Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Jamieson delighted by PCC poll win

Former West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones died suddenly aged 59
Former West Midlands police and crime commissioner Bob Jones died suddenly aged 59

Labour has won the West Midlands police and crime commissioner (PCC) by-election with just over half of the vote, amid concern over low turnout.

New commissioner David Jamieson blasted the Government for fumbling the legislation behind the post's creation, after just 10.41% of those with a vote bothered to cast a ballot.

The commissioner role was introduced by the coalition Government to strengthen the public accountability of the police and boost transparency.

Mr Jamieson, a former transport minister, said he was delighted with a win, but branded the legislation, which meant a by-election being held in the middle of the summer holidays, as "messed up".

He also claimed the Government "has not done enough to promote the role", but Policing Minister Mike Penning said commissioners were "making a real difference".

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) described the voting activity as "a very depressing turnout".

Mr Jamieson said he was committed to bringing relevancy to the role, adding: "I will now make sure that the people's priorities are the police's priorities."

A by-election was triggered after the sudden death of previous incumbent Labour's Bob Jones died on July 1.

Mr Jamieson polled 102,561, beating his nearest rival, the Conservatives' Les Jones, by 48,470 votes.

Ukip's Keith Rowe came third with 32,187 votes, beating the Liberal Democrat's Ayoub Khan, on 12,950 ballots, into last place.

The swing was just 0.27% from the Conservatives to Labour.

Today's is the lowest ever turnout figure for a PCC, and even fell below that of Staffordshire in 2012, when 11.6% of eligible voters cast a ballot and 15% turned out nationwide.

The result has sparked calls for the election process to be reformed, with Labour shadow policing minister Jack Dromey calling it "a shambles".

The cost to the taxpayer of staging the poll has been estimated at least £3.7 million, which works out at just under £20 for every vote cast.

Mr Dromey said it had been a by-election "characterised by costly chaos and a record low turnout".

The role of commissioners, who oversee policing and force budgets, were introduced across the UK by a piece of Government legislation called the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.

With the by-election on a strict timetable, candidates had four weeks to find a £5,000 deposit and campaign across a huge area of two million eligible voters.

In contrast to the election in 2012, there were no independent candidates fielded in the West Midlands this time around.

Mr Dromey said Labour was now consulting on the future of commissioners, having opposed their original introduction by the Government.

He said he would await the outcome of that process, due in the autumn, rather than "make a snap decision" as to whether they should be scrapped outright.

Chris Terry, a research officer with the ERS, said: "I think it could have been better had more thought been put into the process of how the by-election was run."

Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said the turnout had been "a disaster", putting the future of the commissioner role in doubt.

"This level of turnout stretches the legitimacy of the office to its limit," she added.

Ukip's Nigel Farage, who was the only one of the four candidate's party leaders to make a trip to the region during campaigning, said there was "no public appetite" for the by-election, which has also fallen during the summer holidays.

He said there had been "a wholesale failure to explain to people the changes that are happening".

On the day, Mr Jamieson won by such a big margin, no second run-off stage was needed.

He paid tribute to his late predecessor, saying Bob Jones would be "a difficult act to follow".

The 67-year-old vowed to see through the recruitment of 450 new police officers, keep community police support officers, and work to reduce the numbers killed or hurt on the region's roads.

As a Labour transport minister Mr Jamieson introduced the managed motorways pilot to the M42, helping bring in legislation enabling the police to crush the cars of uninsured drivers, and making sure fixed speed cameras were painted yellow.

He has promised to look at speed enforcement as a priority across the area, which includes Birmingham, the Black Country, Solihull and Coventry.

Mr Jamieson also said he would be taking a fresh look at the reactivating some of the region's speed cameras, which have for months been switched off for lack of money, "to see if we can afford it".

Meanwhile, Mr Penning said commissioners were "making a real difference", but added he was "disappointed" with the turnout.

"But we must bear in mind that this was a by-election taking place in August following the sad death of Bob Jones.

"Around 200,000 people voted yesterday, whereas nobody voted for their old police authority.

"Our police reforms are working and crime is down more than 10% under this government."

Nick Alston, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), said the elected role was "invaluable" in holding the police to public account.

He added: "The turnout was lower than we would have preferred but that does not detract from the important work that police and crime commissioners across the country carry out every day."

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