NORTHUMBRIA’s first police commissioner will have to battle to save community support officers from funding cuts, it was last night claimed.
Tom Foster, deputy chair of Northumbria Police Authority and bidding to be the Labour nominee for the commissioner job, said funding for the valued PCSO posts was due to run out in a year’s time.
After that, Mr Foster said, any police commissioner will have to start to find funding for these posts.
Mr Foster, who has been on the police authority for 14 years, said: “If I was elected to the police commissioner job I would be making sure that we keep these posts. They are very, very valuable ... they are our eyes and ears on the ground and do an incredible job.
“But the Home Office has only ring- fenced money for another year for these posts, which is a shame because they are very important to us.”
Mr Foster stepped down as a Sunderland councillor in May to concentrate on his bid to be the first elected police commissioner for Northumbria.
He is up against former Teesside MP Vera Baird for the Labour Party nomination, with postal voting for the party post opening this month.
Already Mr Foster has secured the backing of Labour groups in Sunderland and South Tyneside. If he secures the post Mr Foster will be one of many to head to the polls in November for elections to the powerful new post.
A commissioner in the Northumbria area will be handed an £80,000 salary in exchange for setting force priorities. The post comes with the ability to set the force budget and the power to hire and fire chief constables. A Police and Crime Panel will also be set up to scrutinise the commissioner.
Mr Foster, 67, said campaigning was his focus, having stepped down from Sunderland Council ahead of elections earlier this month.
He added: “It’s expensive and I know some in these selection processes can spend a lot of money. I don’t have that but I’m happy to spend what I do have on this, because I believe it is worth it.”
He said he believed his experience on the police authority would make him a strong candidate.
As deputy chairman he has spent, he said, years dealing with home secretaries and civil servants on behalf of the force. Mr Foster said: “One of the many things to be proud of with this force is our commitment to equality. We have a force which covers many different areas and communities and a staff well-trained in meeting all of those needs, and were I elected as the commissioner I would be seeking to keeping those high standards.” Last night Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson backed his former colleague.
He said: “I have worked with Tom during his time as a local councillor and he has always been the most diligent, hard-working and astute of colleagues with a real feel for grassroots members.
“With his experience of the police authority he is exceptionally well-suited for this role. I know whichever candidate wins the Labour Party’s nomination we will have a really excellent person to compete for the position of commissioner in the Northumbria force area.”
The Conservatives have yet to announce their candidate for the post. Liberal Democrats have so far said they are not contesting the elections over fears it is “the politicisation of the police”.