Wrexham.com attended the ‘Police and Crime Commissioner Accountability Meeting’ on the PCC Elections hosted by Together Creating Communities (TCC) and this is our in depth report!
We were the first local media to cover the PCC elections, and wrote last week how poorly promoted they are and even for those who are interested it is very hard to find further details. With this in mind we carry on where we left off with our local election coverage – doing a full report on the evening!
The event was held in Trinity Church on King Street, with over a hundred people in attendance. It kicked off with a run down of the rules and an explanation that it was not an open meeting but a controlled one – ‘there is a difference’ we were told. There were three strands to the session, the first being a candidate opening statement, the second set questions which had been provided to the candidates beforehand and finally a third section for written questions from the floor.
TCC operated an excellent traffic light system, and if you will excuse the pun, it was very well policed! When the light was green a candidate could talk, yellow ‘wrap it up’ and red meant they were given seconds before being stopped in their tracks. Due to this and to TCC’s great credit the event ran very much to schedule, if not slightly ahead, which meant more questions from the floor.
All candidates were given the same time to answer every question. Our only gripe on the format would be that those who answered in both English and Welsh were not given more time to do so.
All the candidates were present.
The first section was based around each candidate having a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and give an overview to their position.
- Richard Hibbs kicked off the evening saying this was the “World’s least publicised election ever”. His criticism of the PCC elections extended to describe it as an ‘experiment that is wrong’ and that he was ‘fascinated by the experiment’.
- Warwick Nicholson agreed saying that he would prefer an elected board, and that the PCC elections had been ‘thrust upon them’ (UKIP) therefore they decided to field one candidate in Wales – him. He said: “We have little option but to make this work”.
- Colm McCabe amused the audience in his inital statement referring to having a wife and two daughters, quickly correcting himself that they were indeed sons. He revealed to the Wrexham audience that he lives and works locally, had served in the Special Constabulary and he was ‘excited about the role and what it could achieve’.
- Winston Roddick joined the criticism of the PCC elections by saying ‘nothing threatens our liberties more than handing the police to politicians’ plus he was ‘concerned by the political motives of this role’. He gave his personal history including being a barrister and QC.
- Tal Michael was last of the group to speak and mentioned his views on the PCC elections saying the change is ‘deeply problematic’ and his main issue was that decisions will no longer be the work of a group consensus rather that of an individual. He added: “This involves (let’s be honest) political decisions on policing”.
The candidates had been given four pre-set questions in advance of the meeting, so essentially these were extended statements on the topic, each candidate were given a strict two minutes to answer. The order of replies was randomised. We have the questions in full, and notes from the candidate replies below.
Q1 – How do you interpret the role, and how can you as one person make sure you are holding the chief constable to account?
- Warwick Nicholson said he would hope that the people and communities would help him do the job. He referred to the job description as ‘very woolly’ and the he would ‘need to know what the people want and are concerned about’.
- Colm McCabe said he believed that ‘oversight is key’ to him, and would look to ‘motivated communities’ to help him as he now saw ‘barriers removed’.
- Winston Roddick went further to explain how he saw the role, specifying he felt it was more to do with ‘making the police more efficient’.
- Tal Michael picked up on the point that the PCC could sack the Chief Constable saying: “I think it is wrong I could sack him on a whim”.
- Richard Hibbs queried the job role and said that it was impossible for people to vote without seeing manifestos. “Without a manifesto before an election there is no mandate for actions after the election”.
Q2 – What will your main priorities be for your police and crime plan?
(We are reporting the answers with the first topic each candidate mentioned, logic being, that would be the most important – as some mentioned several!)
- Colm McCabe stated his was ‘reckless driving and dangerous driving’.
- Winston Roddicks’ priority was ‘safety at home and safety in public’ for everyone.
- Tal Michael’s first answer was ‘standing up to the cuts’.
- Richard Hibbs stated he would ‘reestablish value for money’ – (incidentally claiming a £20 council tax rebate!)
- Warwick Nicholson was straight in with a plain statement on safety saying: “There should be nowhere in North Wales where you cannot go day or night”.
Q3 – How will you maintain your impartiality?
- Winston Roddick answered very briefly but to the point, explaining how he had to be impartial throughout his career and such a concept is ‘not new’ to him. He referred to ‘not having political masters’ several times.
- Tal Michael said that by definition the PCC is ‘political’ but wants to keep the police themselves fully impartial.
- Richard Hibbs started by saying he initially stood on a single issue that policing should not be political. He claimed – which was refuted by others after – that he was self funded and ‘the only totally independent candidate, independent from any political party’.
