The nationwide elections were the first of their kind but have seen disagreements between the bodies charged with overseeing the process.
Former leading lights in police PR have hit out at the lack of awareness-raising around the elections, which have resulted in commissioners in 41 police force areas – excluding London – taking extensive powers with regard to policing and crime.
Gillian Radcliffe is a former head of press and PR at South Yorkshire Police and a top-level consultant on crime prevention to the Home Office, which ran the process in conjunction with the Electoral Commission.
She told PRWeek that she had to drop out of the running as an independent for South Yorkshire because she could not afford to campaign owing to a lack of central government funding for candidates. ‘There was no real understanding among the public of what these elections were for and why they were important. It was left to the candidates themselves to get the message across,’ she said.
The Home Office ran a TV ad campaign during October and offered candidate information online, as well as a voter helpline. However, in recent weeks the helpline had been the subject of hundreds of complaints from those struggling to use it, as well as criticism from shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.
Last year, the Home Office rejected a proposal by the Electoral Commission to send a booklet to every household with candidate details on the basis of cost.
Hilary Allison, co-founder of The Vivid Consultancy and former PR manager at Gloucestershire Police, called the process a ‘shambles’ and said it could do long-term ‘reputational damage’ around the role of the commissioner: ‘Given this is one of the biggest shake-ups in policing, I would have thought there would have been more publicity than normal, but there was less.
‘While I welcomed the Government’s use of websites and a hotline, a lot of people who vote for these things tend to be older and may not use the web.’
A spokesman for the Home Office responded, saying that it had been ‘publicising PCCs and their benefits’ for more than two years.