Steven Woolfe is the UKIP candidate for the role of Police Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester. He grew up in the area, and is a trained barrister, now working as General Counsel to an international hedge fund manager. He is UKIP’s spokesman on the City of London, and advisor on financial markets and regulation.
I caught up with Steven and asked him about the election and his vision for the role.
What was it that first drew you to politics?
‘Growing up in Manchester during the 80s it was impossible to ignore the huge social and radical changes that were affecting people. The deindustrialisation of the North led to millions of job cuts, including my step father in the printing industry, poverty and homelessness and the Manchester Riots were a few of the issues I experienced growing up. In addition, around the world there were problems such as apartheid in South Africa and the Communist states. I chose to study law at University as I believed it would be the best career to help enable change as so many of the worlds great reformers were lawyers.’
What are distinctive about UKIP’s policies on Law & Order?
‘UKIP’s policies are very simple and pragmatic. They are based on representing the victim not the criminal and listening to the needs of the community. My experience as a lawyer and citizen, is that the main political parties use the police and criminal justice system as either a mechanism to restrict individual freedom or a battleground to talk themselves up but in reality avoid the difficult tasks of really dealing with the time consuming and expensive crime prevention. In particular, the main parties succumb to interest groups or the latest fad on solving crime or dealing with recidivism. Huge sums of money are wasted on this when simple basic policing and communities working together is best.’
For the uninitiated, what would the role of a PCC be?
‘The Police and Crimes Commissioner is a new role created by government to act as the voice of the electorate in deciding the strategy for policing in it areas, draw up a 5 year crime strategy, allocate the budget and report on its success. It is part politics, part policy and part management. Stripped down it is hoped that the PCC would be able to listen to the electorate and hear what crimes they want dealing with. Then with a budget in mind work with the areas police commissioner to draw up a properly budgeted plan that would deal effectively with that strategy.”
From a crime perspective, what are the main challenges facing Greater Manchester?
“Manchester is a huge metropolis of over 2.5 million people and is subject to the full array of modern day crimes from burglary and robbery to gang crime, trafficking and prevention of terrorism. It is therefore extremely difficult to point to anyone crime as the key one to tackle. However,whilst talking to members of the public and interested groups it has become clear that certain categories of crime concern keep coming to the top of the public concerns such as Anti Social behaviour, assault, robberies, burglaries, and domestic violence. Ensuring that people can live in their communities free from harassment, personal abuse, violence and assault must be key to ensuring a free and civilised society. Ensuring this happens is a major challenge.’
Do you think there exists a disconnect between citizens and the police?
‘Definitely! It has been happening slowly over the past few decades. As a teenager I used to see the local beat police officer walk across the local park or down our row of shops. Nowadays for most people their contact with the police is minimal and fleeting. The common parlance is that all you see is the police swishing by in fast cars en route to out of town police malls. This isn’t all the police’s fault. Firstly, huge demands are placed on officers to complete endless paperwork to satisfy regulatory rules laid down by parliament and this keeps officers off the streets and leads to a culture of fear of of losing their jobs through not doing paperwork properly. Secondly, management has been institutionalised that size matters for efficiency and cost savings. Again this was a huge mantra of the 1990’s government and fed down the line to policies of the closing of smaller stations and building of mega stations. The analogy to supermarkets is not too unkind. You may know you local shop keeper and feel part of the community but don’t feel part of a community in a branded supermarket. If you see you local bobby on the street you feel he is part of the community, but not if he is stuck in headquarters miles away.’
How do you think your legal and business backgrounds would benefit you in the role of PCC?
‘A PCC will have to understand the interaction between policing, the law and the courts. My legal background and experience in my early career of doing criminal cases for the defence and prosecution will help here. The second key area of the PCC in Greater Manchester will be dealing with a budget of circa £220 million and engaging with many different groups in the negotiations on how this is spent. As a business lawyer involved in a business that managed £2billion of assets and had companies across the globe I believe I have the mental capacity to understand the complex issues of dealing with such large budgets and of engaging with many interested parties.’
Finally, what would your priorities be as PCC?
‘You will have to hit the ground running as the time scale to create the strategic plan is only a few months away. I will first need to engage in a rapid assessment of police resources, budgets and demands including longer term commitments and contracts. I will have to meet as many police groups and officers as possible and go out on their day to day duties to understand process and procedure and I will also need to engage with the public very quickly to build a broad picture of what they want done.
‘I will also need to appoint skilled and professional people who know crime and punishment to assist me in this task and build a team of people who will be willing to go the extra mile to bring crime down in Greater Manchester.’
(Elections for 41 Police and Crime Commissioners will be held on November 15th