- Warwick Nicholson followed Mr Hibbs in stating although he was standing as UKIP candidate he too was entirely self funded.
- Colm McCabe said: “It’s all about policing and accountability”. He went on to pledge he was ‘connected to the people of North Wales’.
Q4 – One of the roles of the PCC is to regularly engage with the public and communities, how will you do this? And will you work with TCC?
- Tal Michael stated he would visit 100 ‘hotspots’ every year, and went on to define them as troubled areas. The aim of these visits would be to talk to both residents and police as he would want to hear from everyone.
- Richard Hibbs paid a compliment to the TCC by saying that the role of a PCC and groups such as TCC are a ‘natural fit’. He went on to explain that he is going to publish a methodology as he doesn’t do ‘bogus consultations’ preferring ‘radical’ ideas such as one from New Zealand called ‘open strategies’.
- Warwick Nicholson referred to the meeting itself as a good model to follow saying “As we are tonight!”. He continued: “Meeting the movers and shakers in communities is a good way to communicate.”
- Colm McCabe stated he wouldn’t be a ‘busy fool’ and would look to ‘reach out to long standing community groups to establish relationships’. He went on to explain how he does this every day through his job and charity work.
- Winston Roddick described how he views the PCC as a ‘conduit’ between the police and the community and would look to fulfil that role.
Oddly enough not one candidate said they would not work with TCC!
Questions From The Floor
Pink slips with questions were submitted prior to the meeting, with a selection asked. Again, the order of replies was randomised. We have the questions, and notes from the candidate replies below.
QUESTION: Do the candidates support the outsourcing of investigative and back office police work?
- Richard Hibbs started by cracking a joke: “Outsourcing back office stuff sounds disgusting”, which drew some laughs. He then went on to garner applause for saying: “Anything saying outsource means G4S etc coming into an area they don’t belong”.
- Warwick Nicholson agreed, saying its ‘the thin edge of the wedge’ and clearly ‘an absolute no to outsourcing’.
- Colm McCabe agreed as well saying just that – “I can only agree!”
- Winston Roddick also agreed saying: “No, I am not in favour. You cannot go shopping for experience off the shelf”.
- Tal Michael took a chance to make the first political ‘attack’ of the evening, congratulating Colm McCabe for taking a different stance to ‘his party line’. Mr Michael went on to say that he didn’t believe the Chief Constable should build cars or helmets, and some outsourcing was good. Specifically he said IT outsourcing can work and is ‘sensible’.
QUESTION: Can you ensure rural communities will be policed more effectively?
- Warwick Nicholson gave some definitions to what crime is and told the audience about how his rural property had a fridge left near it. He said he would increase patrols in the local area, and encourage people to use the 101 system – “You can’t do more than throw more manpower”.
- Colm McCabe said he would take an ‘evidence based approach’ with the aim to identify crime hotspots then police and patrol those more.
- Winston Roddick told the audience there are multiple communities and the rural ones require a much different approach from urban. He went on to explain that the population is seasonal in rural areas and he said he would be for a system that say could ‘close a police station in winter but not in summer’.
- Tal Michael prefixed his answer with “I won’t make promises I can’t keep”, and explained that North Wales Police model ‘demand’. He quoted a statistic saying that the police currently take 2.5x as long to respond to rural crime than urban crime or ‘jobs’ as he called them! He went on to say Farmwatch is a good idea and he welcomes national moves to clamp down on crimes such as metal theft / scrap metal dealers.
- Richard Hibbs said that he thought the rural issues were quite similar to urban ones really, but they are magnified. He referred to policing imbalances where he would look to use resources more efficiently – giving an example where there could be more police on a Monday morning than on a Friday night.
QUESTION: Do the candidates support a virtual freeze on recruitment and do they think a PCSO is a poor substitute for a full officer?
- Colm McCabe kicked off the answering by saying that retirement ‘loses knowledge’. He went on to explain that he thought recruitment is ‘needed all the time’. For PCSO’s he said ‘they are effective however they do different jobs’.
- Winston Roddick stated ‘a freeze is really a reduction due to retirements’. He referred to the 20% reduction target as ‘criminal’.
- Tal Michael referred to the freeze as being ‘due to the cuts’ and explained how that the quest to save money was flawed ‘as pensions are 2/3rds of wages so it doesnt save much’. He believes ‘PCSOs are good’ as they dont have powers of force and have to persuade people to do things instead.
