Stephen has issued a robust response to calls to scrap PCCs saying the post is less than two years old and needs time to bed in.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have come out in recent weeks saying they would get rid of PCCs if elected.
Stephen, who was elected as an Independent and Norfolk’s first PCC in November 2012, told BBC Radio Norfolk’s Drive programme (on 23/9/14) he was sceptical about the role before he took office – but is now a convert.
The PCC told BBC Radio Norfolk “I have to say at the time I didn’t think was the right thing to do but I have certainly changed my mind now I’m in the position.
Stephen also told presenter Matt Gudgin: “This is going to take time and to waste a huge amount more money tinkering around – by the time they’ve tinkered around what are they going to get?”
Stephen added: “They say it’s going to save £50million which they can put to the front line which is absolute total nonsense because at the end of the day they are going to have to put forward an alternative or are they suggesting that the police run themselves. I mean the whole thing is just a knee jerk reaction, hoping to get public sympathy and it’s a joke”.
Stephen went on to say: “You want to go and ask all the people that we work with, which are all the public services, voluntary groups, victim support groups and a lot of charities who do an awful lot for victims of all sorts of terrible things, do they think PCCs are doing a reasonable job for them?
“If they come back and say ‘no, we’re totally useless’ well then I would agree with the Labour Party and we need a re-think. If they come back and say ‘this is the first time that there has been an office in local government that can cross all public services and give a voice to the victims and help us the charities and victim support groups’, then we want to keep it. Now, whether it’s me or its somebody else, is totally irrelevant”.
A full transcript of Stephen’s interview with Matthew Gudgin on Radio Norfolk is below:
Matthew Gudgin – Drive
BBC Radio Norfolk – Monday 22nd September 2014
The Labour Party says it will abolish Police and Crime Commissioners if it wins the next election.
Norwich North candidate, Jessica Asato, says Stephen Bett’s office would be abolished if Labour wins next election.
The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, told his party’s conference that the money saved would go towards improving front line policing.
Our political correspondence, Andrew Sinclair reports from the Labour Party Conference in Manchester:
“Police and Crime Commissioners were one of the coalition government’s big ideas. Instead of a non-elected Police Authority, every force will be overseen by a publically elected official who would become the face of policing in his or her county. But Labour has concluded that the idea is expensive and flawed. It points to the low turn outs in the elections, just 14% in Norfolk as proof that the public has not taken to the idea. Cancelling at the next election will save £15million. The announcement came as the Labour candidate for Norwich North, Jess Asato, said that Norfolk’s Police Commissioner, Stephen Bett, lacked public support and hadn’t made much of a difference.”
Labour has pledged to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners if they win the next general election. The coalition government introduced elected PCCs after the 2010 election to make police forces more accountable and provide a figurehead for forces. At the Labour Party conference in Manchester shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said that they will get rid of them. Jesscia Asato who is standing for Labour in Norwich North at the next election and she has been speaking to our political reporter, Andrew Sinclair:
Jessica Asato: “Well the fact is, that the public clearly don’t think that police and crime commissioners are worth the money that is spent on them. In Norfolk we had 14.5% of the public turn out, an absolutely risible turnout and many of those people just thought this is a pointless elected position that doesn’t need to be elected. The Labour party at the time said we wouldn’t be electing these people and it’s about time that we scrap them so that in Norfolk that will mean that Stephen Bett will go”.
Andrew Sinclair: “So it’s the idea of the Police and Crime Commissioner you’re against rather than Mr Bett himself?”
Jessica Asato: “Absolutely, obviously we are not singling out just the Norfolk PCC, this is a national policy, that means that the PCC in each region will go. But the fact is that there have already been questions about Mr Bett’s expenses and we are going through some real turmoil in Norfolk so the number of front line police have been cut by 450 and of course his office has had to find lots of cost savings too but it’s a position that frankly, they have never been politicised in the first place and that is money that would be better spent on the front line”.
Andrew Sinclair: “He was trying to do something about the financial crisis in the police service wasn’t he?”
Jessica Asato: “Of course there are a number of things that Mr Bett did obviously do and he increased tax to ensure that we didn’t need to make as many front line cuts but frankly that is not going to stop what the government is doing, cutting front line police and I think what would be much better is to return to assist him where there is local accountability but that we don’t have to spend all this money on a silly election that nobody wants. We must return to front line good community policing and actually we don’t need an elected PCC to do that. The police do it very well on their own”.
