ELECTORS go to the polls across Cumbria next Thursday to choose a Police and Crime Commissioner to represent the county – a role that is being introduced across England and Wales for the first time. It will signal the biggest reform to policing since the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 – but how do the four candidates standing in Cumbria intend to make their mark on the role? To help electors make an informed choice at the polls, reporter STEPHANIE MANLEY put some questions to them . . .

Why do you think we need a Crime Commissioner and what makes you the right person?

Mary Robinson (Independent) A Police and Crime Commissioner can bring a different perspective to policing by working to involve residents in preparing and delivering a Policing Plan. Having been involved with community safety for many years now and currently serving my second term as chairman of Carlisle and Eden Community Safety Partnership I understand what has worked, what hasn’t worked and the importance of the public services working closely together to reduce crime and disorder and on preventative programmes. I am dedicated to serving the public and not hindered by having to follow party political lines unlike those selected by their political parties.

Patrick Leonard (Labour) The Labour Party together with many others didn't support the moves to introduce the role but the government pressed ahead regardless. So they are going to exist and we have to make the new system work. I think Police Commissioners will have an important role in being a voice for the people with the police. A high profile individual will be more accountable to the public for the way in which the police respond to local concerns. I have over 30 years’ experience in public service and see this as another opportunity to serve the people of Cumbria.

Pru Jupe (Liberal Democrats) Many people were not aware of their Police Authority. A PCC will be instantly known, recognisable and will be contactable by all the residents. Without fear or favour, I will hold the Chief Constable to account and will scrutinise the police service in the interest of the people of Cumbria. I am a barrister with 29 years’ experience in Child Protection and Domestic Violence and a former criminal/police station solicitor as well as a trained mediator. For the last three years I have been Vice Chair of the Audit and Accounts Committee. I believe I have the right skill set for the post. On a daily basis I listen to people and advocate and represent their interests. I have a deep sense of fairness and justice. I negotiate and compromise, but can also be decisive and determined when required to do so.

Richard Rhodes (Conservative) The appointment of a Police and Crime Commissioner will ensure that a democratically elected person will hold the Chief Constable to account and allocate resources. So, the PCC can be voted out of office if the public are dissatisfied. The PCC will be able to initiate policies designed to deter criminal activity. I believe that my experience for the role is appropriate in that I have never held elected office; I have been a Headmaster for 22 years; Magistrate for 33 years and Chair of Cumbria Probation Trust since 2008. I am also chair of the Safer Cumbria Direction Group.

Will your political position affect the role, if so how, or if not why?

Mary Robinson I feel being independent of any political party is a really positive benefit. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas and for me to be a successful PCC it is important people are engaged with preparing a Policing Plan for Cumbria which really delivers positive benefits for our communities. To me politics should play no part in Policing and how can a person selected as part of a political party process, supported financially by that political party ever say they are independent of political interference and influence, to me it just doesn’t ring true.

Pru Jupe In the last 30 years I have never allowed any party political views I may have to enter into or influence my legal work, or the way I conduct cases on behalf of my clients. I have represented people from literally all backgrounds with many differing views; criminals, people with mental health problems, Local Authorities, parents and children. In my work and in my life generally, I abide by some very basic principles - Human Rights, equality, fairness. I am very clear that the role of the PCC means representing everyone’s views and should not involve Party Politics.

Patrick Leonard I'm not a politician and I've never stood for election before. Once elected the Commissioner will take an oath to serve all the people of Cumbria – even those with whom they don’t agree! Having said that it would be my intention to bring Labour values to the role by ensuring that the most vulnerable in our community are protected, not just those who shout the loudest. All Labour candidates have made a commitment not to interfere in the Chief Constable’s operational responsibilities. So perhaps after the election, politics can be parked for a few years.

Richard Rhodes The successful candidate will have to take an oath of impartiality. In my case, I have been a Magistrate for 33 years as well as a layman sitting in the Tribunal Service. I have acquired a lot of experience of thinking independently and making decisions accordingly. That would be my pledge if I am elected. I wrote my own manifesto and there has been no direction or interference with that from anyone. I can and do think independently. What I have to say is based on my wide experience of the criminal justice system.

How do you plan to organise your office (i.e. with a deputy, committee etc)?

Mary Robinson It will be important to assess the financial plan and organisational structure before making additional expenditure commit-ments. Working with the staff transferring from the Police Authority with the experience and knowledge to guide early dec-ision making will be vital. Large savings still need identifying in addition to those planned and approved by the Police Authority. There will be many conflicting demands on the PCC - however any appointment of a Deputy will have to be carefully thought through. Independent audit and employment panels will need to be appointed regardless of which candidate is appointed. Further clarification is needed on these.

