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Police powers must be for all

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Newham LBC's mayor Sir Robin Wales (Lab) on the policing green paper.

I believe that the public should be trusted, through their elected local leaders, to have control over the priorities the police pursue in their areas. That is why I support the government’s proposals to give elected mayors more influence over local policing. Elected mayors are directly accountable to their residents and they are in the best position to ensure that the police meet the needs of their residents.

The recent community empowerment white paper coupled with the policing green paper has indeed sparked some intense debates about locally elected mayors and power. However, I have always maintained that this is about local choice. The people of Newham chose to have a directly elected mayor.

Personally I am in favour of elected mayors because our experience shows this model works. The decision to extend democratic control over policing to directly elected mayors is one that will give the electorate a powerful and influential voice.

Currently, if people are unhappy with their local police force the closest elected politician to them in order to seek redress is the minister for crime and policing - a central government politician. There is no one directly accountable at a local level through the ballot box for policing. When I worked on the Independent Review of Policing, led by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, I argued that this had to change.

So I am pleased the green paper reflects this thinking and has recognised that mayors, where they exist, are the best route to ensure that local priorities are met and the best way for local people to hold someone accountable when they are dissatisfied.

However, I am perplexed that these powers do not extend to local mayors in London. The government proposes no changes to the powers of the locally elected mayors in the capital. London’s boroughs face challenges which are unique to them. They contain the most diverse and complex communities in the country. Each borough has a population far larger than many local authorities outside London whose mayors will get new powers over local policing. Yet, the borough mayors in London still lack the powers to safeguard the priorities of the people who elected them.

Instead of handing over control to the Mayor of London, a division of democratic control needs to be considered. Local mayors are more in tune with the specific problems their localities face and are therefore better placed to shape local priorities. In the case of London, every borough differs from the next and consequentially they face a different set of challenges to each other. The London mayor is best placed to influence more strategic London-wide issues such as terrorism - issues which affect London as a world city.

One final point. I have seen Conservative proposals to impose city mayors. Labour’s approach is instead about choice. People should have the choice to elect their own mayor who will empower them and address their local issues - that is what real localism is about.

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