principle of devolution upon which this process purports to be built. The Mayor acknowledges, the West Midlands possesses a unique political context. Our local governance arrangements should therefore acknowledge that, rather than slavishly following what others have done in different circumstances.
Thirdly, the Mayor states that the people of the West Midlands will have the opportunity to deliver their verdict on the transfer of power at a subsequent election, after the event. This is plainly disingenuous nonsense, because an undemocratic, unilateral decision by the Mayor to transfer the functions of the Police and Crime Commissioner to himself, would have already pre-empted any view on the part of the electorate.
Fourthly, the Mayor continues to place reliance and weight on the outcome of what even he accepted at the time, was a corrupt and discredited consultation conducted in 2019. This is extraordinary. I would invite the Mayor to reacquaint himself with the cheating that took place during the course of that consultation.
Effective joint working between the West Midlands Combined Authority (‘the WMCA’), the Mayor, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the constituent local authorities and their Leaders, requires a consensual, partnership approach. It cannot be based on one partner arbitrarily overriding the collective, democratic will and legitimate concerns of the others. It has been agreed that powers should not be usurped from local authorities to the WMCA.
It is currently the case that the constituent local authorities decide whether the policing governance function should transfer and that position should remain. The amendment is contrary to the wider goal of levelling up and regeneration within the West Midlands. It is a retrograde step that would, if enacted and relied upon, severely damage working relationships within the WMCA. Indeed, maintenance of that relationship is conditional on keeping the governance of Police and Fire services, separate from the mayoral combined authority.
As the Mayor is well aware, since we were elected in May 2021, we have both embraced the will of the people and our respective electoral mandates. We have constructively and productively worked together in partnership, to deliver positive outcomes for the people of the West Midlands. That has included our joint commitments in the Police and Crime Plan, the Safer Travel Partnership and the Trailblazer Devolution Deal. That commitment remains on my part.
The Mayor would be well advised to:
Firstly, concentrate on delivering positive outcomes for the people of the West Midlands in relation to his own existing remit, before embarking on an expansion of his powers, that would achieve nothing more than his own self-aggrandisement; and
Secondly, state publicly and unequivocally that he has no intention, under any circumstances, to abolish your democratic right to vote; end direct accountability to you; remove your choice as to who represents you; and transfer power from you, the people, to the Mayor, by seeking to execute a hostile takeover of the functions of police, crime, community safety and criminal justice.
In the meantime, my top priority remains delivering justice, safety and security for all of our people and communities of the West Midlands.
About our author:
Simon Foster was elected as your Police and Crime Commissioner on 6 May 2021. He has lived, worked and brought his family up in the West Midlands for 35 years.
Simon has been a legal aid solicitor for 35 years. He has worked in a Community Law Centre and in private practice. He was a partner in a legal aid law firm for 22 years.
He has specialised in Housing and Public Law. He has represented people who are at risk of eviction from their homes, those living in poor housing conditions and the homeless. He is married with 3 daughters.
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