Police & Crime Commissioners-losing control?

Met Police Car

The refusal of South Yorkshire commissioner Shaun Wright to resign over the Rotherham grooming scandal is the latest scandal to hit the role of PCC.

Professor Alexis Jay's report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham revealed abuse of epidemic levels; a "conservative" estimate of 1400 children abused over a period of thirteen years. What has shocked the country, however, is the levels of denial and pretence from authorities who instead of solving the problem, chose to ignore it.

Shaun Wright was the councillor responsible for children and young people's service in Rotherham during 2005-2010, and was elected as PCC with only a turnout of (approx) 14.5%. It is alleged Wright knew about the abuse taking place in Rotherham, having, the report claims, received three separate warnings, which he chose to ignore.

Theresa May has called for him to resign, as have the Labour Party, and even his own deputy Tracy Cheetham, who has already stepped down. Stephen Ashley, chairman of the Rotherham Safeguarding Children board, told the Guardian Wright's continuing tenure is hindering their work to protect young people.

Yet despite all of the above and the lack of faith the people of Rotherham have in him to protect their town, he has still not resigned, highlighting fundamental problems with the role of PCC. The independence of candidates is one such issue; although Wright was a Labour candidate, the party has no jurisdiction to force him to resign, and can only suspend him from Labour politics.

In an interview, May said it is not her "job to hire and fire" commissioners, and that ultimately it is a decision for the electorate. So, one might ask, how can the electorate actually fire a PCC? When the role was first introduced, government guidelines say a PCC's performance should be "judged solely by the electorate" and complaints can be made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission- but only if a law has been broken,

Shaun Wright has not broken the law - so how can the electorate hold him to account? The idea of giving power to the people is all well and good, and seems laudable on paper, but there appears to be a lack of clarity and a lack of control.

It is not the first time the role of a PCC has been brought into dispute; although not in such devastating circumstances. Ann Barnes, the Kent PCC, humiliated Kent police force in a Channel 4 documentary, with one of her Youth Commissioners, Paris Brown, resigning after criticism over a series of tweets. In Gwent last year, PCC Ian Johnston reportedly threatened a chief constable unless she resigned.

What is evident then, is that much clearer guidelines need to be set out for future Police Crime Commissioners, and greater publicity made of the electorate's (small) power to complain about their representative. If Shaun Wright's position is a decision for the electorate, then our voices should be heard-and loudly.