Andrew Sinclair: “But wasn’t that what Mr Bett was trying to do, to try to make sure that we had more front line community policing?”
Jessica Asato: “I think as I said before that actually Mr Bett had tried to ensure that front line cuts weren’t as big as they might otherwise have been but the fact is that you can’t turn back the tide when the government is telling you you have to cut a million pounds off your budget , you are going to have to find those savings elsewhere and once you have done all the backroom office staff then it only comes to the front line when you are going to find that saving so I think in the end getting rid of an elected position that nobody wanted and ensuring that that money in the end is going to the front line is where we should be putting it”.
Jessica Asato, the Norwich North candidate for Labour, speaking at the Labour Conference in Manchester speaking to Andrew Sinclair. End of report.
There then followed an telephone interview on line between Matthew Gudgin (broadcaster) and Stephen Bett (PCC for Norfolk).
Matthew Gudgin: “Good evening Mr Bett”
Stephen Bett: “Good evening , Matthew”
Matthew Gudgin: “The public don’t think you’re worth the money says Jessica Asato?”
Stephen Bett: “Well I’m surprised she even knows, she’s never been to see me and she’s never been to see the team and she’s never asked what we have been doing so how she can pontificate that we are no use to anybody I really don’t know!”
Matthew Gudgin: “She’s right about being elected on a risible turnout thought, 14% is pretty poor, isn’t it?”
Stephen Bett: “Well you can say that and I would agree but if you look at the campaign the Home Office ran and the Government ran, I mean, it was pathetic. It was in November, snow on the ground, cold, no one was going to come out because of the weather. Nobody knew quite what was going on or what it was all about. Are you surprised? I’m surprised actually that we got 15%!”
Matthew Gudgin: “Are you surprised though, and it’s not just Jessica Asato, and her policy by herself, we’ve seen Ed Balls stand up and say we will get rid of the position if we win the election so it’s the Labour Party in general. Are you surprised that they have come out so firmly against your position?”
Stephen Bett: “Well no, what I am surprised at is that we’ve had a government who have brought up a position which I have to say at the time I didn’t think was the right thing to do but I have certainly changed my mind now I’m in the position. They spent £150million on it and basically all they told us was to get out there and get better known, which we have tried to do. We haven’t done two years yet and typical politicians, you’d think we’d got masses of money in this country because they want to tinker around, throw money at something, they haven’t really got…they say it’s going to save £50million which they can put to the front line which is absolute total nonsense because at the end of the day they are going to have to put forward an alternative or are they suggesting that the police run themselves. I mean the whole thing is just a knee jerk reaction, hoping to get public sympathy and it’s a joke”.
Matthew Gudgin: “Following the vote north of the border last week, the Referendum, we heard more about democracy in England haven’t we, and more powers being devolved. Do you think that this could well form a foundation as the beginning of that?”
Stephen Bett: “Well I think we have got to look at what the idea of PCCs was in the first place. It is the first time that a politician in a county, such as Norfolk has the ability to cross all public services and has the ability to coordinate them all, because at the end of the day the legislation has said that this person will run a budget of £151million, in our case in for Norfolk and will look after the interests of victims, which has never been done before. We’re two years into this job, and we’re having to find our way through a serious culture of public services being in silos because they don’t want anybody messing about in what they term as their territory and this is going to take time and to waste a huge amount more money tinkering around, and by the time they’ve tinkered around what are they going to get? They haven’t said they going to get have elected people…..are those people capable of running a £150million budget, do they know about the police and understand them and their culture and how things go, do they understand all the public services and how they operate and how we can get them all to operate in a coordinated manner, sharing resources rather than wasting them? I think not. And I think this is a rather pathetic way for the Labour Party to try and gain votes. It’s nonsensical. Let the Police and Crime Commissioners, however bad or however good they are, bed in, do their business as best they can because we have no template and you want to go and ask all the people that we work with, which are all the public services, voluntary groups, victim support groups and a lot of charities who do an awful lot for victims of all sorts of terrible things, do they think PCCs are doing a reasonable job for them?
If they come back and say “no, we’re totally useless” well then I would agree with the Labour Party and we need a re-think. If they come back and say “this is the first time that there has been an office in local government that can cross all public services and give a voice to the victims and help us the charities and victim support groups, then we want to keep it. Now, whether it’s me or its somebody else, is totally irrelevant”.
Matthew Gudgin then thanked Stephen Bett.
Matthew Gudgin : “Stephen Bett reacting to that story from the Labour Party conference today”.