“I would claim five hundred miles…”

…and I would claim five hundred more,

but I wouldn’t admit being overpaid

until the press were at my door… fa, la, la…”

Sorry about that, but it strikes me Lancashire’s PCC is very much a Pro-Claimer Commissioner, as it were.

You may remember the Lancashire Telegraph breaking a story about Mr. Grunshaw being overpaid on his expenses as PCC, but being unable to report the extent of the difficulty due to a “we’re not telling you that without an FOI request” attitude.

Well, Grunshaw appears to have succumbed to pressure from Jack Straw and told the Lancashire Telegraph’s competitor paper the Lancashire Evening Post that the amount overpaid was £796.70, and the paper reports this represents the difference between claims at 45p per mile, as opposed to entitlements of 12-13p per mile, which is actually a larger discrepancy than the 65p v 45p rates first theorised by the Lancashire Telegraph. All claimed by accident on his behalf by someone else and not Mr. Grunshaw, we hasten to add – though he apparently didn’t successfully check the claims himself.

If Grunshaw was overpaid at 45 – 13 = 32p per mile, and ranked up £796.70 of overpayment in the process, that would suggest he was overpaid for, er, something like 2,489 miles before someone, not Mr Grunshaw, noticed he was being paid at the wrong rate.

This, as it happens, would be more than enough distance to transport him all the way from his Fleetwood home to Newfoundland, Canada, which Google tells me is a mere 2,186 miles away.

And what, you are asking is the relevance of that?

Well, he would then technically be on the right continent to “send back a Letter from America”, as another Proclaimers song goes.

Which, funnily enough, could probably make it to his office faster than a certain letter from Fleetwood.

The PCC’s office have obviously been dealing directly with the press on this, and not the great unwashed, as there is nothing on the PCC’s website about it – just a tweet promoting the No Excuses campaign.

Sorry, really, “No Excuses”? How apt!

The recorded claims that are disclosed on the Commissioner’s website are at the reported 45p per mile, but sadly none at a length of 500 miles. Strangely, on what I downloaded, they stop in November of last year. Given they are supposed to be updated quarterly, that suggests there are at least two quarters of updates missing here. But he has been very busy. Too busy to do it right obviously.

Driving, mostly.

Does he still have that milk-round?

Posted in Perspectives, Updates | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The gift that keeps on giving

It was way back in June 2012, before Clive Grunshaw was chosen as the Labour candidate for Lancashire PCC, that I warned Labour (and everyone else) that he was the gift that keeps on giving, and I have only ever had confirmation of this view since then.

Today in the Lancashire Telegraph, a selection of Lancashire MPs are calling for Mr Grunshaw's resignation, after it was revealed that he has been subject to yet another expenses mishap. On this occasion the Telegraph suggests he was paid the Lancashire Constabulary rate of 65p a mile for driving his own car when in fact he was driving a Constabulary lease car, and so should only have been paid 45p per mile. The total sums involved are not publically known, as his office are helpfully saying they will only release that information if you make a Freedom of Information request. Oh no, do I really have to do another one? Is it not someone else's turn?

This time Mr Grunshaw has apparently repaid the undisclosed sum, and he attributes the error to a “senior member of my staff who completes the form on my behalf.” So it's not his fault. Apparently “That is the full extent of the matter. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a deliberate attempt to smear me, and I would condemn this.”

Mr Grunshaw has a habit of making unpleasant suggestions about political motivations whenever I raise questions, so I'm not going to suggest otherwise, but let's see if he takes the same approach with someone else who doesn't seem convinced by Grunshaw's line. You may be familiar with Jack Straw, Blackburn's Labour MP and erstwhile Home Secretary/Foreign Secretary/Justice Secretary/Leader of the House. His quote is a bit of a killer for Mr Grunshaw:-

“It would be helpful all round if Mr Grunshaw would make public the amount of the overpayment and the exact circumstances without resorting to Freedom of Information legislation.

“All people in public and private life are responsible for their expenses claims and payments whoever fills them in.

“I personally check all my mileage claims and payments as an MP.”

Ouch! – I haven't felt like that since Mr Grunshaw was beaten about a bit by other Labour folk at the Lancashire Police and Crime Panel last year.

