Small turnout ‘threatens to undermine confidence’

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One of Britain’s most senior police officers has raised doubts that commissioners will improve public confidence in the service as a political analyst warned turnout in Yorkshire elections could fall below 25 per cent.

Humberside Chief Constable Tim Hollis, a vice-president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said there were “areas of concern” within the changes, which will give successful candidates the power to fire the heads of under-performing forces.

The Home Office aims to ensure commissioners have regard for national issues.

But he called for more clarity on how chief constables should respond when commissioners and MPs, who might be members of opposing political parties, wish to raise concerns.

“Who has the greater right to represent their constituents on issues relating to policing?,” he asked.

Fears are growing that turnout at the elections will be poor. Colin Rallings, professor of politics at Plymouth University, said: “A turnout of less than 25 per cent is a real possibility. Local elections held in May rarely get much above 30 per cent.”

The supplementary vote system, can result in candidates winning power with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

Mr Hollis said: “If commissioners are there to represent the views of the whole population, it is a legitimate question to say, ‘How representative are they if only a small minority of the electorate have voted for them?’”

Asked whether he thought the introduction of commissioners would raise public confidence in policing, Mr Hollis replied: “It would be very interesting to observe. I am yet to be convinced.”

Ex-South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes said: “We must find four people in Yorkshire who can work with the chief constables in the appropriate way and not be representative of only one part of the community.

“Communities are at their strongest when working together, fighting crime. If you get a candidate standing for one party and one community who is anathema to the others, that would be impossible.”