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Work On Selecting Candidates For Police and Crime Commissioners Must Accelerate

With 12 months to go, political parties and government bodies need to urgently address key challenges to ensure the election of the 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are a success. With public awareness low, the quality of candidates will be crucial in motivating voters to the ballot box. We welcome the government’s increasing focus on raising the profile of PCCs, but there are a number of hurdles to overcome.

In a report out recently, the Institute says that in addressing the urgent question of PCC candidate selection, “government and the parties face a set of complex and unfamiliar challenges”:

  • As these are new posts, there isn’t yet clarity on what skills candidates will require. They may need some political skills although the competencies will be different to those for parliamentary and local government roles
  • PCCs will be elected in “a new political geography”. Police areas cut across political boundaries
  • As PCCs are sole-person executive figures, diversity in terms of gender or ethnicity is not possible within individual police areas

Recommendations

Drawing on its previous report on candidate selection, Party People, the Institute makes 11 recommendations for “widening the pool of candidates, ensuring that more diverse and higher quality candidates are selected, and building transparency and wider public involvement into party selection processes.” These include:

  • Party leaders should issue an open call for people to come forward to be candidates (including those with no previous party experience).
  • Party selection processes should have a high degree of transparency built in, clearly setting out the criteria for applications and possibly allowing candidate’s supporting statements to be made publicly available.
  • The process of candidate selection and assessment should be devised by parties nationally but short-listing and selection should happen locally to reflect the local nature of the role.
  • Parties should take in to account the demographic profile of geographical areas when considering candidates, in terms of gender and ethnicity.
  • To tackle public disengagement, parties should consider involving non-party members in the selection process.
  • Where a party has two or more strong candidates, they should consider using primary elections, where non-party members directly participate in the selection.
  • Creative ways to reduce the costs of primary elections should be considered, including potentially offering online voting as an option.
  • The Electoral Commission should provide proactive briefing and training for PCC candidates, including independents, on the election campaign and election itself.
  • Additional government funds are unlikely to be forthcoming for headhunting, assessment, training or primary elections. However, around £4 million extra funding could be found over the PCC’s four year term by reducing PCC salaries to between £65,000 and £100,000 in line with the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Board.

Careful planning

The recent report concludes that “as the clock ticks towards the first PCC elections, Government and the political parties must act quickly to set in train the processes to ensure that come November 2012 there are suitable candidates on the PCC ballot papers across England and Wales.”

Report author, Tom Gash says:
“The government is taking steps to raise the profile of the PCC elections and to encourage candidates to come forward. This is sensible and timely, since at present most voters – 73% according to a recent poll – are simply unaware that these elections are coming. The political parties also need to move fast to attract and select high calibre candidates from a range of backgrounds. And if they are serious about their desire for non-party-aligned politicians to stand, there should be an active call for independents to come forward and an independent headhunting exercise.”

Co-author, Akash Paun adds:
“To counter the risk of disengagement, efforts need to be made to encourage public involvement throughout the candidate selection process. For example, members of the public should be invited to attend hustings meetings and in some areas, could take part in the final selection through primary elections. Also key is that parties make their candidate selection process as transparent as possible from the outset, so aspiring PCCs know what they need to do to get selected as party candidates, and so that the wider public knows how and when they can have their say.”