When the votes get counted will Steve be Cambridgeshire’s first commissioner of police?
THEY say a prophet is without honour in his home town and that certainly proved to be the case with Cambs county councillor Steve Count.
Fifteen months ago his political career looked in tatters as he lost his seat of just 18 months on Fenland District Council after local Tories voted to de-select him. It was a bitter blow.
But a month later he triumphed in a county council by-election for the seat left vacant following the death of John West – and last July was given a key Cabinet role at Shire Hall following the earlier appointment of Nick Clarke to the leadership. He knows more than most then the vagaries of political life, explaining in part perhaps why he’s embarking upon an even greater challenge, that of Cambridgeshire’s first commissioner of police.
The (expected) �70,000 a post will soon be open for nominations and this week Cllr Count threw his hat into the ring as a Conservative challenger. With rumours of an ex Met cop and a Huntingdonshire businessman vying for the post he knows it will be his toughest challenge yet. There’s also the small matter of a rival Conservative councillor, Shona Johnstone, a former council leader but now most definitely ‘rehabilitated’ by the Tory hierarchy and likely to attract considerable support.
“As a Conservative and driven by years of business experience I believe in low taxation and value for money,” says Cllr Count as he begins unveiling his strategy.
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“A fundamental duty for the commissioner will be to engage with the public. I will seek where possible to tag engagement onto existing meetings, faith groups, schools, and councils, etc.
“I have developed a number of countywide contacts to kick start this process. “Different methods will also be employed to reach hard to access groups. Two additional areas that I will concentrate on, due to the impact they have on policing resources, are those in the 16-25 age group and talking to those involved in the night time economy.”
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He is keen to expand his thinking but I’m equally keen to inquire as to whether he believes he has the ‘people’ skills to tackle the role. He comes over, I tell him, as being a bit distant.
“I think I’m very cagey with reporters,” he says “but the public would definitely say I’m a ‘peopley’ sort of person. I get on very well with the vast majority.”
But didn’t his Conservative colleagues in Fenland, er, reject him?
“They de selected me fair and square. I have no gripes and indeed at the end of the day they did me a favour,” he says leaving me to remember his resources and performance portfolio on the county council is one of the biggest and overseeing an annual �400 million budget and helping care for 4,000 staff.
His aim, if elected to the new role at police HQ, is simple and that’s to “dig around, find out what I need and then make decisions. The police authority which I would be replacing either didn’t have the will or the power to change bureaucracy but I believe it has to be cut right back and I think the police themselves want that too.”
He accepts putting his “head above the parapet” for such a high profile job comes at a price and he’s rather pleased that we had so few photos of him in our archives- a situation he knows will change should his campaign prove successful.
“Using all of the tools at my disposal I will strive to restore public confidence in the police whilst helping to inform strategy,” he says.
“The way the police commissioner operates has similarities to my Cabinet position, that’s to say it has a balance of public accountability juxtaposed against operational implementation.
“The main difference is the commissioner must be a self reliant individual and a strong leader, a prospect I relish as this is more in keeping with my business background.”
Cllr Count provides a lengthy- and well argued- manifesto and far too long to repeat here but there will be few to argue with the key tenet.
“The job of the police is to deter, detect and fight crime, not spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money writing reports so that another person is stopped from fighting crime because they now have to read them,” he says.
Nominations open shortly for the role and Cllr Count must first persuade his Conservative colleagues he’s the right man for the job and then, with a plethora of candidates likely to stand, there’s the matter of the election itself.
For sure he’ll not be counting any chickens before they hatch nor counting on journalists not to enjoy counting the number of puns likely to emerge as the count down to selection gets under way.