MPs and celebrities urged to stand for top police jobs

First elections for new commissioners next May

Celebrities, MPs and senior officers are being sounded out about becoming powerful police commissioners in moves to hand control of forces to directly elected officials.

The former Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross has been approached about contesting the elections in May next year, and at least two former Labour cabinet ministers are understood to be considering quitting the Commons to run for the roles. Across England and Wales, 41 elected police and crime commissioners will replace police authorities outside London, with the power to set policing and crime plans, control budgets and hire or fire senior officers. The average pay and pension package could be worth £122,000. The system would be similar to the American model.

The legislation creating the new role specifically allows politicians to stand as commissioners and remain as MPs in Westminster. They would have to resign their Commons seat only if they were successful. The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has called for a "cooling off" period of up to four years between a senior officer leaving the police force and standing for election.

Candidates will have t be over 18 and not have been convicted of an imprisonable offence. Elections would be held every four years, at a cost of £50m. Commissioners would be limited to holding office for two terms.

There is concern within the Government that the policy has failed to attract the public's attention. High-profile figures with experience of running large organisations are needed to ensure the elections are not a wash-out.

Alan Johnson, the former home secretary, has been suggested for the Yorkshire and Humber region, while coalition ministers believe Hazel Blears, a former communities secretary and police minister, would be well placed for Greater Manchester. This weekend both Mr Johnson and Ms Blears insisted they were not interested in leaving Westminster, but The Independent on Sunday understands they are among a list of high-profile figures the Home Office would like to see put their names forward.

Other names linked to the new role include the former Labour home secretaries Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw, for West Mercia and Lancashire respectively. Ann Widdecombe, the Tory former prisons minister, yesterday rejected suggestions she would contest the position for the Devon and Cornwall area, where she lives.

Despite Labour opposition to the proposals, a number of the party's chairmen of police authorities are thought to be well placed to run, including Paul Murphy in Greater Manchester and Mark Burns-Williamson in West Yorkshire. Rob Garnham, the Conservative Gloucestershire Police Authority chairman, has been publicly critical of the policy, but Tory HQ expects him to stand for election.

Jan Berry, the former chairman of the Police Federation, has been urged to stand in Kent, while a senior Lib Dem source said Brian Paddick, the former deputy assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, "would make a strong candidate".

Nick Herbert, the police minister, said: "We want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. Police forces should be accountable to their communities. This will end Whitehall's bureaucratic meddling in police so they can concentrate on fighting crime."

With the number of MPs due to fall by 50 to 600 at the next election, several are expected to abandon Westminster for more powerful locally elected roles.

Police commissioner wish list: Will they run or won't they?

1. Nick Ross

2. Jacqui Smith

3. Hazel Blears

4. Ann Widdecombe

5. Brian Paddick