Perhaps this is an appropriate juncture to remind everyone that Mr Grunshaw has form for this? Oh, I don't mean expenses difficulties – as it happens, describing this as a second mistake seems odd when the 'first' mistake by the rather conservative estimate of the Crown Prosecution Service amounted to 37 claims they felt they could prove were incorrect. No, the 'form' I'm referring to is blaming the staff. See the article and comments section here for Mr Grunshaw's defence to why his pre-selection County Council website profile listed him incorrectly as “chair to Lancashire Police Authority”. His words then were “The information on the website was typed in by Council Officers and it may have been a mistake at this point…I could, of course, have made an error when providing the information – but I honestly can't remember.”

It's simple, it is your claim – it is your responsibility to check it, even if you give someone else the job of filling in the form for you.

I wonder how many of Mr Grunshaw's current team are worried whether they will be the next person to take a bullet for him.

You know, it seems like only yesterday that Mr Grunshaw was facing further difficulties around the sudden departure of his Chief Executive as the PCC's office faces being annexed by the County Council. Hang on, it actually was only yesterday that the Lancashire Telegraph reported that said Chief Executive had been off-sick for a month before her departure was announced. We had already queried whether this “voluntary redundancy” was properly redundancy – this appeared to raise questions as to whether it was properly voluntary, and the Chief Exec's twitter account was pressed into service last night to explain that she was off sick with whiplash from a traffic collision in mid-May, and was signed-off for over a week more at least.

@markdpryan@TopOfTheCopsCom@LancsPCC@BernardRix Thanks for concern. off since car accident 16/05 whiplash injury, damage to neck and back— CEX at PCC for Lancs (@CEXLancsPCC) June 27, 2014

Also, since queries were first raised about the Chief Executive going, the PCC's office has snuck a few extra paragraphs on to their original announcement – (hat-tip to @markdpryan for spotting the sneaky change to the statement) saying how a County Council Director would be looking after the PCC's office on a flexible, part-time basis, and would become interim Chief Executive on 1 August. That's funny – I don't remember that Director going through any of the required appointment hearings (see here at 9-12) before the Police and Crime Panel. Should you think I'm overdoing it for an interim appointment, please remember that the people who Mr Grunshaw controversially appointed as Assistant Commissioners without an open recruitment process when he came to office in 2012 were also “interim” appointments, and wouldn't you know are still in place. The title of the TopOfTheCops article covering this now seems prophetic – “Look Who's (Still) Here

Legally, there is no such thing as an “interim Chief Executive”, so Mr Grunshaw once again appears to be making it up as he is going along, and I await the statutory confirmation hearing with interest. Until then they don't need an interim Chief Executive – they already have a Deputy Chief Executive whose responsibilities will cover times such as these.

It may seem like all the chickens are coming home to roost – at this stage they look instead like jet planes stacking up in an orderly manner before coming in to land, one after another after another. Let's not forget that the IPCC are still in the process of completing the first expenses investigation after I spotted errors in it, and that the CPS will need to decide what to do with that, and then it will be a matter for the courts or for the Police and Crime Panel, and then 2 reports into IPCC investigations into Mr Grunshaw's expenses will be published for all to see in all their detail.

And who knows what else – well, if you've been paying attention it should now be obvious that the Lancashire Telegraph are getting their stories from somewhere – and it ain't from those evil Tory bloggers, who aren't privy to his staff's sickness records, or to his private expenses claims. Who is leaking this stuff, and why? And why were the Lancashire Telegraph given two denials about the most recent expenses blunder before there was finally an admission?

 

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Cart before horse.

Imagine you are a Police and Crime Commissioner, and having settled into your role you think it is time to review your support structure. You would probably have a report drafted presenting a variety of options and some analysis of them, consult people who might be able to assist, make a decision on a new structure and then go about seeing who from the organisation can fit into the new posts available and where it is necessary to look outside for new talent.

If there were any posts you simply had to have, then those posts would be safe and their incumbents would remain. Others might have to go through a compulsory redundancy process if there was nothing suitable for them.

What you wouldn’t do is spend money on making people redundant who you don’t have to make redundant, or indeed can’t make redundant, because you are stuck with their posts – and you wouldn’t make the changes and then do the review, because that is the wrong way round- yet today Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw announced that his Chief Executive is leaving on voluntary redundancy, and that now there will be a review of support arrangements.