- Richard Hibbs pondered “I am not sure what a virtual freeze is…” then referred to ‘propaganda about cuts in North Wales’ querying figures given by other candidates, saying ‘the data is suspicious’. He stated that 10 PCSO’s cost the same as 7 PC’s and would ‘favour PCs if I had the choice’.
- Warwick Nicholson said he thought it was ‘dangerous to freeze recruitment’. He agreed with Richard Hibbs querying the 20% number saying it ‘isn’t right’. Blame was placed at Labour , Conservatives and Liberal Democrats saying that the previous two governments had tried to ‘do policing on the cheap’. He thinks PCSO’s do a ‘reasonable job’ and if the 10:7 ratio given by Mr Hibbs was right ‘PCSO’s wouldn’t get a look in’.
- Winston Roddick simply stated the current system ‘works well’ and would like to see it continue.
- Tal Michael agreed, saying that criminals use the same transport systems as everyone else – specifcally naming the A55 as a route and giving a story how a Colwyn Bay criminal was finally caught in Warrington. He also referenced Welsh and Irish criminals – looking along the panel as he did so.
- Richard Hibbs took his answer as a chance to invent an acronym – RIFCO – which he said made it sound ‘exciting’. He indicated he saw this issue as more of one of engagement and that drugs were a massive interforce / cross border issue. This was when he announced he wanted drugs to be ‘Level 1′ crime priorities – the only other one with the same level at the moment is terrorism.
- Warwick Nicholson was in favour of using the current system as well, saying: “Long may it continue”.
- Colm McCabe agreed, and pointed out that the panel as a whole had been agreeing alot all evening!
QUESTION: How will you focus serving less visible crime rather than diverting resources to less serious anti social crime?
- Tal Michael said this was a chance to address the rhetoric where ‘if you don’t see a police officer it doesnt mean they are not doing anything’, referring to crimes such as domestic or sexual abuse where often unseen policing can work the best.
- Richard Hibbs opened by saying: “I am going to tell you the truth about North Wales Police so listen carefully”. So we did. He went on to claim that in the last two years North Wales Police have underspent budgets by around £12,000,000 and that he thinks that money should be spent on dealing with crime. “I dont want to park money in the bank, I want to spend it now”.
- Warwick Nicholson took a macabre turn starting his answer by saying: “If you leave here tonight and are fully done to death then the full resources of North Wales Police will be used and the crime will be detected”. Luckily he was making a point rather than just scaring us, contrasting that with the responses to broken car windows and assault which would get different resources. He said he wants to ‘get away from the tick box culture’ of policing.
- Colm McCabe referred to not being a fan of social media but saw a quip about policing such sites and how he thought they were more minor crimes. He stated ‘I don’t need graphs or spreadsheets to tell me how the police are getting on, I know by how safe I feel”.
- Winston Roddick said “I cannot improve on Tal’s answer” explaining how he couldn’t say anti social behaviour was in some way level or more serious as child abduction.
QUESTION: What position and rights will be given to the Welsh language?
- Richard Hibbs cracked a joke by making out he was going to use his time to expand on previous answers… as he’s not fluent in Welsh! Despite raising a laugh he was semi serious as he mentioned more PCSO information. He did say he was a Welsh learner (for the second time) and ‘wants everyone to make the same effort I have’ and observed ‘language gives access to culture’.
- Warwick Nicholson said ‘Welsh is more important than the English think’ referring to times of stress where ‘people revert to who they are’. In terms of the current police policy he said they ‘have it about right’. He did say that not speaking Welsh was a barrier to him when he looked to join North Wales Police at one point.
- Colm McCabe gave an insight to his life stating that he became a British citizen a year ago, ‘although it was not required’ however said he was ‘very proud when he was told he was a Welsh citizen’. He explained he was bi-lingual but Irish not Welsh – but he does ‘understand’ the bilingual issues. He told the meeting his children go to a Welsh school in Wrexham.
- Winston Roddick answered in Welsh to begin with, then English, saying that ‘we are a bilingual nation and juristicion’ with the Welsh language holding equal legal status. He was very complimentary towards North Wales Police for this.
- Tal Michael also answered in Welsh, then English, stating ‘its really important’ and ‘it shows how far we have come’ referring to the Welsh langauge as ‘not an optional extra’.
Thanks & The Surprise
Thanks must be extended to TCC for allowing Wrexham.com to attend , and those there will have seen us speak to each candidate and give out a surprise – more on that soon!
The PCC elections take place on 15th November.
There is an active discussion thread on the Wrexham.com forums – let us know what you think of this article, and the PCC process as a whole on this thread…