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Who do you want to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset?

Who do you want to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset?

While everyone is busy talking about the all-important Bristol mayoral election, the two other elections also taking place on Thursday 5 May are often overlooked. Voters will have the chance to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset, and all seats on the Bristol City Council are up for election. Read on for all the essential information, or visit to find out who’s standing where you live.

Results for the Police and Crime Commissioner election will be announced the day after voting on Friday 6 May, and the local election results will be announced two days after that on Sunday 8 May. The mayoral results will be announced on Saturday 7 May.

Election of the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner

Voters across the country have the chance to pick a new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). Avon and Somerset (which covers Bristol, South Gloucester, and all of Somerset, including North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset) currently has an Independent PCC, Sue Mountstevens, who was elected in November 2012 after beating the Conservative candidate.

What do Police and Crime Commissioners do?

PCCs are responsible for:

  • Appointing chief constables, holding them to account for running the force, and dismissing them if necessary.
  • Setting out budgets for the police force and ensuring value for money.
  • Deciding the priorities of the police force.
  • Providing a link between the police force and communities.

They are paid £85,000 a year in line with recommendations by the Government’s Senior Salaries Review Board.

While PCCs have some control over the direction of the force, they aren’t allowed to tell the police how to do their jobs, and are mostly supposed to hold them to account and respond to the needs of the public. Police and Crime Panels are responsible for scrutinising the commissioners.

In theory, this shouldn’t be a political post as commissioners are required to swear an oath of impartiality when elected, but there are still some fears over the possible ‘politicisation’ of the police.

Furthermore, the low turnout seen in the last elections (under 15% across the country, 19% in Avon and Somerset) has led to concerns that the PCCs lack legitimacy1. An Electoral Commission review found that 80% of voters felt they didn’t have enough information to make an informed choice. It was revealed earlier this week that just one in ten members of the public can name their local commissioner. Nick Clegg called for the role to be scrapped two years after it had been introduced, calling it a “discredited experiment”.

However, it has been argued on this website, among other places, that the introduction of police and crime commissioners has increased transparency and enabled a greater focus on crime prevention where it is really needed.2

How does the election work?

The rules are the same as those for the mayoral election:

  • Everyone has two votes which they can use to indicate which candidate is their first choice, and which candidate is their second choice.
  • If a candidate gets over 50% of the vote in the first round, they win the election and become the Police and Crime Commissioner.
  • If no one reaches that 50% threshold, then the two candidates who received the most first preferences remain while all the other candidates are eliminated.
  • The second preferences of all the people who voted for the eliminated candidates are counted.
  • Any additional second preference votes for the remaining two candidates are added to their existing first preference vote totals, while second preferences votes for any eliminated candidates are discarded.
  • The first and second preference votes for the remaining two candidates are now counted. Whichever candidate now has the most votes overall wins the election and becomes the Police and Crime Commissioner.

In the first round of the last election, Sue Mountstevens won 36% of the vote, followed by the Conservative candidate with 24%, the Labour candidate with 21%, and the Liberal Democrat candidate with 19%. Because they received the fewest votes, the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates were eliminated. Sue Mountstevens picked up a lot of votes in the second round, ending up with 65% overall, with the Conservative candidate on 35%. As Mountstevens won the most votes in the second round, she won the election.

Who is Sue Mountstevens?

Mountstevens is running for a second term as an Independent. She is putting her ‘independence’ at the forefront of her campaign (literally, see photo) by promising to ‘keep politics out of policing’, writing on, “The Police belong to you, not to political ideologies, nor career politicians. I will continue to protect residents and Police from political interference, without fear or favour – answerable only to residents of Avon and Somerset.” It’s a very similar tactic to the one favoured by George Ferguson in his campaign for re-election as mayor (see Politics review #4, ‘Who will speak for Bristol?’, implying that a PCC from one of the political parties would put the interests of their party above that of the police or the residents of Avon and Somerset. Even considering the fact that PCCs have to swear an oath of impartiality as mentioned earlier, and that they aren’t allowed to interfere in the running of the police force, Mountstevens’ suggestion is probably unfair to candidates from other parties, who likely care just as deeply about the area and also wouldn’t want to bring infringe on the political neutrality of the police force. Nevertheless, this catchy promise is likely to win over voters who aren’t too keen on party politics (which is quite a lot of them), as well as those who lack sufficient interest in the elections or the post to look into the different candidates.

