Police boss fears for future

Police authority chairman Deirdre Newham
Police authority chairman Deirdre Newham
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THE county is facing a crisis in which a potentially unknown and inexperienced person could be forced to rush multi-million pound decisions on how we are policed.

That is the opinion of the current county police authority chairman, who will lose her position when the commissioner is elected.

Northamptonshire’s first police and crime commissioner will have just six weeks to consider the force’s £120 million budget and decide a police and crime plan for the next three years.

Deirdre Newham, chairman of Northamptonshire Police Authority, which the commissioner will replace, said: “The danger is in that limited period the amount of information they’ve got to understand to make a reasoned decision is tremendous. You can imagine what could happen.”

Time needed for councillors on a new police and crime panel to scrutinise the three-year plan and the deadline for printing council tax letters mean that the commissioner – who may have no experience of the complexities of the force, criminal justice and community safety – will have to set their priorities and budget by early January.

Experts believe members of the public are unlikely to turn out in big numbers to vote and that the successful candidate will be elected by just a tiny proportion of those eligible to vote on November 1.

Mrs Newham warned fewer than one in seven people are expected to vote in the new elections, which will give unprecedented power to one individual.

She said: “If it’s a low turnout it sometimes skews the results.

“Is it a mandate if you get a low turnout?”

The authority’s six paid staff, none of who will know if their jobs are secure until the commissioner takes office on November 22, will try to draft plans based on the manifestos of the candidates.

But candidates for the £70,000-a-year post could declare less than four weeks before the election.

Only one, independent John Norrie, has so far thrown his hat in the ring.

And the Government is yet to release the details of the change, including what grants the commissioner will be given to spend, which it promised in January.

Mrs Newham said: “I don’t think it has been thought through really.”