Quiet Government U-turn provides boost to Independent PCC by-election candidates…

… and the marketing opportunity of a lifetime for Brummie Dentists, if they’re quick.

Last Thursday, in the Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee of the House of Commons, the Government performed a U-turn on Police and Crime Commissioners that, by-and-large, has not been noticed. Most attention has focussed on the possible £3.7 million cost of the PCC by-election in the West Midlands, or in the chuntering from the House against those electors who had the temerity to ensure the election was held with the mind-boggling speed that had been insisted upon by….er, the House of Commons, when they passed the laws only 3 years ago.

Apart from a passing mention by Alan Travis in the Guardian however, there has been no attention paid to the fact the government were using the Committee to rush through emergency legislation to change the rules for the election so that candidates will have the opportunity to have their election addresses distributed by the Returning Officer to each household in the West Midlands in a booklet largely paid for by the taxpayer.

Brand-spanking-new Police Minister Mike Penning  admitted that, inexplicably, the legislation had failed to make any provision for publishing information about candidates, and this would be remedied with about £700,000 from the Home Office budget and about £250 from each of the candidates, though their individual bill could go as high as £1,000 (though you would never work this out from the emergency legislation itself).

Getting a message printed and delivered to just shy of 2 million electors for 250 quid is  about as good value as you can get – a fact not lost on Sir Bob Russell, Lib-Dem MP for Colchester, who said “before I became a Member of Parliament, we had a candidate standing in a general election, a local dentist, who was the smile candidate. I can see now hundreds of thousands of people across the west midlands having a candidate from whatever organisation, trade or whatever getting a free plug courtesy of the Home Office paying for free distribution to every household.

Except, until you read it here, you probably didn’t know about the opportunity, and anyone who wants to take advantage of it needs to get £5,000 in cleared funds and 100 voters to sign their nomination papers by 4pm on Friday, a task that people outside of political parties might find difficult.

The Minister was happy to admit the sort of guilt one can admit to when one is in the first few days of a new job and it is painfully obvious it was someone else’s fault. Apparently, in fact everybody else’s fault. It hadn’t been raised at the Second Reading, in the Committee or Report stages of the Bill or the Third Reading, or in its journey through the House of Lords. The Government hadn’t seen the problem. The Opposition hadn’t. No-one had worked out that in giving the electorate the job of deciding between some candidates elected over vast policing areas it would be nice if they had the faintest bit of information about those candidates, except for their favourite colour.

I am in no position to contradict the Minister. No doubt he has faithfully been advised by his Civil Servants, but he, or they, might well have added that pretty much as soon as the law was passed, just about everybody began banging on his boss’s door about this very evident defect, and nothing was done about it.

In January 2012 the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission mentioned the problem.

Early in February 2012 the Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators was going on about it.

In March of 2012 the Shadow Justice Minister was asking The Home Secretary questions in the House on the matter.

Throughout the election here at TopOfTheCops we went on about it quite a bit, especially as the Electoral Commission went to the expense of distributing a booklet to every household explaining the election, but saying nothing about the candidates! This culminated in an attempt in September of 2012 to decode the signals emanating from a recently departed Police Minister about a lack of support in high places for radicalism in police reform, but none of this was mentioned last Thursday. Instead, a one-by-election-only change was made to the rules, to test to see whether it has a positive effect on turnout.

While pleased at this long-overdue victory, I wonder why it is done in such a hurry, when 2012 offered ample opportunity for this to happen at a more leisurely pace, and who in Government it was who compromised the entire PCC reform by blocking it from happening in the first place. It is as incomprehensible to me as the recent departure of Michael Gove, and the continued tenure of Theresa May.

The PCC elections nationally resulted in big wins by Independents, and the West Midlands PCC by-election will feature a candidate booklet for voters that overcomes a major barrier to Independents campaigning on anything like an even footing, but it has all been kept so quiet that no-one might notice, not even the dentists in Birmingham, and it is possible that only the political parties who made the change, and who are worried about not having enough troops on the ground in the summer holidays to get their own messages out, will feel the benefit.

