From Portsmouth to Leicester where City Councillor Unite’s Ross Willmott hopes to become the East Midlands new Police and Crime Commissioner. Hajera Blagg reports
Labour councillor Ross Willmott, who’s standing as a Labour candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, has been a trade union member for most of his life – in fact even before he was 18.
“I joined a union when I had my first job in a supermarket at 16,” Ross told UNITElive. “There’s a strong history of trade unionism in my family – my father was an engineer and his father was a printer on Fleet Street and a shop steward, or chapel father, as they used to call them in those days. They were all involved in politics.”
This family tradition of trade unionism and Labour politics would become for Ross a driving force throughout his whole career – in his first job after finishing university, he was a trainee officer for ASTMS, one of the many unions which eventually merged with Unite. He then returned to university to study Industrial Relations at Warwick University, and at only 26 years old, he was elected as councillor for Leicestershire County Council.
In 1996, he became a city councillor, a position which he’s held ever since, and he’s also served as Leader of Leicester City Council for ten years.
“All of this time I’ve either been a trade union member or working for one,” Ross explained. “I’m especially proud to be a Unite member because Unite’s political position is one that aligns perfectly with mine. I think support of the Labour Party is so important.”
As councillor, Ross has made it his mission to foster stronger links between trade union members and local politicians like him.
“I set up informal links between the Labour group and the trade unions. Obviously there’s the formal machinery that exists but I think informal links can help to strengthen that relationship. I had an open door policy as leader of the council with the trade unions – I think it’s so important for trade union members to get their voices heard directly by political leaders.”
Ross has also taken part in Unite training sessions where he’s spoken to members about becoming a councillor and what it’s like to be a councillor.
“I try to encourage trade union members to become more involved in politics – after all, trade unions set up the Labour Party in the first place to forward the aims of working people,” he noted.
Ross believes that standing as a candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is a natural continuation of the decades of service he’s given to his local community.
“Because of my long involvement in local politics I felt that we should have somebody who runs the police who is more accountable to the people – not someone who is just in charge of the police but has that very important link between communities in the city, in the county and the police.”
Strong crime prevention agenda
If elected, Ross says he would commit to a strong prevention agenda on crime.
“Effective policing isn’t just about catching villains,” he explained. “It’s about what we can do working with the budgets that we’ve got, which are considerable – £200m altogether – and working with other agencies and partners to stop people being drawn into crime in the first place. This is far more effective than simply locking people up. We know that people are led into crime because of poverty, deprivation, lack of work and so on – I’m interested in tackling the causes of criminality.”
Ross criticised the approach taken to crime by prime minister Boris Johnson, who has previously pledged £2bn to build more prisons.
“This is entirely the wrong approach,” he said. “We should be investing that £2bn in measures that for example, stop young people carrying knives; that promote restorative justice, and support people in getting decent jobs.
“Meanwhile, my Conservative opponent believes we should give the police more tasers and bullet-proof vests,” Ross added. “Where’s the hope in that? There’s no hope there. The hope lies in measures which support people into good employment and somewhere decent to live so that they’re not drawn into crime in the first place.”
Ross said that if he is elected, he’ll build on the good work that the current Labour PCC has already done by investing in more police officers on the beat. While the Tories had slashed police numbers in the area by over 500 in the last decade, under the current Labour PCC, nearly 300 police officers were added.
Labour makes a real difference
“With Labour in control of the PCC we’ve made a real difference,” Ross noted. “And I think now we need to double that number – that’s my ambition if elected. “With more police in our communities we establish trust between the police and communities and this leads to more effective policing, which helps to stop crime in the first place. If we’ve got more police on the ground, then criminals such as car thieves and house burglars are less opportunistic.”
If elected as PCC, Ross also hopes to tackle a type of criminal activity that often gets overlooked – workplace exploitation.
“In Leicester this is an especially entrenched problem – issues around modern slavery, exploitation at work, employers that are failing to paying the minimum wage. To me this is criminal activity and many of the victims are often women and children. PCCs should be given the powers to investigate sweat shops and other forms of exploitation – we should have a brief to be doing that. This would involve working closely with trade unions to get such places workplaces unionised.”
Above all, Ross says he is committed to imbuing his trade unionism in every aspect of his work if elected as PCC – a commitment that he’s already demonstrated for decades.
“I will continue to uphold my trade union values – Unite values – respecting people and their communities and advocating for workers’ rights,” Ross said. “As PCC you have a platform to speak not just on policing but on other issues as well and that is my intention. As a councillor, I’ve never been someone who confines himself just to being with the council. I will happily lend my support to Unite members who are in dispute or need help.
“I believe if you have a position of authority or influence then you can use it for a greater good. I see myself as a strong democrat, a trade unionist, someone who speaks up for ordinary people and represents their interests.”
If you live in the East Midlands and want to help Ross you can find out more about Cllr Ross Willmott on his website here. You can also contact the Unite East Midlands regional office and ask to speak to the regional political officer.
Wherever you live if would like to help Unite candidates in your area or to find out more see here
By Hajera Blagg
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