Ahead of the Police and Crime Commissioner election on Thursday 6 May, the Bedford Independent has spoken to each of the candidates to find out their plans for policing across the county.
Starting today, we will be publishing our interviews with each of the candidates in alphabetical order.
Festus Akinbusoye (Conservative)
Festus, 42, lives in Central Bedfordshire and is the youngest of the candidates.
He is a company director, board member of YMCA, a volunteer mentor to young offenders, a former board member at a further education college and a former Special Constable with Bedfordshire Police.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Bedfordshire Police in 2021?
Bedfordshire faces a growing organised crime threat and our ability to tackle this is affected by the level of funding we receive.
Our area is funded as a rural police force due to an outdated funding formula under successive governments. We also have an improving but one of the worst retention rates of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
This affects our ability to have officers who know an area and comes at a cost.
As PCC, I will fight strongly, to make the case for the outdated funding formula to be addressed and work with our Chief Constable to keep improving the retention of officers in Bedfordshire Police.
Bedfordshire Police is funded as a rural force, despite urban centres including Luton and Bedford, plus an airport and high levels of organised crime.
How will you address the government’s funding of the force?
The outgoing Conservative PCC, Kathryn Holloway has made the case to the government for added funding for Bedfordshire Police through evidenced-based needs analysis by an independent body.
Through this, she has been able to secure an extra £16m in Special Grants to pay for the extra demand.
I have already raised this issue with the Home Secretary and will keep doing so vociferously until the funding formula is fixed.
In addition to this, I will also look at efficiency gains achievable with our Tri-Force and Eastern Region partners in sharing resources such as shared procurement to benefit from economies of scale.
Violent youth crime, gang culture and county lines drug dealing are all prevalent in Bedfordshire.
What do you propose to do to tackle these issues among the county’s young people?
Overall violent crime has fallen by 9% in Bedfordshire and we are doing better now at safeguarding our young people than before – thanks to the government’s investment in our highly respected Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit.
However, we must do more.
This is why I am fully committed to taking an early intervention, preventative approach to youth offending; providing support pathways for parents and guardians, recruiting 100 volunteer mentors, minimum of 12 paid internships for 17 – 21-year-olds and working to get our multi-agency partnerships working together better.
What can you say to Bedford residents who have seen a rise in anti-social behaviour (ASB), petty crime and thefts in their area and feel they are being ignored by the police?
While overall crime fell by 4%, anti-social behaviour is one of the most reported crimes in Bedfordshire accounting for nearly 25% of all reports last year.
To address ASBs, and other acquisitive crimes in our county, I will focus on addressing the causes of these crimes in our county and will make it easier for residents to report these crimes.
Crucially, residents will be able to get updates on the progress of persistent issues and I will raise awareness of Community Trigger which gives residents the right to an explanation from their local authority and responsible bodies of what they’re doing to address reported ASB.
No one in our county should feel their safety is being ignored.
The diversity in this year’s PCC candidate options is clearly indicative of efforts to better represent BAME communities across Bedfordshire.
But how will you address internal issues within Bedfordshire Police where systemic racism may exist, whilst also creating better relationships between police officers and local BAME communities?
I welcome the progress Bedfordshire Police has made having gone from being one of the least ethnically diverse police forces a few years ago to now being in the top three most diverse in England and Wales.
I want our force to be the best force for all people to work – irrespective of their race, gender, religion or sexuality.
If elected as PCC, I will take the lead in being unequivocal in my stance against racism or any form of bigotry, hold the Chief Constable accountable for the force’s diversity policy and actual implementation, beyond words and policy statements, but actual delivery; and continue to build on the progress we have made over the last few years.
What three words sum up Bedford Borough to you?
One of the first English literary classics I read was The Pilgrim’s Progress written by John Bunyan in 1678, an author whose history is very much tied to Bedford.
So the first word that comes to mind about Bedford Borough is ‘history’ – followed by its vibrancy and diversity.
Tomorrow we will publish our interview with Independent candidate Patrick Hamill.
How to vote in the PCC elections
The Police and Crime Commissioner elections take place on Thursday 6 May. You can find out where your polling station is by entering your postcode here.
The ballot paper will list the PCC candidates, with two columns for marking your first choice and second choice.
In the second column, you can mark a cross next to the candidate who is your second choice. You don’t have to mark a second choice.