 

 

 

Posted in Campaigns, Independents, Perspectives, Updates | Leave a comment

Yet more questions for Lancashire’s PCC

There was an element of quiet but persistent confusion at Monday’s Police and Crime Panel for Lancashire.

The first issue to come up was the Curious Case of the Missing Chief Executive. This has two key elements, the first of which is that if you, as PCC, are legally required to have a particular post, can you make that post redundant, as Mr Grunshaw intends to do?

The Panel’s secretary, who is a solicitor, refused to comment on the redundancy issue, so it was left to the Commissioner to give an account of the situation. He said “Chief Executive Miranda Carruthers-Watt made the decision to take voluntary redundancy and she will leave the organisation on 31st July… Now, there has been some questions asked about the legitimacy of offering the Chief Executive voluntary redundancy. I can assure the panel that we did take legal advice when considering Miranda’s request and we was given the advice that it was absolutely in order to do so.”

That doesn’t help us much, but what I managed to piece together from other answers and comments was that the advice appears to be that the PCC has to have a Chief Executive and that he can make one Chief Executive post redundant, as long as he creates a new Chief Executive that is substantially different from the post he started with.

So, conveniently enough, the PCC revealed that the new post would be substantially different from the old one. There were references to ‘a slimmer managerial structure’ and the post being ‘graded differently’. You’d think this was all planned and thought through, analysed and agreed, yet the PCC has previously portrayed this redundancy as the event that gave him the opportunity to oversee a review of his support arrangements by an interim Chief Executive not yet in post. She could then identify opportunities for improved service delivery, which doesn’t sound like the logical conclusion of a review that had already happened, which it would seem to need to be to provide the legal basis it requires.

So it was not that the new job description is different, but that it will be different, whatever the review says, etc. Anyone familiar with policing will recognise the inevitability that sometimes attaches to a review of structures, but rarely is the ugly foregone nature of the conclusions so openly on display.

The second element of the Chief Executive being missing is the need to introduce a new one. Cllr Peter Gibson, Leader of Wyre Borough Council, made the point that the Act requires the PCC to propose any such appointment to the Panel, who then hold confirmation hearings, but that here we had a PCC announcing an appointment without reference to the Panel, despite the fact that the law did not differentiate between permanent and interim appointments.

Over to the Panel’s Secretary for legal advice – but there was none. “It’s only been a week.” “We’ll have to ask the Home Office.” “We think Hampshire did something similar.” The question was deferred to be resolved outside the meeting. The Commissioner says his advice is that his permanent appointment will need a confirmation hearing, but if the Panel think differently he will comply. So we don’t know what’s happening there yet.

The Panel then agreed a new complaints procedure, which includes a Sub-Committee dominated by politicians and that isn’t able to investigate complaints, but will have hearings about them in secret private, and will then decide whether and how to report its own decisions. Don’t you just love open government?

And then we had a statement from the PCC about his most recent expenses problem.

“To be clear I have not submitted any inaccurate expense forms. The claim forms only require me to sign to confirm the number of miles that I have travelled and the accuracy of the mileage is not in dispute.” It was an administrative error not of his making. It was an overpayment, not a misclaim. But he was overpaid on 11 occasions between January 2013 and June 2014 – i.e last month, when the news broke.

Questions followed, with Cllr Peter Gibson turning detective, pointing out that a journey from the PCC’s Preston office to Blackburn Town Hall was claimed as 26 miles on 26 November 2012, but as 58 miles on 30 May 2013, and also asking about openness, transparency, and the rigour with which the claims have been treated.

The Commissioner could only assume that the longer journey to Blackburn may have included a journey elsewhere but this would be checked.

Further debate ensued. The Chairman, Cllr Kate Hollern of Blackburn with Darwen Council, felt the Panel were in danger of becoming a kangaroo court. Cllr Gibson felt that the Panel was a scrutiny committee and was there to scrutinise. There were varied views as to whether they should only scrutinise policy or also the way the individual exercises the PCCs functions, as their terms of reference provide.

