How would you rather spend £1m - on an election for commissioner or 50 new police officers?
THE £1 million cost of an election for Derbyshire's first police commissioner would be better spent employing 50 new officers, says the head of the county police authority.
Philip Hickson made the claim as he launched a scathing attack on the role, which will take the place of the authority in November.
He condemned the cost of the election as "a ridiculous waste of money" and said people "couldn't care less" about who became the commissioner.
The city councillor and magistrate said: "The cost to Derbyshire for the election will be about £1 million – a ridiculous waste of money for a concept the public do not care about at a time when budgets are being squeezed.
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"For this amount of money we could have employed at least 50 more police officers.
"This was an ill-thought-out scheme that was rushed through and it will probably not stand the test of time."
The existing police authority is made up of two Derby city councillors, seven county councillors and eight independent members. The public will vote in a commissioner to replace it on November 15.
The commissioner will be overseen by a "crime panel" made up of 10 councillors and two independent members.
Currently there is a two-horse race between Labour Party candidate Alan Charles and Conservative candidate Simon Spencer.
A third person, UKIP member and ex-police officer David Gale, has yet to rule himself out of consideration.
Whoever is elected must swear an oath of impartiality.
Tory Mr Hickson, former leader of Derby City Council, said: "The oath is a farcical idea. Only political parties will have the ability to mount an effective campaign and therefore most commissioners will be political animals.
"You can try and take the candidate out of politics but you will never take the politics out of the candidate."
The Labour Party has always opposed the idea of commissioners and Mr Hickson has found an unlikely ally for his views in former city councillor and sparring partner Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North.
Mr Williamson said: "It is a complete and crass waste of money that the Government has pushed through. Calling for it to be scrapped is a forlorn hope but if the Government did see sense and change its mind we would welcome it. But I think that is very unlikely and, given that the police and crime commissioner role will be pushed through, it is important that the Labour Party have someone standing who will challenge the Tories."
The elected commissioner will be paid £75,000 a year and serve for four years until the next election. His or her responsibilities will include setting the force's budget, the amount it claims from council tax, and hiring and firing the chief constable.
Mr Hickson said: "I have always been uneasy with commissioners being political appointments and made my objections clear throughout the process.
"It is interesting that the minister who pushed through commissioners – Nick Herbert – recently resigned from his post, citing as a reason that he was thoroughly disgruntled about the way the idea had been developed."
A Home Office spokesperson told the Derby Telegraph last night: "Elections will be paid for by the Home Office and local police forces will not incur any costs.
"The arrival of police and crime commissioners will be the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime.
"The public will have a far stronger voice in how their streets are policed."
ROLE 'WILL INCREASE ACCOUNTABILITY'
Mark Pickard is the head of Derbyshire Police Federation which represents the interests of almost 1,900 officers in Derbyshire.
He said: "It seems a little trite for Mr Hickson to blast this concept when at one stage of the process he had thrown his name into the hat as someone who was at least interested in the role of police and crime commissioner.
"It is clear that some police authorities have not carried out their primary function of ensuring they have an efficient and effective police service and that is the reason given for the new role of police commissioner.
"The cost of the numerous meetings held by the various groups within the police authority has not, in my view, helped the case for them to remain in place.
"The cost of the current police authority to run for a year is just under £1 million.
"This is a very important role affecting the communities of Derbyshire and people need to vote for the right person to shape the future of our local police service."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The elections will be paid for by the Home Office and will not come from funds that would otherwise have gone to forces."
She said having a commissioner voted in by the public would increase accountability.
"The public will have a far stronger voice in how their streets are policed and police and crime commissioners will hold forces to account on their behalf."
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