I can put it no better than the two tweets by Mark Ryan on the subject

 

What Mark is referring to is that Schedule 1: 6(1) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act provides as follows:-

“A police and crime commissioner must appoint—

(a)a person to be the head of the commissioner’s staff (referred to in this Part as the commissioner’s chief executive); and

(b)a person to be responsible for the proper administration of the commissioner’s financial affairs (referred to in this Part as the commissioner’s chief finance officer).”

 So those posts are a given – they do not give an opportunity for compulsory redundancy, and they do not therefore give an opportunity for an employee to volunteer their post as redundant.

For her part, Miranda Carruthers-Watt says she is looking forward to some time off and then moving to other challenges. If she wanted to do that, then there was no need for Mr Grunshaw to spend taxpayers’ money on a redundancy payment in the process.

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Don’t do the job, but still get paid. Do more without extra pay?

Have the Office of the PCC for Norfolk been reading TopOfTheCops? After what is understood to be consultations with lawyers and the Home Office they appear to have come to the same conclusion as featured here last week – that there are some jobs that a PCC just can’t step away from, and that everything else can be handed to someone else.

It will all be over in a few months apparently, as the Office understand that the IPCC will be handling the investigation expeditiously – well, the City of London police who are actually doing the investigation might. And in a controversial I-guess-this-man-has-already-decided-not-to-stand-again decision, PCC Stephen Bett will still be receiving his pay every month, in recompense for the job he is not doing.

That’s not really stepping aside is it? The Deputy PCC, who is unelected, gets to do all the less important stuff. The core powers of prioritisation, budget setting and hiring and firing are held by someone who is out-of-the-office in the hope that it is all done and dusted before those powers are formally needed, and in the meantime there is no-one in place whose ability to bat for the public is backed up by the fact that they would actually be the person exercising those powers if they were needed. As no-one is in office with those formal powers, no one has the day-to-day leverage that they provide. It seems like the worst of the possible worlds.

One question though. The Deputy PCC was already full-time it seems – will she be getting any additional remuneration while her responsibilities are increased? She has already decided not to claim expenses – it would seem a little unfair to expect her to do what remains of the PCC job at a discount, although if she were paid more, then Mr Bett standing aside would actually cost taxpayers more in the long run? Tricky!

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Place your Betts

After what seems like an age, and just when it looked like it had all been investigated and resolved, the issue of expenses claims by Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett has surged back into significance with the decision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to appoint the City of London police to undertake a criminal investigation into Mr Bett. Police officers will gather evidence. They will likely question Mr Bett under criminal caution. A report will be prepared for the IPCC, and one of their Commissioners will have to give attention to the question of whether the report indicates that Mr Bett may have committed an offence.

If you want to know more, including specifics about the expenses, see Sally Chidzoy's article for BBC News online here, or if you are quick, at Look East on iPlayer (here at 4 mins 30 for the next few hours) -hence the photo and this article expanding on my comments in that piece.

My concern however is with what Mr Bett did next. He issued a statement that to protect the cops, the Office of the PCC, etc., he would reluctantly be stepping aside temporarily- and while everyone was wondering whether any PCC in such a position should do the same, or whether that would invite just too many allegations, my “Say what?” expression pictured above was around the question of what it means for a PCC to step aside.

Legally, PCCs can't step aside. I don't mean that Mr Bett has done something illegal. It's just that there is no legal status for a PCC to step aside into. A PCC holds their office all the time. They are still a PCC when they are sleeping, still a PCC when they are on holiday, at the weekends and in the bath. If they step anywhere it is not aside but down. A PCC can step down by resigning, but if he or she wants to step up again they'll have to win another election, like the one they've just caused to fill the vacancy they have created. But there is no stepping aside.

A PCC could be suspended, but only by a Police and Crime Panel, and only if the PCC had been charged with a crime, and not just any old crime, but one that meets certain requirements for severity of potential maximum punishment. At that point the PCC would no longer receive their pay and pension contributions and the Panel that had decided the suspension would need to decide on a temporary replacement from among the PCC's employees.

But you'll have noticed that the PCC cannot suspend themselves, or decide their own replacement. They can't even ensure that the job goes to the Deputy they may have appointed.

So what can Mr Bett mean by “step aside”? As Sally Chidzoy reported, there seems to be a bit of confusion at Mr Bett's office, and at the Home Office, about the resultant status of Mr Bett. And while he may or may not be doing the job, he is still entitled to be paid, which should be very popular given this is all about whether he was claiming money he shouldn't have.

