May defends decision to delay police elections

Theresa May said the delay would ensure "the practicalities of the election are in place"

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Theresa May has defended the delay to elections for new police commissioners, saying it would give the public more time to understand their roles.

The elections have been pushed back from May to November 2012 amid Lib Dem concerns about the earlier date.

But the home secretary told MPs the delay would ensure people were "fully aware" of the commissioners' duties and who was standing in the elections.

Talks with the Treasury about the extra £25m cost were taking place, she added.

Elections for more than 40 police and crime commissioners - due to take over the responsibilities of existing police authorities in England and Wales - were due to take place on 3 May 2012 - the same day as council elections across the UK.

Important elections

But the government announced on Wednesday that they would be postponed to November, pushing up the cost of the implementation process by £25m to a total of £75m.

Asked about the decision by the Home Affairs Committee - where she is being questioned about the police response to August's riots across England - Mrs May said it had originally been ministers' "firm intention" to stick with the May date.

But she said delays to the legislation authorising the new commissioners - following a vote in the Lords in May opposing the move - meant it had yet to be approved by Parliament.

Postponing the election date would guarantee a "good length of time" between the policy becoming law and the elections taking place, she told MPs.

It would ensure the public were "fully aware of who the individuals (candidates) are, what their responsibilities are and the importance of the elections" while still enabling elected commissioners to be able to oversee police budgets for 2013-14.

She insisted the £25m additional cost of staging the elections in November would not come out of existing police budgets and the Home Office was in discussions with the Treasury about where the money would come from.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the committee, said he suspected the decision had been driven by the Lib Dems and suggested ministers had "decided to put party issues above the high principles" of increasing police accountability.

Mrs May did not respond on this.

'Depoliticise'

The BBC understands the Lib Dems urged elections for police commissioners to be delayed partly to help the electoral prospects of their local councillors in England and Wales.

A senior Lib Dem spokesman told BBC News their councillors wanted to "depoliticise" the vote as they were there would be too much focus on law and order in the local elections if they were held on the same day as the elections for commissioners.

Many Lib Dems are against the proposals but the party's leadership has said the initiative - a flagship policy for the Conservatives in opposition - will go ahead as it was part of the coalition agreement.

Critics of the initiative say it will create a US-style system compromising police independence.

In Commons exchanges on Wednesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the £25m additional cost of switching elections to November could instead pay to keep 2,000 officers on the streets.

He accused the government of "making a bad policy worse by wasting money" and said the new police chiefs would earn about £120,000 a year when 16,000 police officers were set to be cut.

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