Mountstevens, a former magistrate, won in 2012 having never stood for election before. Prior to that, she served for two years as an independent member of the Avon and Somerset Police Authority. She also set up and ran Mountstevens Coaching Associates and was a director of a family business Mountstevens Bakeries. She has three adult children and lives in Pill, North Somerset.3

What has Sue Mountstevens done as Police and Crime Commissioner?

As explained, PCCs are responsible for hiring, overseeing, and possibly firing chief constables of the police force. Just after Mountstevens was elected in 2012, she asked police chief Colin Port to reapply for his job, but he refused and stood down. His successor, Nick Gargan, was appointed in March the next year, and undertook a reform programme which attracted some controversy. However, Gargan was suspended in May 2014 after allegations of inappropriate conduct and data protection breaches. In July 2015, an independent panel cleared him of gross misconduct but found him guilty of eight charges of misconduct. Mountstevens asked him to quit, saying that there was “now a detrimental impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of him leading Avon and Somerset Constabulary”.

Under Mountstevens, there has been greater emphasis on encouraging victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to come forward, leading to a 50% increase in reporting since 2012. There has also been a reduction in burglaries and anti-social behaviour. She has had to find savings of £60 million whilst in office due to a cut in funding from central government. Whoever wins this year will have to cut another £20 million over their four-year term. One consequence of reduced funding has been a fall in police numbers of about 500. This has been controversial and most of her challengers promise to reverse this decline.

Read more about her record and her plans for the next term.4

Who are the other candidates?

Read about all the candidates at Choose My PCC

Mark Weston is the Conservative candidate. He is leader of the Conservative group on the Bristol City Council, having represented the ward of Henbury since 2006. He currently sits on the Police and Crime panel which scrutinises the PCC.

He has criticised Mountstevens for presiding over an increase in the PR team and the budget for the PCC’s office at a time of falling police numbers and police station closures, writing that, “The current priorities are wrong. We must protect the front line, not inflate the back office.” He promises to preserve “bobbies on the beat”.

Home Secretary Theresa May came to support Weston in Bristol last week.

Read more about his priorities.

Kerry Barker is the Labour candidate. He is a senior barrister who has specialised in criminal law for over 26 years.

Barker criticises the low morale in the police force and the rise in violent crime. He promises to put more officers on the beat and bring in body cameras for all police officers. He also promises to reinstate specialist teams which have been disbanded in recent years. Read more.

Paul Crossley is the Liberal Democrat. He has sat on the Bath and North East Somerset council for the Bath ward of Southdown since 1996, including for nine years as leader.

His main priorities are to safeguard frontline policing, cut re-offending, improve detection rates and provide closure for victims. Read more.

Aaron Foot is the UKIP candidate. He is a farmer and a businessman. His promises include reinstating specialist teams and reversing the decline in police numbers. Read more.

Chris Briton is the Green candidate. He is a councillor in Wells and was formerly its mayor.

He promises to address the causes of crime, which he describes as inequality, substance misuse, school exclusions and mental health issues. He also suggests having a “serious debate about drug reform and decriminalisation”. Read more.

Kevin Phillips is an independent candidate, a retired police officer who served for twenty-six years. In 2009 he was elected as Chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation and was responsible for the well-being of police officers. He has held a number of other roles within the force and has been involved at a strategic level in recent years. Like Mountstevens, he promises ‘policing not politics’. Phillips wants to increase the number of police officers and deliver value for money. Read more.

