Ware-Lane uneasy over ‘Council Cop’ proposals

My latest press release:

Julian Ware-Lane has expressed his unease over proposals that would allow Southend Council to create its own police force that would crackdown on benefit cheats.

Under the Council’s plans, counter-fraud teams will be given new powers to carry out investigations independently of the police and other law enforcement agencies, including the ability to execute search warrants and seize assets that could be the proceeds of crime or benefit fraud.

In the last year benefit fraud and error accounted for 2.1 per cent of total benefit expenditure, ensuring the recovery of this public money is of top priority. However, giving council employees these powers seem draconian, unnecessary and a duplication of the proper authority and procedures of the police.

Councillor Julian Ware-Lane, was the sole dissenting voice Southend Council’s Audit Committee hearing of a report entitled Counter Fraud Service Update last night, where he expressed his unease at the implications behind the proposals. During the meeting it was announced that the powers will include access to various data sources, including the electoral roll and Tesco clubcard records.

Julian Ware-Lane, Labour portfolio holder for Public Protection, Transport and Waste, commented:

“We can all agree that benefit cheats must be caught and punished, and public monies recovered, but that these proposals leaves me distinctly uneasy.

Entering people’s homes, executing warrants and seizing property should be carried out in the proper manner, by the proper authorities. The police are accountable to the judiciary and a number of other public bodies, these new ‘council cops’ are expected to have all the powers, but where is the accountability?

In addition, the Council is proposing to use powers that have been available since 1985, and I wondered why nearly twenty-nine years have elapsed without need to seek recourse through these powers.

Empowering our officers to search and seize the assets of its residents, in advance of prosecution, is a step too far. Whilst we must be tough on crime this should not mean the diminution of our rights and freedoms.”

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6 Responses to Ware-Lane uneasy over ‘Council Cop’ proposals

  1. Dent uneasy over Ware-Lane’s use of third person.

  2. The Centre for Policy studies published a report (in 2007) by Harry Snook about all those who had authority to enter your home. The title of the report really said all that needed to be said “Crossing the Threshold: 266 ways the State can enter your home”

    Given the fragmentation of policing powers we really need an update to this report and additional reports:
    – who can enter our home
    – who can stop us in the street or in our cars
    – who can electronically raid us
    I think the answers would frighten us! (It would also be practically impossible to keep up to date – as councils assumed new powers!)

  3. Matthew S. Dent: Dare I own up to being merely the co-author of this piece? Besides, press releases are usually written in the third person. I guess I could have re-written it. Is Dent also uneasy about the proposals from the council?

    outside the marginals: Dare I suggest that you could blog about that?

  4. Paul Stygal says:

    Being a somewhat cynical soul, I am somewhat alarmed at the timing of this new council plan for cracking down on benefit cheats. Nationally, Tories in the coalition government have been continually using subterfuge in making benefit fraud appear to be a considerably bigger problem than it is. Reasoning for this is presumably to avert people’s attention from the atrocious policies they are bringing in (divide and rule). Could it possibly be that Tories in the council want to use exactly the same subterfuge locally in the run up to the council elections in May and make big news of their determination to tackle the ‘huge’ problem of benefit cheats?

  5. dave batter says:

    I agree with Julian if the powers have been there for 29 years without being used how do we know new powers will be used. these new powers would need staff, Council is cutting staff so where will the money come from?

  6. I jest with you Julian.

    And there are few proposals from the council which Dent isn’t uneasy about.

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