Councillor Ware-Lane uneasy over council cop proposals

Councillor 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.

Councillor 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.

 

Julian Ware-Lane, was the sole dissenting voice Southend Council’s Audit Committee hearing of a report entitled Counter Fraud Service Update, 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.

 

Councillor 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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