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Doncaster chief brands police commissioners ‘a complete waste of space’

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Directly elected mayors can engage the public well but police and crime commissioners do little to improve local accountability, the chief executive of Doncaster MBC has said.

Jo Miller made her comments at an Institute for Government event in London on Tuesday which addressed whether greater decentralisation of powers to local government could improve accountability within local areas.

She said “strong leaders who people want to vote for” would improve political accountability but noted the introduction of directly-elected police and crime commissioners in 2012 had failed to achieve this.

“Police and crime commissioners are a complete waste of space,” Ms Miller said. “I didn’t even want to vote for one and I was the returning officer.”

However, Ms Miller said that directly elected mayors, such as that of Doncaster, engaged the public well.

Government ministers have repeatedly stressed the need for additional powers for councils to be accompanied by greater accountability, including through elected mayors.

Ms Miller said: “Our mayor has a real strong mandate for place and is a mayor of the people, not the mayor of the town hall,” she said. “More people voted in the [2012] referendum to keep the mayor than voted to choose who it would be.”

Centre for Public Scrutiny (CFPS) executive director Jessica Crowe, also speaking at the event, proposed the introduction of “place-based public accounts committees” modelled on the parliamentary committee headed by Margaret Hodge as a way of improving accountability.

She said that the complexity within local government and health services has created a “patchwork” of governance which is “creaking at the seams”. She suggested one committee to oversee all public services in an area could help address that.

“Place-based accounts committees could be part of any devolved setting,” Ms Crowe said.

Speakers were also asked about the difficulty local authorities have dealing with various Whitehall departments, and whether central government may reorganise to address the problem.

Sharon White, Treasury second permanent secretary, said she believed central government reorganisation could happen.

“I am glass half-full about this because of the financial situation,” she said. “The transaction cost of [Whitehall] operating in siloed ways; nobody can afford that. So we can see people beginning to work collegiately. Whether we’re going to redesign Whitehall, we’ll have to wait and see.”

 

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