PFCC: what for?

The recent Police Fire & Crime Commissioner elections in Essex drew attention to one of the more poorly understood local government posts that residents get to vote for. We have made clear our low opinion of the politicisation of policing. This article and critique by Tim Aves, retired editor of several newspapers in south Essex, puts some meat on the bones of our questions about the value and purpose of this confected role.

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Doubtless the Conservative party will attempt to draw some comfort from the re-election of Roger Hirst to what is perhaps the most pointless and wasteful of public offices. Less than a quarter of the electorate bothered to vote, which says a lot.

Before Mr Hirst cracks the bubbly, he might reflect that in 2021 he polled more than twice the number of votes he got this time. 2024’s outcome had Labour within 9,500 votes of ousting him.

So why do we have elected commissioners?

Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) replaced the old police committees, made up of elected county councillors. The Tories brought in PCCs in 2012 aiming to cut costs and reduce the influence of Labour-run urban councils over policing. In some areas such as Essex it also cover the fire service, thus the acronym PFCC.

Like the recent voter ID law, there was a very clear political motive. It is claimed the old system was more expensive and less accountable, but I do wonder about that…

The Essex PFCC earns £91,600 a year, but behind him he trails a MASSIVE gravy train. In Essex, we also pay the salaries of:
• a deputy PFCC (£76,000 PA)
• a PFCC’s office chief executive (£106,000 PA)
• a “Strategic Head of Performance and Resources” officer (£86,000 PA)
• a “Strategic Head of Partnerships and Delivery” (£72,000 PA)
• a “Strategic Head of Policy and Public Engagement” (£72,000 PA)
• and 22 other staff, some full-time, some part-time.

On top of this there is the huge cost of separate elections every four years. Elections are expensive to run, mainly because the process is so labour-intensive – especially staffing polling stations and then counting the votes.
My little polling station was staffed by at least six people, either council staff or retired officials, drafted in and paid a day rate. Given the low turnout, they had nothing to do most of the day.

Figures for the 2021 elections don’t seem to be available but official figures show the 2016 PCC elections cost the country almost £50 million to run. Allowing for inflation it’s likely Thursday’s elections cost the nation at least £70 million.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but that’s a LOT of extra police and firefighters we could have hired!

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