The Panel then decided that the Sub-Committee should consider the matter. It has been reported that they would investigate. So, the Complaints Sub-Committee, which considers complaints but can’t investigate them, will consider something that isn’t a complaint, and will apparently investigate it, to decide whether it needs to go to the IPCC. So that’s cleared that up then.

Perhaps that is where they will cover the issue that was raised twice at the Panel, but without any answer being given, namely why the Lancashire Telegraph say they received denials that the PCC had a new expenses problem before admissions were finally made on a third occasion. As the PCC was insistent he was only told for the first time at some point in June, and as the Telegraph report the first denial was on 30 May, this raises the curious situation that the Telegraph supposedly knew what to ask before the PCC himself had any idea there was a problem, which seems very odd.

There was a further problem created by the expenses information on the PCC’s website, though no-one in the meeting was aware of it at the time. The current version of the PCC’s claims show him claiming 45p per mile for a couple of months in 2012, and then 12p per mile since. This made it look as if someone appreciated what was the right mileage rate for the Commissioner from January 2013 onward, not June 2014, so the Commissioner was asked why didn’t he know earlier.

I’m speculating now, but I have the benefit of having downloaded these expenses on a number of previous occasions, and retained them for comparison. Those previous downloads show 45p claimed throughout, and so the current versions on the website have been changed from the originals. So it appears that the Commissioner’s allowances page on his website is now a revision of history – showing what the Commissioner should have been paid, rather than what he was in fact paid, and as the website ignores the problem entirely, including any explanation, it creates confusion. It also doesn’t help that the most recent version has several months missing in 2013, and nothing for 2014. (note, these may change after publication of this article)

The web-page also says (with my emphasis added) “The documents on this page will be updated with details about the allowances claimed for by the Police and Crime Commissioner and his Deputy once they have been processed.” The mistake in the middle of that sentence looks like an edit gone wrong. Did it say “claimed by” and was this replaced with “claimed for”, which would better fit the story the PCC is telling? Who knows? But the result is  confusion, rather than transparency.

So, another expenses investigation of sorts is on the cards, but don’t think for a moment it will be the grand 18-month-long-so-far affair that preceded it. I fully expect it to exonerate Mr Grunshaw. When I brought up this expenses issue as part of the public questions section of the meeting the Chair interpreted it as an allegation of fraud, which I immediately corrected. There is no suggestion of fraud here – just a worry that the Commissioner’s previous actions have rendered his expenses an issue of great concern for the people of Lancashire, such as to require that the expenses paid need to be faultless, and that the Commissioner does not appear to be taking adequate personal responsibility for ensuring this is the case.

There was a time when journalists could inadvertently wind-up senior cops by referring to PCC’s as “Police Chiefs”. The Lancashire Evening Post’s coverage of this meeting goes for “Crime Boss” as an alternative, which is a particularly unfortunate description, followed as it is by “Beleaguered Police and Crime Commissioner”. Public statements, such as that by the CPS, clearing Mr Grunshaw of having acted dishonestly, whether based on sound evidence or not (£), are not likely to be enough if mistake continues to follow mistake, or if the impression is created that the laws that are there are merely obstacles to be avoided.

See Also – Coverage of this meeting by the Lancashire Telegraph

Posted in Expenses and Allowances, Updates | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Norfolk PCC Stephen Bett steps back from stepping aside

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in PCC world, but I wouldn’t want readers to miss the latest update on the saga of Stephen Bett, Norfolk’s PCC.

Mr Bett you will remember had stepped aside from his office while being investigated over his expenses by the City of London Police, even though he legally cannot step aside, and effectively taken a holiday on full pay, one of the perks of being the boss.

