Police commissioners: why should we bother to vote?

Tomorrow's poll will finally make police accountable to the public, but apathy is widespread

LAST UPDATED AT 15:17 ON Wed 14 Nov 2012

FOR THE FIRST time, people across England and Wales - but not London – will go to the polls tomorrow to choose police and crime commissioners (PCC). Candidates from the Conservatives and Labour are standing in the 41 police areas in England and Wales that are voting, while a large number of independents are also involved. But there are fears that few people know what it is they are voting for – and that the turnout will set a record low for a British election.

WHAT CAN A PCC DO?
A police and crime commissioner will be able to appoint and dismiss the chief constable, set local policing priorities and the force's budget. The Home Office says the PCC will "give the public the ability to ensure their police are accountable".

WHAT CAN'T A PCC DO?
PCCs cannot control a police force. The Home Office says: "Chief constables retain direction and control of the force's officers and staff. The operations of the police will not be politicised; who is arrested and how investigations work will not become political decisions."

BUT WILL THEY BE PAID?
Depending on the area, the annual salary will range from £65,000 to £100,000.

WILL PCCs BE POLITICAL?
Many of the candidates are politicians, but they are not supposed to bring politics into policing decisions. PCCs must swear an oath of impartiality when they are elected to office. The Home Office says: "PCCs are there to serve the people, not a political party or any one section of their electorate."

WHY IS LONDON EXCLUDED?
Londoners already have their own PCC in the form of the mayor, Boris Johnson.

WHY IS THERE SO LITTLE INTEREST?
The fact that there is no vote in London will have done little to boost coverage of the elections in the media. More important at a local level is the government's refusal to spend the £30m necessary to send a mail-out to voters to explain candidates' policies. Critics such as the Electoral Reform Society say the failure to publicise the vote and the timing of the election - in November, rather than alongside local elections in May - makes a low turnout inevitable.

HOW LOW COULD TURNOUT BE?
Policy Exchange believes turnout will be as low as 15 per cent, while the Electoral Reform Society says it will be 18.5 per cent – and that's a generous estimate. Spokesman Darren Hughes told the Today programme this morning: "It does feel as though the Home Office is running an experiment into how low you can drive voter turnout because some of the things we've seen take place really have reduced it to a farce." · 

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