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Jobs for ‘cronies’ based on ‘nepotism’ and poor scrutiny: MPs’ lay into Police Commissioners

Jobs for ‘cronies’ based on ‘nepotism’ and poor scrutiny: MPs’ lay into Police Commissioners

🕔06.May 2014

Eighteen months after they first took office, it is hard to find anyone with much of a good word to say about the need for, or the performance of, our 41 highly paid Police and Crime Commissioners.

The Home Affairs Committee is the latest body to have its say on PCCs, the directly-elected officials who in November 2012 replaced police authorities and were given wide-ranging powers to hire and fire chief constables and produce crime-fighting plans.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said it was too early to determine whether the new system had been a success, but there were problems and he believed PCCs should be placed “on probation”. The committee noted that participation at the 2012 elections had been extremely low.

With a turnout of 15 per cent nationally and just 12 per cent in the West Midlands, the PCC ballots resulted in the worst public participation rate of any national poll in modern times, prompting the Electoral Reform Society to comment that this was an astonishing example of how not to run an election.

Among issues picked up by MPs was the trend among commissioners to appoint “cronies” and political allies as deputy PCCs. The committee wants candidates standing for election as commissioner in future to state who they would appoint as deputy, and for the name to appear on a joint-ticket ballot paper.

West Midlands PCC Bob Jones, a former Wolverhampton Labour councillor, faced criticism for hiring Birmingham Labour councillor Yvonne Mosquito as his deputy and appointing three other Labour councillors as assistant commissioners.

But Mr Jones also gave jobs to Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors as non-executive directors.

He pre-empted the Home Affairs Committee by naming his deputy before being elected in 2012, confirming that Cllr Mosquito would be his choice if he got the job.

The Home Affairs Committee criticised the limited powers available to police and crime panels, which are supposed to act as scrutiny bodies.

There were also concerns about PCCs who had engaged in high-profile struggles to remove chief constables after relationships between the two had broken down.

The committee’s main recommendations to the Government were:

  • Strengthen the role of police and crime panels to scrutinise the removal, resignation or retirement of a chief constable, where this has been instigated by the PCC.
  • Institute a one month training period for PCCs before taking office.
  • A more transparent method of appointing deputy PCCs. The names of prospective PCCs and their deputies should appear as a ‘joint ticket’ on ballot papers.
  • A change in law to make clear the grounds for suspending or removing chief constables and the introduction of a third party mediation process where relationships between a PCC and chief constable have broken down.

Mr Vaz said: “The concept of police and crime commissioners is still very much on probation. Some commissioners have fallen well short of the public’s expectations and urgent reforms are needed to ensure that this concept does not put at risk public trust and engagement in the police, the very objectives for which PCCs were brought in.

“The hiring of deputies and the decision to remove chief constables are critical decisions for local communities and it is vital that the amount of the scrutiny applied to commissioners by police and crime panels increases.

“Panels’ powers must be strengthened and extended to ensure that any decision to remove a chief constable is the right one for the public. Only this will provide full public confidence.

“Deputies should not be cronies that are given their job on the basis of nepotism. By electing them on the same ticket we ensure that the public will be able to have their say on someone who often acts with the powers of the commissioner.”

In November 2013, a review led by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens called for the abolition of PCCs after 2016, with their powers being transferred to local councillors and local authorities.

The review, which was set up by the Labour Party, said the PCC model had “fatal systematic flaws” and should be discontinued in its present form at the end of the term of office of the 41 serving PCCs.

Bob Jones has been outspoken about his dislike of the new system. Mr Jones, who once chaired the West Midlands Police Authority, said after being elected commissioner he did not think the job should exist and he felt his £100,000 salary was far too high.

Mr Jones told the Home Affairs Committee that he had few powers as PCC and saw himself more as a representative giving a voice to the community in a similar way to MPs: “The actual decision-making executive structure is fairly limited, particularly with the concept of operational independence.

“The urgent quick decisions are those of the chief constable. Mine are the ones that tend to be inclusive and instil confidence that decisions are being made on behalf of the whole of the community, including obviously appointing the correct chief constable.”

Commenting on the Home Affairs Committee report, Mr Jones repeated his view that police commissioners are a waste of money: “The police and crime commissioner model of police governance remains fundamentally flawed.  Most of the visibility police and crime commissioners have achieved has come about thanks to the risible election turnout, disputes with chief constables, hostile criticism, controversy, and high profile investigations.

“It remains the case that spending £100 million at a time of cuts to policing to create a new class of politicians the public clearly doesn’t want was a mistake – particularly as there is no evidence that crime’s fallen or public confidence increased.”

He believes the West Midlands, covering three million people, is far too large an area for effective control by a police commissioner.

Mr Jones added: “We define ourselves by our proud cities, towns and boroughs.  Policing governance should reflect that, which is why I have created a Strategic Policing and Crime Board with members who can link to local areas, and why I have passported funding for community safety projects to Local Policing and Crime Boards, increasingly led by local people, which can set priorities that reflect local need, and allocate resources.”

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