The last few weeks have not been good for England’s Police and Crime Commissioners. For starters we had the Channel Four documentary Meet the Police Commissioner which shone the spotlight on Kent PCC Ann Barnes. This was car crash TV par excellence as the hapless Mrs Barnes struggled to explain her role while sitting in her office painting her nails. Some unkind reviewers even speculated, tongue firmly in cheek, that the programme was a spoof documentary in the tradition of The Office.
If Mrs Barnes had thought that the documentary would help her to explain her role to the public at large, she was sadly mistaken. As the Chair of the Kent Police Federation pointed out, “It was an ill advised concept and from within Kent Police I know Mrs Barnes was advised not to do it. It was never going to end well.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Merseyside PCC Jane Kennedy then decided to get in on the act. Mrs Kennedy, a former Labour MP who stood down at the 2010 election after being caught up in the row over Parliamentary expenses, decided to appoint Liverpool Labour Councillor Ann O’Byrne as her £30k per year Deputy. When the local Police and Crime Panel questioned the way in which the appointment was made, Mrs Kennedy took to Twitter to defend her decision.
In an astonishingly ill advised series of tweets, Mrs Kennedy stated that “there is no requirement for me to be politically independent” and explained that the recruitment process had only been open to Labour Councillors because “it would be a waste of time to appoint a deputy you couldn’t trust, e.g. a Lib Dem.” (Imagine if David Cameron were to say that!)
Voter turnout at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012 was embarrassingly low. Just 15 per cent of the electorate in Kent voted. The figure for Merseyside was even worse, just 12 per cent.
The next elections will be held in 2016. If the Government wants to avoid another round of voter apathy then it needs to explain fully exactly what it is that the Commissioners are there to do. As for the Commissioners themselves, they really do need to get some professional communications advice as a matter of urgency and act on it!