Norfolk’s Police and Crime Panel had to consider an incendiary report on the issue, produced with the help of a law firm and a QC, and saying pretty much what had been said on TopOfTheCops when the Commissioner first announced he was doing it. Sadly though, I couldn’t find an online stream of the meeting, but the BBC’s Sally Chidzoy has come to the rescue with the story that Mr Bett backed down before the meeting to avoid a costly “legal wrangle” over the issue, and said it was a “grey area” as to whether he could step aside.

It’s not. Legal opinion may differ, but it’s long been said that if you pay 2 lawyers you can get at least three opinions. He can’t step aside. It’s black and white, and I’d suggest that’s why he’s back.

People have been complaining that the law around PCC’s is confusing ever since the first candidates with criminal records came unstuck 2 years ago. I’ve read it and, considering it was produced in a hurry, most of it is not unclear – you might not agree with it, but you can tell what it is saying with a little effort. It seems curious to me that people would run for PCC, or administer PCC elections, without having read and appreciated the law around the post and then, when they act outside the law, treat grey as the new black.

For those of you who are counting, that makes 2 little legal victories for TopOfTheCops in the past 2 weeks. I sense there are more to come ;-)

 

 

 

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Acting-Up

TopOfTheCops readers do not disappoint, and several have copied me into emails to Birmingham City Council’s Chief Executive to alert him to the vacancy in the office of PCC for West Midlands. By my reckoning, if he had not managed to declare the vacancy to himself “as soon as practicable” by last night, Thursday 3rd July, then he had by then received safely more than the required 2 notices from West Midlands voters – so the election should be no later than Thursday 21st August, with nominations closing at noon on Friday 25th July, although both those dates could be even earlier. (UPDATED – 4 July PM – this has now been confirmed by Birmingham City Council – see comments section below, and here, where it is clear that this is due to the “notices” from TOTC readers and not to the “notice” from the “appropriate officer” – it looks like TOTC readers have secured compliance with the law, as noted by the Birmingham Mail here)

So, there are pressing things to be getting on with. Another urgent activity falls to the Police and Crime Panel for the West Midlands. They were due to meet anyway on 14 July, and I should imagine it would be difficult to get them together much before this, but when they meet they will have a key responsibility – to appoint someone as an Acting Commissioner until the result of the election is known.

At this point, all eyes turn to Yvonne Mosquito, the Birmingham Councillor appointed by Bob Jones to be his Deputy when he was elected. Cllr Mosquito was initially a rival to Mr Jones, but once the Labour selection was settled they agreed to work together. Many assume that a Deputy takes over in a situation such as this, but the law is less predictable than that. The choice of Acting Commissioner is up to the Police and Crime Panel, save that they must choose a member of the PCC’s staff.

However, I’m going to suggest a couple of reasons why Cllr Mosquito may not want the job.

Firstly, the news is still very fresh and the loss very raw, so at the minute everyone is desperately trying to show respect to Mr Jones, so no-one wants to be clambering, or to be seen to be clambering, to install themselves as incumbent right in the middle of an election contest. Cllr Mosquito was appointed, not elected, to the Deputy position, and if she were to be seeking to be the Labour candidate once more then it could very easily attract adverse comment from other would-be candidates if the system is seen to be giving her special favours. Given past press attention on her portfolio of jobs and other income a pay rise that lasts for less than a month may be a story she could do without at the moment.

Secondly, there is a particular peculiarity in the law if you look closely. Section 62 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 clearly states at (2) that the Acting Commissioner must be a member of the police and crime commissioner’s staff at the time of the appointment, but if you read more deeply about what the Act says about Deputy Commissioners, at Schedule 1 8(3) it says “The terms and conditions of a person who is appointed as the deputy police and crime commissioner must provide for the appointment to end not later than the day when the current term of office of the appointing police and crime commissioner ends.”

Now there are two ways of reading that. It may mean that the Deputy cannot be appointed to serve for a period beyond the next ordinary election of a PCC, in May 2016. That would mean that the new PCC would not be stuck with the old PCC’s Deputy. Or it could mean that, for the same reason, the Deputy PCC’s term of office only lasts as long as the PCC that appointed them. In other words if a PCC loses office for some reason, and death is one of those reasons, then their term of office stops there, and so does the term of office of their Deputy.