Patrick Leonard I do think it essential to appoint a Deputy – just the size of Cumbria requires that more than one person covers the territory. Regarding the office I am sure that will need reorganising – the job they will have to do in the future is not the one they have done in the past. However, first I need to get elected and spend some time understanding where we are starting from before reaching firm conclusions on the way forward.

Pru Jupe I would look to appoint a well-qualified deputy to support me, but if elected I want to make sure that every pound the police receive is spent on front line policing in our community and not on back office functionaries. There are a number of staff including a Chief Executive who are already appointed as employees of the Police Authority. They immediately transfer to the employment of the PCC. The Police Authority are already preparing ‘End Of Term Reports’ ready to hand over to the new PCC.

Richard Rhodes I will establish an Executive Committee consisting of the Chief Constable, Chief Executive and Treasurer to determine policy and strategy that is deliverable within budget. The precise function and staffing of Office of Public Engagement will be a matter for discussion but it should essentially be a civilian enterprise rather than one staffed by Police. The Office of Victim Support will be minimal in size because I see this activity as one which should be commissioned. The issue of whether to appoint a deputy will only come after gaining a fuller idea of costs and workloads.

Rural crime is a big issue in Cumbria – how do you plan to tackle it?

Mary Robinson From sheep and cattle rustling, poaching and hare coursing, oil and machinery thefts the cost is immense, never mind the upset it causes to those it affects. Farm Watch is one of the ways Cumbria Police are tackling the problem. The use of volunteers from the rural community who have high levels of knowledge of the areas and are willing and able to take part in surveillance operations is something I would continue to support. This scheme, along with the community messaging service, must be supported and expanded by our new PCC, they really do get results.

Patrick Leonard Fear of crime in rural areas is a real issue but we shouldn’t forget that actually Cumbria is a low crime area. My concern is that people don’t feel as safe as they should given this fact. So if elected I would be talking to the Chief Constable about how we can reassure people. However, theft from farms is clearly a major problem. A friend of ours had a JCB stolen from their farmyard – goodness only knows how they managed that! The solutions often lie within the affected community. It should be possible to rebuild a really effective Farmwatch network.

Pru Jupe From getting out and speaking to people in villages throughout South Lakeland, I know that rural crime is a major issue. That's why I have created a whole plan to deal with it. I would extend the Farm Watch scheme. I want to see an increasing the use of PCSOs in our villages. I would also work with the NFU, parish councils and village associations throughout South Lakeland to make our community safer. But the biggest thing I want to do is to get the police out in our villages and communities.

Richard Rhodes Rural Crime is a huge issue. Farm watch does good work. We need greater coordinated activity with other local constabularies. People living in rural areas think that the majority of police time and resource is spent in the more heavily populated areas with their increased incidence of crime. There is some justification for this. I will discuss with the Chief Constable the concept of Parish Constables – with the status of Specials –living in rural communities with the power of arrest and who would work in conjunction with Parish Councils to reduce the fear of crime as much as anything else.

If elected, how will you communicate the work you do to members of the public, and how will you make sure everyone in Cumbria is heard?

Mary Robinson I feel it is very important to use existing networks and organisations which include parish and town councils, Neighbourhood Watch, Domestic Violence Groups, Victim Support, Mencap, Housing Groups and Residents’ Associations along with other third sector bodies who are already established and well aware of the issues our residents face. What is important is everyone has their voice heard and I would be proactive in getting out and about to speak directly with people. It is really vital the Policing Plan reflects what our residents need and continues to reduce all areas of crime.

Patrick Leonard If elected I aim to spend the majority of my time listening to people. During my campaign I have made a particular point of listening to young people. Cumbria Police may be listening to older people but I am not convinced that they also take the views of young people in to account and they are so important – they represent the future of our communities. The new Commissioner will have to use all communications media. However, I know from experience, Cumbrians like to see you face-to-face so I will be emphasising the importance of personal contact in my communications plan.

Pru Jupe I intend to set up fortnightly surgeries in the towns and villages of Cumbria to speak face to face with the public. I will have a dedicated telephone line and an assistant to help me communicate directly with you. I will send out information thorough as many channels as possible, including the media, social networking and the like. Reports will be regularly published to keep you informed of the progress and successes we have achieved

Richard Rhodes An Office of Public Engagement will be established. This will involve consultation about what the public want from their police force. I would like to have a mature and intelligent debate about the whole issue of resourcing and application of policing. If the general public feel that there are insufficient police officers on the streets then we have to explain to them the reasons for that and discuss measures to deal with it. I anticipate a regular presence in public locations to establish a proactive approach to public opinion.