On Thursday all electors in England and Wales with exceptions in a few areas will be entitled to vote for their Police and Crime Commissioner. In Sussex we will have an opportunity to either re-elect Katy Bourne (Conservative) or vote for one of the other candidates (Green, Labour, Lib Dem or UKIP). Unfortunately we don’t have the opportunity to vote for an Independent candidate which presents a problem to those of us who believe policing should remain outside of party politics. However for those still undecided on how to vote, the list of candidates is available here. In some places in England and Wales the role of PCC is filled by a directly elected Mayor. This is true of Manchester and of course in London where the Mayor of London is responsible for Policing in the same way as our PCC is here in Sussex. There are all sorts of arguments regarding the merits of these roles and questions as to how they add value to the democratic landscape compared to the situation before the roles were created. However we are were we are.
Fifteen years ago on 18th October 2001 a referendum was held in Brighton & Hove to gauge our opinion on the idea of an executive Mayor for the City when 60,000 of us voted, with over 37,000 votes opposed to the idea of a Mayor. At the time part of the campaign seemed to focus on the individuals who it was assumed were likely to stand. Steve Bassam and Simon Fanshawe were two of the names I recall. Currently, the only model for local devolution offered by the Government includes the need for an executive Mayor to oversee the area concerned. A debate in Parliament last week challenged this approach and the Government confirmed its determination that even in rural areas such as Sussex, an elected Mayor will be needed as part of the arrangements. At present there are two strategies being worked up for devolution by local Councils in our area. Both will impact Sussex as a whole to a large degree as they will make changes to the way in which surrounding areas are governed, although they are based on different geographical footprints. I know from talking to people involved in the 3SC campaign which covers Sussex and Surrey but presently excludes Brighton & Hove that they do not believe a directly elected Mayor will be appropriate. This is for a range of reasons but one of these is that the senior local Councillors do not want to cede their power to someone else, forgetting of course that it is we who hand them that power at the end of each election process. In any case it would appear that the Government has other ideas. If one of these schemes is successful and the Government remains committed to directly elected Mayors, we might eventually have a directly elected Mayor after all!