This may be an academic legal discussion. Who in practice is going to force the issue? Is anyone really going to have a go at Cllr Mosquito in the current circumstances and insist she hands back her ID card and avoids the office until the election is over? Perhaps no-one. But if Cllr Mosquito was to put herself forward to be Acting Commissioner, she would be forcing the issue herself, and the Police and Crime Panel might need to take a view on whether she is still the Deputy PCC at all, to avoid the risk of them making an unlawful appointment. She and others might then need to start using “former” in front of “Deputy PCC” in election literature and coverage, which messes up any perception of incumbency. Maybe better not to force the issue, which has the bonus of keeping her time free for the election campaign itself?

So, who could be appointed as Acting PCC, if not Cllr Mosquito? Well, that’s a bit tough. There are three Labour folk who Mr Jones appointed as Assistant Commissioners, and a bunch of others on the Strategic Policing Board – surely one of them could do it?

No. None of them can, because, as TopOfTheCops revealed last year, Mr Jones went to considerable lengths to appoint these people on service contracts, not employment contracts. That means they are not trapped by rules on political restrictions that otherwise impact on every single PCC employee, but it also means they are not members of staff, so can’t be appointed as Acting PCC.

The Office of PCC for the West Midlands has a number of important decisions to make, but it is a puzzle as to who is going to make any that need to be made in the next few weeks. I really hope they haven’t contracted out their cleaning services. It would be a fitting final tribute to pick some long-serving cleaning lady about to retire and have her finish her career as Acting-PCC for a few weeks, as a way of exposing the peculiarities of the Act that has been passed, and as a way of treating civilian staff in pension terms in the West Midlands in the way they appear to have been treating their senior cops.

Posted in Media coverage, Perspectives, Selecting Candidates, Updates | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Waiting for the starting pistol

On Tuesday we all had to deal with the sad news that Bob Jones had died, and almost immediately to consider the impending by-election in the West Midlands. As reported at the time, there is a 35-business-day deadline by which the election must be held, and given that people have to be chosen and formally nominated before 16 of those days have passed, you would expect some quiet announcements about election dates and the like.

Not so.

Instead we have the Chamberlain Files reporting that the Leader of Birmingham City Council is seeking to have the election delayed by the Home Office till September. We all appreciate the desire for a sense of decorum when someone has died, but that doesn’t change the law, and even if the Home Office are sympathetic, the chances of both Houses of Parliament approving the required change in the three weeks they have left before their recess are slim-to-none, if you’re given to overestimating chances.

Which leaves us with the 35-day-rule.

So what does the law actually say in these cases?

s. 59 1 (c) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 says that

(1) For the purposes of this Chapter, a vacancy in the office of police and crime commissioner for a police area is to be regarded as occurring…
…(c) in the case of death, on the date of death;…

(3) The appropriate officer must give public notice of a vacancy in the office of police and crime commissioner for a police area.
(4) The appropriate officer must give notice of a vacancy in the office of police and crime commissioner for a police area to the police area returning officer.
(5) Any notice under subsection (3) or (4) must be given as soon as practicable after the date on which the vacancy is to be regarded under this section as occurring.

Who are the “appropriate officer” and the “Police Area Returning Officer”?

Well this seems to suggest that the appropriate officer is the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council?

And this seems to suggest that the Police Area Returning Officer is the Parliamentary Returning Officer for Birmingham, Edgbaston, who you might know better as the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council. Seems to be the same guy.

So – he has to tell himself the news, as soon as practicable. I guess that removes the potential problems of “I couldn’t find his address”, or “I called, but he never got back to me”. One would think that was pretty much immediate – it would take no time at all.

