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West Midlands police commissioner Bob Jones marks first year in office by demanding a £35,000 pay cut

West Midlands police commissioner Bob Jones marks first year in office by demanding a £35,000 pay cut

🕔01.Nov 2013

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones believes he is paid “way too much” for the job he does and wants his £100,000 wage packet to be slashed by a third.

Mr Jones revealed that he has written to the Senior Salaries Review Board requesting a £35,000 pay cut – reducing his remuneration to £65,000, putting him on a par with MPs.

He said the £100,000 figure was out of line with his duties, adding that he has few executive powers and acts mainly in a scrutiny role and as a link between the community and the police.

Speaking in an interview to mark his first year in office, Mr Jones said:

– He hasn’t decided whether to stand for re-election in 2016, and will only do so if he can still “add value” to the PCC role.
– He is frustrated about being trapped in a “police bubble” and has severe doubts about the need for elected commissioners.
– It’s important not to be too friendly with Chris Sims, because he may have to trigger disciplinary proceedings against the West Midlands chief constable one day.
– He thinks he is doing as good a job as any PCC in England and Wales.

Mr Jones, a Labour politician and former Wolverhampton city councillor, is the ‘reluctant commissioner’. He made it clear from the moment of election that he yearned for a return to the former police authority, of which he was a member for more than 20 years.

A modest man, he makes a virtue of rejecting the trappings of office, turning down a chauffeur-driven car and preferring to travel by public transport whenever possible. An enthusiastic member of real ale society Camra, his biggest regret at the moment is a pressing invitation to conduct a BBC interview which means that he cannot have a drink when opening the Birmingham Beer Festival.

Nothing has changed his mind about the ineffectiveness of the PCC system after a year in office, although he resisted an invitation to set an example to other commissioners by voluntarily taking a pay cut.

Mr Jones said: “Yes, I believe I am paid too much. I have told the senior salaries review board this. I made it absolutely clear. Way too much.

“There’s not that much executive in it. It’s a representative job and I was making more decisions as a cabinet member in Wolverhampton.

“I am influencing decisions as PCC, co-ordinating and bringing people together. I would think that’s akin to being an MP and should be paid at the same rate.”

It would be wrong, he insisted, to unilaterally take a pay cut because to do so would cut across an important principle that people in high office should have their salaries set by an independent body.

He said: “I have always believed you should not set your own salary in public service, but get someone independent to do that. I am loath to tell people not to take their full salary. People of independent means would be advantaged over ordinary working class people.”

He rejected a suggestion that after two decades spent at Lloyd House he is seen as being far too close to the police and that his first instincts are to defend the police at all costs rather than being a ‘people’s champion’.

In recent weeks Mr Jones has hit the headlines by backing the chief constables of West Mercia, Warwickshire and the West Midlands over their investigation of Police Federation officers involved in the Andrew Mitchell Downing Street Plebgate affair.

Mr Jones took the side of the police against the Independent Police Complaints Commission and said he agreed that the three officers – accused of misrepresenting Mr Mitchell’s views – should not be disciplined, although he does think they should apologise.

Mr Jones said: “Always there is a risk that PCCs can be seen as being too close to the police. How do you make a judgment about what you need to scrutinise the police and demand progress? The PCC is in a more difficult position to do that than the old police authority.”

There’s a real sense that after 12 months in office Mr Jones is beginning to feel more than a little frustrated about the limited nature of his role and the potential for disputes between the commissioner’s office and the operational independence of the chief constable.

He explained: “I am in a policing bubble. I wonder whether I am doing the job of representing the community as much as I can? There’s a real danger PCCs can be in a policing bubble and not do the job.

“I believe that accountability of the police is absolutely paramount. I am not convinced that the structure of police and crime commissioners is helpful.

“I am not a fan of elected mayors but they can make an instant decision and do business, make a quick decision straight away.

“It’s difficult in policing. The person who makes the immediate decision is the chief constable who has operational independence. I am not able to interfere in the operational decisions of the chief constable or indeed of any police officer.

“Bob Jones can have all sorts of bright ideas but what’s important is the community feels it is setting priorities for policing. It’s all about making sure there is a clear process, not about making quick decisions.

“I am here to ensure that the community has a place in policing. I am here to scrutinise the police. I am here as a critical friend.

“The police must be aware of and driven by the priorities of the community. But the policing plan has to be balanced by hearing what the community want and what can actually be delivered.

“I am here to say ‘that may make perfect sense from an operational role, chief constable, but that’s not the way it’s interpreted in the community’.”

Have there been blazing rows between the commissioner and Mr Sims?

Bob Jones doesn’t answer the question directly, although he hints at robust discussions about certain issues, particularly the future of manned front desks at police stations.

Mr Sims sees the future of desks as an operational matter and within his remit to close them down and save money. Mr Jones thinks this is a “community-related” matter and something for him to influence. It remains unclear who has won this particular battle of ideas.

On his relationship with Mr Sims, the commissioner has this to say: “With the chief constable, we understand where we are both coming from. We have a professional relationship.

“You are a critical friend but it’s important not to be too friendly. Ultimately, I may be in a position where a significant issue comes up and I have to be the ultimate arbiter about disciplinary arrangements concerning the chief constable.

“I don’t have to be too close, but I don’t need to be too antagonistic.

Will he stand for re-election in May 2016? The ultimate answer, of course, is a matter for the Labour Party, since Mr Jones would have to be re-selected in order to stand again and after four years of police commissioners there will probably be a wide field of candidates willing to take on the £100,000 a year job.

He does not seem over-keen on the prospect of continuing: “I haven’t decided whether to stand again. I have to see whether I can add value.

“I have always stood down from office in the past when I feel that there were people who could contribute better and add value. There has to be a point where you need to bring in fresh ideas.

“I don’t seek to cling to this job. I will take an objective view about who would best be able to serve the interests of the community.”

Much of Mr Jones’s first year has been spent railing against government policy, in particular the Chancellor’s austerity programme which has inflicted huge budget cuts on the force.

He has resisted bringing in the private sector to run parts of the policing operation and has spoken vehemently against plans to fast-track individuals from industry and commerce into senior police officer roles. “You wouldn’t appoint a supermarket manager as a colonel in the army running a battle group, which is the equivalent for a senior police superintendent,” he says.

Does he have any regrets? Not many, it seems: “You don’t get everything right. I am always analysing what I am doing to see if I can do any better. But I think I’ve fewer regrets than many other PCCs.

“Given the immense pressures and sheer scale I am doing my best to mitigate a whole series of potential adverse impacts from government policies.

“I personally believe I am doing as good a job as any PCC in the country. I’m the captain of the ship. I don’t believe the ship is unsinkable. The icebergs are real. We have to negotiate around them.”

Cover Image: West Mids PCC

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