As far as I can see, all Mr Bett can mean by standing down is to exercise his powers to delegate as many of his functions as he can to whomever he chooses, and walk out of the building until it all blows over. Except that legally there are three functions he cannot delegate to anyone. These are:-

  1. Issuing a Police and Crime Plan – well, OK, he's done that a year or so ago and has a couple more years to go before he has to do it again.
  2. Hiring or firing the Chief Constable – and again this looks fairly trouble-free, as he's only just appointed a Chief, who has been Acting Chief for a while, so presumably he gets on with him and wasn't planning to lose him soon.
  3. Setting the budget requirement – which he needs to do to set the police bit of the Council Tax – should be safe till January/February at best on that one.

Thankfully the IPCC will treat this with the utmost seriousness and sort it all out in a few weeks, yes? You might think that, particularly if you hadn't been paying attention to what really happens, but the truth is, as someone with a gift for understatement once told me, “IPCC investigations take a long time”.

What this means in practice is that you don't measure the duration of an IPCC investigation with a stopwatch, or even with a calendar. Really you need to get yourself to Greenland and plant a flag at the current extent of the ice sheet and, when you return at the end of the affair, check to see if the word “Greenland” still sounds ironic.

The first IPCC investigation into a PCC was due to a complaint made by, er, yours truly, also about expenses as it happens, and the IPCC started to investigate it in December 2012, a few weeks after the PCC election. 18 months later, as I set off to the TV studios to talk about the situation in Norfolk, I was simultaneously receiving an email from the IPCC that referred to that as the “outstanding” investigation. OK, they had made a referral after a mere 9 months, and had a decision from the CPS after another 3, and there was another month before they gave me a copy of the report only for me to spot the obvious mistakes leading them to “further investigatory work” as a matter of priority, 4 months ago.

That might not happen in this case, but it could be best to be prepared just in case you can't set the Council Tax next year without making a nonsense of your whole “stepping aside” thing, that's all I'm saying.

It would be tempting to criticise this state of affairs as what you get when you rush legislation through Parliament, as happened with PCCs, but I can't honestly do that. I think the rush had to happen if the reform was to get through at all. No, there's a very good reason why those functions are reserved to the Commissioner, and why he can't “stand aside” from them – those three powers are fundamental to the office of PCC. The PCC as the voice of the public sets the priorities, comes up with the money to fund them, and if the PCC reasonably does not have confidence in the person charged with delivering on those priorities, the PCC can replace them with someone who does command that confidence.

So, if Mr Bett has stood aside then, even if someone else gets to put their name by the press releases, Norfolk will not have the PCC they were promised, because that person will not have those powers, unless Mr Bett resigns or is charged and suspended. If Mr Bett has done something wrong he should resign right now. Otherwise he must keep calm and carry on, though that is difficult to do when you've just issued a statement about how you accept the need for you not to be around.

Oh, and should you think this PCC's conduct, past or present, is more evidence against the PCC reform, then remember – he used to chair the Police Authority.

 

 

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Interim Comments on CPS Decision on PCC Clive Grunshaw

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have today announced their decision not to prosecute Clive Grunshaw, Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire, after concerns were raised following a TopOfTheCops investigation of expenses claims submitted to various authorities between 2009 and 2012.

The text of the CPS statement that has been passed to me is reproduced at the foot of this post, and I thought I should make some brief comments for the benefit of all those who are asking.

In criminal trials in the UK judges ask juries to only convict when they are sure that someone is guilty. Sometimes we use the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt” to describe the level of proof that is required to establish a criminal conviction. Having worked in policing and in investigating miscarriages of justice I am glad that this is the case, even though it sets a higher standard for evidence to meet in a criminal court than in a civil court or in our everyday decisions.

The CPS note that 37 claims made by Mr Grunshaw could potentially have been proved to be incorrect. This is ample justification of the concerns raised by myself and the Sunday Times about these claims. It does not inspire confidence in a Police and Crime Commissioner who has responsibility for over a billion pounds of public expenditure in his term of office.