What then?

s.51 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 states that

 (1) This section applies where a vacancy occurs in the office of police and crime commissioner for a police area.
(2) An election must be held to fill the vacancy.
(3) The police area returning officer must fix the date of the poll at the election.
(4) The date fixed must be not more than 35 days after the relevant event (computed in accordance with section 73).
(5) For the purposes of subsection (4), “the relevant event” means—
(a) in a case where the High Court or the appropriate officer has declared the office to be vacant, the making of that declaration;
(b) in any other case, the giving of notice of the vacancy to the appropriate officer by two or more relevant electors.

s. 73 by the way says that business days are anything that isn’t a weekend, bank holiday or, interestingly, “a day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning”. So that’s 35 days plus weekends then?

So, you would think that the 35 business days starts the moment the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council appreciates that there is a vacancy. The “relevant event” in s51 (5) would appear to be when he is told, and the thought begins to cross his mind. Perhaps he writes a note to himself – but it doesn’t take that long. That’s got to be Tuesday 1 July, or Wednesday 2 July if you want to be prissy about the s 59 (5) requirement that it must be “after” the date on which the vacancy occurs.

So I looked on Birmingham City Council’s website, and saw nothing relevant. So I called Birmingham City Council and got them to send me their statement to the press.

“This is a new situation as it is the first ever by-election for a Police and Crime Commissioner. We are currently looking into various dates and are making the necessary arrangements. We will be announcing details of the process in due course.”

Surely they are not buying time by pretending the Chief Executive doesn’t know what has happened and waiting for 2 relevant electors to contact him? If you are a voter in the West Midlands then you and a mate could each send an email to mark.rogers@birmingham.gov.uk saying “There is a vacancy in the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands”, add the sender’s name and address at the end and copy it to Editor@TopOfTheCops.com, so I have proof. That ought to cover it.

Hmm. Time marches on, and by my reckoning, if they go to the far end of the 35 days and pick an election on Wednesday 20th August, then nominations close at noon on Thursday 24th July – not quite three weeks away. Pick a Thursday, such as 14 August, and nominations close at noon on Friday 18th July, probably 2 weeks after you read this. This isn’t a lot of time for parties to choose candidates or for any candidate of any stripe to collect 100 valid signatures from electors and the £5,000 they need to stand, but that precious time is potentially being squandered as the first few days pass without any official confirmation of the degree of urgency.

I don’t see a way out of this, and much while we would like people to have time to grieve, this is the election for the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands – the person who stands for law and order – and we can’t ignore the law.

The starting gun has yet to fire, but the race is surely on.

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PCC Scrutiny heats up in Norfolk

It’s all steadily getting worse for Norfolk’s PCC, Stephen Bett. At first there was the problem of his expenses, embarrassing but investigated and then repaid. Then the IPCC finally decided to have someone investigate them from a criminal perspective. Then there was confusion as he “stepped aside” for the duration of the investigation, even though he couldn’t, and then decided not to do his job but still get paid for it. Now a report before tomorrow’s Norfolk Police and Crime Panel threatens to stoke the fire some more.

You can read a press report here, but why do that when you can appreciate the beauty of the real thing just here?

I’m not sure why they didn’t just give the Panel a printout of the TopOfTheCops articles on this, (here and here) – my fees are very reasonable – but it appears they have instructed a law firm and even a QC to come up with pretty-much-the-same observations, which are basically:-

  1. The PCC has “stepped aside”.
  2. D’oh! – He can’t do that – (see. 2.1 point 2. – The Act “provides for resignation of and suspension of the PCC but not for any action of the kind purported now to be taken by the PCC (“leave of absence” or “stepping aside”). In law therefore the position of the PCC has not changed.”)
  3. He’s getting his Deputy to do as much of his job as she can.
  4. No-one is doing the rest – the really important stuff.
  5. He’s still being paid as if he was doing it all – and he could have opted to go without pay, but hasn’t.

Options for dealing with this include inviting him to continue with his duties or resign, get him to the panel for a grilling, ask the Home Secretary for help, etc. It’s an extraordinary report of a sort you rarely see in local government. It even suggests taking the PCC to the High Court to make him do his job, though personally I consider that to be a fool’s errand, as they haven’t got anything that he hasn’t done that he legally had to do yet.

