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LABOUR BUFFETED BY POLICE CHAIR LOSSES

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Labour has renewed its pledge to restore 'accountability' to local police authorities, following the party's heavy ...
Labour has renewed its pledge to restore 'accountability' to local police authorities, following the party's heavy losses in the current round of chairmanship elections.

But a leading Tory councillor welcomed the shadow election results as a major first step in reducing party political influence on local policing.

Labour blames its losses on Independent members, co-opted under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. The new police authorities, where no political party has overall control, will take over on 1 April.

The co-optees were appointed by existing authorities at the end of a complex selection process involving the authorities themselves and home secretary Michael Howard, acting on the advice of Tory whip Dr Liam Fox MP.

An LGC survey reveals that Labour has lost eight chairs and gained two. Before the elections Labour councillors chaired 23 of the 42 English and Welsh authorities. They are now down to 17 - all were elected unopposed.

Labour has lost Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Warwickshire and West Midlands, but gained Merseyside and North Wales.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats now have eight chairs each. Tories have gained Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire but lost Merseyside. The Lib Dems have gained Cheshire, North Yorkshire and Warwickshire, but lost Cambridgeshire, Devon and Cornwall, and Suffolk.

The magistrates gained most: they began with two chairs and finished with seven. They have gained Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and the West Midlands, but lost North Wales.

A 'Ratepayer' has taken over from an Independent councillor in Dyfed-Powys. But Independents are certain to retain the chair of the City of London police authority when it meets on Tuesday.

Labour home affairs spokesman Alun Michael MP said: 'The whole purpose of putting so-called Independent members on to police authorities was that the Conservative Party was unable to get its people elected.'

And John Collins (Lab, Cheshire), chair of the Association of County Councils' police committee, said: 'The selection process for the Independents is such - and this is borne out by anecdotal evidence - that the majority, and in some areas all of them, are sympathetic to the views of the home secretary.'

Francis Robinson, Tory spokesman on the ACC police committee, said: 'What has happened . . . is that the impact of party political control in any form is now much diminished. Part of the intention of the 1994 act was to cut back on political control and it has undoubtedly done so.'

LGC's survey found that 26 chairmen were elected unopposed and 15 posts were contested. Sixteen authorities did not elect a deputy or vice-chairman.

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