Police chief chase is on

Alan Billing and David Blunkett
Alan Billing and David Blunkett

SHEFFIELD is not going to have a Boris – but the race is hotting up to lead a new style of Old Bill.

Although there will be no election on November 12 for an elected mayor of Sheffield after last week’s referendum result, the same day will see the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire.

Another potential candidate was announced this week – retired Sheffield priest and former deputy council leader Alan Billings, which takes a Labour shortlist to four.

He has the support of city MP and former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who was leader of the council in the 1980s when Dr Billings was deputy.

As well as his background as a parish priest in Broomhall and Walkley, Dr Billings has worked on the national stage in roles ranging from a board member of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales to being a contributor to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission which produced the controversial Faith in the City report that was critical of the Thatcher Government.

He was also a member of the Labour Government’s Community Cohesion Panel and is a contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

Mr Blunkett said: “Having opposed the post in the past, particularly in relation to the dangers of maverick or partisan political opportunism, I am very keen indeed that the post should be filled by someone who can comment respect and support, not only across the whole of South Yorkshire, but across the political spectrum.”

Dr Billings “has the experience, the local links, the detailed national engagement and the appreciation of the issues and a grounding in local government, which will be essential for doing the job effectively.”

Labour Party members across South Yorkshire are to be balloted on the candidates, with a verdict expected around the middle of next month.

Already former South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes, who retired last October after seven years heading the force, is one high-profile potential candidate.

Two Labour Party veterans are also on the shortlist. Former Sheffield councillor Kash Walayat, who is well known in the city, has just stepped down after 25 years service as a senior civil servant with the Department for Education.

Rotherham councillor Shaun Wright has experience as vice chair of the police authority and has the backing of MPs John Healey and Denis MacShane, along with Barnsley and Rotherham Council leaders Steve Houghton and Roger Stone.

No local candidates have been announced yet by the Liberal Democrats or Conservatives, although the Lib Dems are in the process of choosing one.

The Government is introducing police and crime commissioners as an alternative to police authorities, which comprise local councillors, in the belief that they can deliver a more effective and efficient police service.

Directly elected by the public, they will work alongside chief constables, with a brief to hold them and the force to account on behalf of their communities.