The report attaches a useful Annex, which is the Office of the PCC’s position on this, all neatly summarising the situation as you would expect such an office to do before a PCC takes a step of this nature. Except the PCC “stepped aside” on the 19th June, and his Office’s explanation of it all is dated 23rd June, a full 4 days later.

That’s known as an ex post facto justification. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the PCC “stepping down” was at best a knee-jerk reaction to the IPCC announcement, and at some point, maybe tomorrow at the Panel, someone is going to have to admit that the PCC seems to have acted without the most basic knowledge of the legal basis for his post.

You heard it here first – you really did – and then the people of Norfolk paid for a lawyer to tell them what you already knew for free.

 

 

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West Midlands PCC Bob Jones CBE dies suddenly, aged 59

wpid-Photo-7-Feb-2012-1436.jpgThis morning we had the sad news that Bob Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, has suddenly died in his sleep overnight, at the age of 59. You can sign a Book of Condolences here.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but it is clear he was a forthright, straightforward, principled politician. He was a favourite of the media because he was willing to be the turkey that voted for Christmas. He didn’t believe in PCCs, and wanted them abolished, but if there was going to be one he thought it best it should be someone like him. He became the elected PCC with the biggest population in the country (if we don’t include Boris) and on the way he helped out this website by giving us our first ever Candidate Statement from any candidate in any area, and one that proved on TopOfTheCops web stats to be one of the most popular visits. By accepting the offer of space from a known Conservative at TopOfTheCops he gave an example that many of his Labour colleagues were then happy to follow. This was a critical part of establishing what was achieved by everyone who contributed to the cross-party debate on TopOfTheCops during the election campaign, and for that we are truly grateful.

The chances are that Bob, as first PCC for the West Midlands will be better remembered as last Chairman of the Police Authority. He had no intention of accepting the reform, and used his time as PCC to create a Strategic Policing Board, in many ways a miniature version of the police authority, with some cross-party and independent representation. While I felt differently about the need for reform, I had a sense of admiration for the way he managed to dodge rules on political restriction that we both thought little of in order to achieve this.

At this time it is right to think of the loss, and the friends and family who will feel it most. In any normal situation, we could leave it there, but in a cruel irony, the law simply won’t let that happen. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act dictates that a by-election must now be held within the West Midlands within 35 business days of a vacancy in the office being declared, and that declaration must be made if 2 electors give notice of the vacancy to the relevant officer. By my reckoning that means that if the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council has been told of this sad event by more than one person today, then someone at the Council will have their head in their hands as they look at the sums.

Depending on when they fill in the paperwork, an election in 35 working days means it needs to be over by around 19-20 August, and as Alan Travis has already noted in the Guardian, this does not auger well for improving turnout.

But that is just the start of the problems. The Police Area Returning Officer has to pick an election date, and this may include working out whether to keep to the convention of Thursday elections, or whether to ditch that tradition in the circumstances, and work back from that date to work out when the postal votes need to go out, when nominations must be received, etc. At the main election the rules required nominations to be in 19 working days before election day – almost 4 weeks, and there isn’t really much room for manouvre here if those ballots are going to get printed and posted.

That means it could conceivably be that there are only 3 weeks for candidates to get their nominations in. If you are an Independent candidate, without the easy access to an electronic version of the electoral roll that is quite a task. But if you are a political party you have the extra job of choosing a candidate in that time.

And then you must remember that this is the hardest UK election in which to be nominated. You need 100 valid signatures from electors on your nomination form, and £5,000 in cleared funds. While these rules are primed to close the wound quickly if a PCC is convicted of a crime, they seem cold and harsh when a man has just died.

Bob Jones never wanted there to be another PCC election, but because of his untimely death there will be just such an election next month, and the cruel reality is that even as our instinct is to mourn, there is a legal necessity for parties and candidates to plan their nominations even as his family plans the funeral.

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