WHEN voters head to the polling station on Thursday, they will not just be voting for their next councillor – they will be voting for Essex’s next Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner (PFCC), too.

The role of a PFCC is broad and requires the producing of a police and crime plan for the entire county.

As well as this, a PFCC must set the policing budget, commission victims’ services, distribute community safety grants, and hold the chief constable to account.

The role was created in 2012, and in the three elections held to date, a Conservative candidate has been returned each time.

The incumbent Roger Hirst was first elected in 2016 when he beat nearest candidate – the former Castle Point MP Bob Spink – by 30,000 votes.

In 2021 he won for a second time, this time by a huge margin of 135,000 after he received 235,346 votes to Chris Vince’s 99,712.

Now 63, Mr Hirst is running for a third term, though the Brentwood councillor bridled about being asked by his age, deeming it “irrelevant information” which is “one way of promulgating discrimination in our society”.

Braintree and Witham Times: Incumbent - Roger Hirst currently has a huge majority following his re-election in 2016Incumbent - Roger Hirst currently has a huge majority following his re-election in 2016 (Image: Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner)

In terms of longevity, however, the Conservative has no plans to slow down just yet and insists there are plenty more projects he is keen to deliver.

He said: “It depends how long can you continue to make a positive difference – it is a strategic role, so right now I am in the middle of doing things that are strategic.

“You can’t turn a big ship strategically in a couple of months – it takes two years to get the major projects started.

“The Violence and Vulnerability Unit to reduce drug driven violence didn’t start until 2018 and it’s a ten-year programme.”

These programmes, Mr Hirst said, are working even though they may not have delivered instant results.

“The number of hospital-related admissions on knife crime has been reduced by 25 per cent.

“Those are big successes, but we still need to do a lot more and I want to see that programme through.”

When asked whether voters might be put off by his affiliation with the Conservative party given the Tories’ downturn in the polls, Mr Hirst was bullish.

“Having navigated the country through Covid, having achieved the first launch of a vaccine against Covid in the world, supporting Ukraine, increasing the number of Essex cops by 905 and reducing anti-social behaviour by two thirds – I think if people actually look at the Conservatives’ track record, they will actually want to vote Conservative.”

The candidate expected to present the biggest challenge to Mr Hirst is Colchester Council’s former deputy leader, Adam Fox.

The 40-year-old has put himself forward in the hope he can apply his experience in local government and involvement in public health to a role which a Labour candidate has never really come close to holding.

He said: “My thinking behind putting myself forward is that I have heard so much from residents across Essex who say they just don’t feel like the police are working for them and their residents.

“I have knocked on thousands of doors all over Essex and people say they don’t see enough of the police, and that makes people feel like their communities aren’t as safe they could be.

“The number one priority for me is to see more visible neighbourhood policing.”

Braintree and Witham Times: Labour - Adam Fox represented Labour and was formerly deputy leader of Colchester CouncilLabour - Adam Fox represented Labour and was formerly deputy leader of Colchester Council (Image: Adam Fox)

Mr Fox’s criticism of the Conservatives’ track record has been an important part of his campaign; he posted on social media on Friday to tell voters a vote for him is the best way of removing the Tories – and therefore Mr Hirst – from the office of PFCC.

Part of this tactical vote, he argued, involves Liberal Democrats lending their votes to Labour.

“The only way I can win is if the Liberal Democrat voters lend me their vote," he added.

“The Liberal Democrat candidate has publicly admitted they don’t believe in this role and there should not be local accountability for this role and services.

“They would scrap the role of PFCC – that’s their policy, and I just don’t think they are taking this role seriously.

“Crime and anti-social behaviour is a really important issue for Essex residents and I would take this role seriously and work to make Essex a safer place to live in.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Kieron Franks told the Gazette it is indeed his party’s position to abolish the role of PFCC, were they to have the opportunity.

The 23-year-old currently represents Great Baddow East for Chelmsford City Council, having moved to Essex in 2019 to study politics, philosophy, and economics.

If Mr Hirst doesn’t feel being 63 is a barrier to doing the job, then Mr Franks doesn’t think being 23 represents a barrier either.

He said: “I put myself forward for the reason that young people are not feeling safe in Essex at the moment, according to data from the PFCC.

Braintree and Witham Times: Radical - Kieron Franks said the Liberal Democrats hope to abolish the role of Police, Fire and Crime commissionerRadical - Kieron Franks said the Liberal Democrats hope to abolish the role of Police, Fire and Crime commissioner (Image: Kieron Franks)

“Having a young candidate pushing for more work being done on making younger people feel safe is a huge part of why I want to do it – I don’t think my age precludes me from listening to people.”

As for his views on the actual position of the PFCC, Mr Franks does not hide his scepticism.

“I don’t believe that the way PFCCs are run works at the moment – very few people know what a PFCC does," he said.

“This is about democratic accountability and making sure things are being done in the way the community wants them to be.”

Mr Franks, who is originally from Doncaster, added he would have no problem in being elected to a role he himself does not believe is particularly effective.

He added: “I have said we don’t believe the PFCC role works properly but in the system we have, it is important for the person in the job to be committed to speak to communities and partners in a way that is not being done at the moment.

“I speak to colleagues in south Yorkshire who up until recently had a Labour PFCC and they didn’t feel their communities were being listened to either.

“If there is an opportunity to abolish the PFCC and make it a more community focussed role, we will do that.”

Robin Tilbrook, who is representing the English Democrats, is the fourth and final candidate standing in Thursday’s election for PFCC.

A trained lawyer and current leader of the English Democrats, Mr Tilbrook, 66, has a clear message when it comes to diversity targets – get rid of them.

Though Mr Hirst is clear that no such requirements exist for police officers and firefighters, the scrapping of such targets forms one of the key messages of his campaign, along with the moving of resources away from policing social media.

Defunding gay pride events is also high on the agenda, and Mr Tilbrook insists such issues are a priority for the county.

He said: “If elected, the commissioner is in charge of writing the police’s policies and setting their budgets, so it’s well within the powers of the police commissioner to pull the funding on gay pride.

“It’s not funded by any private money – it’s entirely a state propaganda exercise.”

But will policies such as these make people feel safer?

Braintree and Witham Times: Patriot - Robin Tilbrook represents the English DemocratsPatriot - Robin Tilbrook represents the English Democrats (Image: English Democrats)

“What’s been happening is that both the police and the fire brigade have started to focus less and less on what the public want, and more and more on political correctness and social engineering," he says.

“All of us who are standing as candidates, we get a briefing from the commissioner and a chief fire officer – the interesting thing they said was not that they were proud of doing the job, but that they were changing the culture with diversity hires and things like that.

“I do think that matters because the police aren’t focussing so much on what the public wants them to do, like burglaries and so on – they are far more focused than they should be on social engineering and political correctness.”