Express & Star

West Midlands Mayor to take over responsibility for policing, despite consultation

The Home Secretary is to press ahead with plans to hand accountability for policing matters to the elected mayor for the West Midlands – despite a consultation which found the public were against it.

Simon Foster and Andy Street

James Cleverly said he was firmly of the view that the mayor should take over the responsibilities currently held by the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).

This is despite a consultation which voted by a margin of 50-46 to keep the roles separate. The remainder were undecided.

The changes will come into force after the mayoral elections in May this year.

Police and crime commissioner Simon Foster said he would now be looking at the legal options open to him to challenge the decision.

He said abolishing his role would mean more cuts, more chaos and more crime.

"I call on the mayor and the Home Secretary to listen to the public’s wishes and end this proposed hostile takeover," he added.

The proposal had been been put forward by present mayor Andy Street, who said rolling the two posts into one would lead to more 'joined up approach' to fighting crime.

A total of 7,103 people responded to the consultation, although 927 of these submitted identical responses, suggesting that they may have been the part of an organised campaign.

When asked whether they supported the merger of the two roles, 46 per cent said they were in favour, and 50 per cent said they were against. The remainder were undecided.

Of those who agreed with the proposals, the opportunity to save money by rationalising the funding requirements was identified as one of the main reasons for their support.

A report on the consultation said: "Other respondents in agreement felt the transfer of PCC functions would encourage a more joined up approach to tackling crime through integration with the mayor’s existing devolved powers and functions. It was noted by some respondents that a mayor with PCC functions could take a holistic view of public safety across the region.

"The potential to co-deliver public services and achiever greater economies of scale was a common theme."

A reduction in bureaucracy was also seen as a benefit of combining the two roles.

Some supporters of the merger also expressed the view that having a single person in charge would lead to a more coherent approach than having a mayor and commissioner from different political parties.

Of those who disagreed with the merger, some felt that such a move would be undemocratic.

"Others queried the rationale for a transfer and felt that it was a politically motivated move by the current mayor," said the spokesman.

"A relatively common sentiment expressed by responses in disagreement was that the mayor already has enough responsibilities. The concern voiced from those correspondents was that a transfer could result in less attention and focus being given to the PCC role."

Some respondents felt this could lead to poorer outcomes for driving down crime and securing community safety.

Other respondents who disagreed felt the accountability of local policing should remain separate from the office of mayor.

The spokesman said that some of the respondents were under the misapprehension that the transfer of power would happen immediately or imminently, whereas it would actually take place after this year's election. Others did not appear to realise that the commissioner was directly elected by the public.

Mr Foster said Mr Street had previously tried to take on the role of policing in 2019, but failed to secure the support of council leaders which was a requirement at the time.

"He then failed to act in accordance with the law; and he has now lost a public consultation," Mr Foster added.

"Yet, the mayor is persisting with his hostile takeover in defiance of the region’s councils and against the will of the people."

A spokesman for Mr Street said: “The Home Secretary has reviewed the responses and made his decision, to which the mayor responded accordingly.

"The mayor has been clear in his view that the current PCC model has failed, with crime having doubled and West Midlands Police in special measures.

"Therefore it is time for change and for the Mayor and the PCC roles to be merged after the upcoming May election, bringing together two roles into one as is the case in comparable regions like London and Greater Manchester.

"Some local people have had their say via this consultation – albeit with 900 duplicate responses appearing to skew the outcome – and even more local people will have their say via the ballot box in May.”