GOVERNMENT plans to put one person in charge of the region’s police are “dangerous”, a senior civic figure has warned.
On the eve of his retirement, Gateshead chief executive Roger Kelly – who is also in charge of the Northumbria Police Authority – has said he can see great difficulties coming in a number of Government initiatives.
Mr Kelly, who has spent nearly 25 years with Gateshead Council, singled out the new elected police commissioner roles as being a “dangerous” change.
Elections to the police job will be held in November, with one commissioner then responsible for managing the force’s £260m-plus budget, hiring and firing chief constables and setting force priorities.
The commissioner will be paid around £85,000 a year and held to account by a crime and policing panel which can force the elected official and the chief constable to give evidence on how targets are being met.
But Mr Kelly, chief executive at Northumbria Police Authority, has told The Journal this is too much power for one person.
He said: “We are going from a system of committee governance established in 1835, the watch committees, to one in which we are going to have one single individual holding people to account.
“It is the most significant constitutional change I can remember in my time in local government and it carries with it a huge risk.
“The future here is one in which an individual and their presentation are seen as more important than the British tradition of collective responsibility and that is very dangerous.
“We have to make it work, it is the law of the land.
“But we are going from having 17 people, councillors and independent members, from across the political and geographical divide to a system in which one individual is responsible for an area stretching from Berwick upon Tweed to Houghton-le-Spring and that is a very significant change.”
Policing minister Nick Herbert last week told The Journal the public had a right to have more control over police forces, adding that if people trust one person to lead the force as chief constable it would be wrong to suggest one elected official could not also do that job.
Another big change set to hit the region, Mr Kelly said, can be found in the coalition Government’s welfare measures.
Ministers are localising council tax benefits, making it a council’s responsibility. But at the same time they are reducing the amount available to councils by 10%. Housing benefits will also be tightened up and made more difficult to claim.
Mr Kelly said: “We are really concerned here about the changes coming and the effect that this will have on families.
“We are offering to work with key colleagues and the Department for Communities and Local Government to start understanding exactly what these changes will mean for people.”
And in education there was a warning that it is not yet clear how free schools and academies will avoid damaging local partnerships, an issue currently dividing Newcastle politicians.
Mr Kelly said: “In education in the past the overall strategy has been decided by local education authorities. They ensured provision of education for children and set the number of schools.
“With the new framework, with academies and free schools, which was started by the previous Government, it is not clear how that will be carried out. I do worry about what happens when you change that strategic role.”