Who’s going to win?

It’s hard to tell. Unsurprisingly, given the low-key nature of this election, there hasn’t been any polling. Mountstevens won by a large margin last time (see above), and so any challenger has to win over a lot of voters in order to stand a chance of winning. Looking at the share of the vote each party achieved in last year’s general election, it’s clear that the Conservatives are at an advantage compared to the other parties, having won over 42% of the vote across Avon and Somerset. However, these vote shares are unlikely to translate directly to support in this election for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the presence of two Independents in the race, including, most notably, the incumbent, complicates matters, as they will likely draw voters from all parties. Mountstevens’ promise to ‘keep politics out of policing’ is likely to be popular, especially to those driven away from parties due to widely-publicised infighting and unpopular national policies. Nevertheless, her handling of the Gargan affair and her decision (she didn’t really have much choice) to cut police numbers might have left a negative impression among some voters.

While the Conservatives might have the most support across the area, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters may choose to vote tactically against the Conservatives by using their second preferences to support an Independent. It’s also worth noting that in the first round in 2012, the Conservatives only scored 3% above Labour (equivalent to about 7000 votes). It’s certainly possible that the Labour candidate might beat the Conservative to second place, enabling them to go through to the second round and perhaps even win. As a result, it seems like this could be a three-horse race.

Due to the lack of attention paid to these elections, candidates for smaller parties are unlikely to have attained any personal popularity, meaning they probably won’t surpass their party’s general level of support.

Even so, the extent to which national politics will have an impact on vote share is unclear. For instance, the Conservatives are generally perceived as ‘better’ at dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour than Labour, but, again, such direct comparisons are difficult due to Mountstevens.

Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats will probably receive lower share of the vote than in the general election as in a number of seats there was an ‘incumbency effect’, where the sitting MP won more votes than a different candidate from the same party might have done due to their familiarity to voters and their existing record. As a result, some people who supported their Lib Dem MP last year because they knew and trusted them personally might vote instead for a different party’s candidate this time. But you never know, I hear there’s a Lib Dem fightback going on.

Another important factor is turnout, which in midterm elections tend to be very low. Some groups of people are more likely to vote than others, namely the rich and the elderly. Since they tend to support the Conservatives, this could give them a further boost over Labour.

Anecdotally, I have only received one leaflet, which was from Sue Mountstevens5. However, I live in a left-leaning neighbourhood, so the Conservatives might have decided to focus their resources in other areas where they have a better chance of gaining support, and Labour might have decided that since they are expected to do better in the mayoral and council elections, it might be sensible to spend money and time printing out and delivering leaflets for those instead.

All things considered, I think Sue Mountstevens will win. Let’s see.

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Local elections

In Bristol, the system has been changed so all councillors are up for election at once, whereas previously a third were up for election at once. This adds a great deal of importance to these elections as voters won’t have a chance to pick a new council until 2020.

The ‘first past the post’ voting system is used to elect councillors, meaning that the candidates with the most votes in each ward are elected (i.e. in a ward which elects two councillors, the two candidates with the most votes are elected). There has been a restructuring of wards, so that they vary in size and in the number of councillors they elect:

  • Three councillors per ward: ‘Ashley’, ‘Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston’, ‘Hartcliffe and Withywood’, ‘Hengrove and Whitchurch Park’, and ‘Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze’.
  • One councillor per ward: ‘Hotwells and Harbourside’, ‘St George Troopers Hill’, and ‘St George West’.
  • All other wards will elect two

To find out which ward you’re in, and to see who’s standing, type your postcode in here.

Tactical voting guide

If your main goal in this election is to keep a particular party out of the city council, rather than get a particular party in, you can judge the strength of different parties in different wards by looking at previous election results. Do note that the wards have changed, so vote shares aren’t directly equivalent to the new wards.

Happy voting!