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Nice work….if you can get it

Nice work….if you can get it

🕔14.Jan 2013

cashThe police authority is dead; long live the police authority.

That, at least, is one way of interpreting the decision by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones to establish a strategic policing and crime board complete with well-paid assistant commissioners and non-executive members.

Two months into his £100,000-a-year role, Commissioner Jones has decided he needs additional help to “ensure effective engagement and strategic direction” and to hold the police force to account – all tasks which, actually, sit firmly in Mr Jones’s own job description.

There are two clear dangers here for Mr Jones, who still continues to juggle his other role as a Labour city councillor in Wolverhampton with that of police commissioner. The first is that the new board will be regarded by his political opponents as a costly layer of unnecessary bureaucracy; the second is that the appointment of board members may ignite a whole new ‘cronyism’ row and detract from any good work that Mr Jones may be doing.

The commissioner has gone out of his way to suggest that membership of the board is open to anyone, and that in any case the cost of the new organisation will be substantially less than that of running the former West Midlands Police Authority.

The board will have eight members compared to 17 on the former police authority, and its budget has been set at £40,000 less than that of the authority. The board is to consist of Mr Jones and his deputy, Birmingham Labour councillor Yvonne Mosquito, alongside three assistant commissioners and three non-executive members.

As might have been expected, Matt Bennett, the Conservative candidate at last November’s election for West Midlands police commissioner, has been quick to challenge Mr Jones. He used social media to suggest that the board will primarily consist of Labour councillors and sympathisers, while also predicting a place on the board for Bishop Derek Webley, the former police authority chairman who stood as an Independent candidate in the police commissioner election.

Salaries for board members are substantial, given that the roles are part time. Assistant police commissioners will be paid at the rate of £22,500 a year for 10 days a month, while non-executive members will receive £7,500 a year for up to two days a month.

In fact, salaries for the assistant police commissioner roles are equivalent to £48,620 for a five-day week, which must be seen in the context of a £65,000 salary for Ms Mosquito and, of course, Mr Jones’s £100,000 pay packet. Ms Mosquito, whose job as deputy commissioner was not advertised, continues to be a Birmingham city councillor, where she picks up basic and special responsibility allowances worth about £27,000.

Mr Jones explained his proposal: “I have said many times that a PCC working alone, or even with a deputy, is not the best way to effectively engage and represent all the diverse areas of the West Midlands.

“There need to be links to each area, to ensure that the police are efficient and effective, that the right strategic direction is in place, and that the chief constable is held to account. Effective decision making means having all the information and listening to a range of views, and the strategic policing and crime board will be key to delivery of my manifesto commitments.”

He added that the three assistant police commissioners would have to show they had “appropriate experience and expertise”, while the non-executive members would offer “an independent element of challenge”.

Clearly, Mr Jones’s decision about who to appoint to the new board will be scrutinised most carefully by the political establishment. You can be sure that some of his Labour comrades will be just as keen as Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to discover who is in and who is out, and to make capital out of the appointments.

One of the claims made most frequently by opponents of police commissioners and elected mayors is that those holding such roles may be tempted to promote their friends and political allies, regardless of suitability for the job. And if it were to be the case that some of the board members were West Midlands councillors who would then receive additional salaries on top of already generous local council allowances for part-time jobs, then the climate of opinion might react sharply against the commissioner.

No one is suggesting that Mr Jones has anything other than the best of intentions at heart with his strategic policing and crime board, but he will require the judgment of Solomon when finalising appointments.

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