The CPS refer to 452 claims in total. This could create the mistaken impression that there were questions about less than 10% of the total claims. In fact, many of these other claims involve an amount for subsistence, which is basically a claim for a meal, and submission of those claims require that a receipt be obtained and retained by the claimant where possible. I have asked the authorities, but still have not seen one receipt backing any of those subsistence claims, and it is not yet clear whether the CPS or Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) have seen the receipts either. This is an issue because many of the claims were to the maximum amount possible to be claimed, whereas the policies of the authorities only allow actual expenditure to be claimed when it is less than that maximum. The claims therefore suggest that expense at or above the maximum was incurred on a regular basis, and Mr Grunshaw should have the receipts to prove this. I ask “Show us the receipts, Clive“. It is imperative that the people of Lancashire should have confidence in the integrity of their Police and Crime Commissioner, and I call on Mr Grunshaw to publish those receipts so that this can happen. This is something the Commissioner has repeatedly failed to do.

The CPS make mention of Mr Grunshaw not claiming on 28 occasions where he was entitled, and that this suggests no financial gain was sought, but no details for the nature of these claims has been published in order to establish that there was an entitlement.

It is difficult to comment further as none of us yet have the benefit of the report of the IPCC investigation, hence the interim nature of my comments. However, this decision should now clear the way for the IPCC report to be published.

The beauty of the system of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, and open publication of such investigations is that we all should then be able to make our own decision about what has happened in this case, including the members of the Labour Party in Lancashire when they come to select their candidate next time, and the people of Lancashire when they consider who is worthy of their support at the next PCC elections.

 

CPS Statement

“A file was submitted in October 2013, and all evidence received in mid-November 2013, in order for the CPS to consider if potential charges of fraud by false misrepresentation should be brought against Mr Clive Grunshaw. To prosecute this offence dishonesty must be proved.

 

“The allegations concern a number of expenses claims made over a three year period between January 2009 and December 2012, during which time Mr Grunshaw was a member of both Lancashire County Council and Lancashire Police Authority. These expenses generally related to travel and subsistence claims for attendance at meetings for both authorities.

 

“The evidence has now been considered in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove that any claim had been submitted dishonestly, and therefore there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for any relevant criminal offence.

 

“During the three year period Mr Grunshaw made 37 claims, out of 452 in total, which the evidence indicates, according to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, could potentially have been proved to be incorrect. Mr Grunshaw was making claims for expenses incurred through work for three organisations, and the evidence suggests errors rather than deliberacy on his part. In addition it appears that Mr Grunshaw did not submit around 28 claims to which he was entitled and this suggests that no financial gain was sought. In the light of these factors, our assessment is that there is insufficient evidence to show that any of these claims was submitted dishonestly.

 

“In all the circumstances of this case, therefore, we have concluded that no further action should be taken.”

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Changing Roles

This site's coverage of the Police and Crime Commissioner reform has been, in a very Cromwellian way, 'warts and all'. TopOfTheCops covers the bad as well as the good, and points out the inconvenient. It should be remembered however that, overall, this writer takes the view that the PCC reform is a Good Thing, even worthy of initial capitalisation, although that places him on the opposite side of many in policing.

As one example of the good take the recent conclusion of the investigation into PCC for North Wales, Winston Roddick CB QC. Someone had suggested that Mr Roddick had been telling porkies about where he lived when he submitted his nomination before the elections. That was a serious allegation, not only against one of her majesty's Counsel, who only ever speak the truth, but also because it would have involved a criminal offence, which does not look good on your record if you are in charge of police governance and tackling crime in your area.

Happily for Mr Roddick the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigated the matter and decided not to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. A different PCC in another matter has suggested that referring their investigations to the CPS is just what the IPCC do, but clearly not in the case of Mr Roddick.

Now, in normal circumstances, pretty much anywhere else in public life that would be the end of it. We would not be privy to the detail of the investigation. We would not find out the reasoning that lay behind it. We would have to like it or lump it, as it were, but things are not this way in PCC world, for here we have a right to know.

Thanks to one of the better parts of the PCC reform, where the IPCC accept a case involving allegations against a PCC, including all that could be criminal, the final report of the investigator becomes a public document. We do not only see the decision of the IPCC, but also some account of the investigation and why the investigator came to the conclusions they did.

What openness! There is a facility for redaction of certain matters, and for delay in publication while criminal proceedings take place, but we actually get to see the report without it having had to go to the Home Affairs Select Committee first.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if that were the case for all criminal investigations, and not just PCCs and their Deputies. You and I, the people who pay for the investigations, and in whose name they are taken forward, could look at the results and even do a bit of “armchair auditing” to see whether there are any problems with them. Extraordinary that this happens, or perhaps more extraordinary that it doesn't!

Anyway, this development has allowed the 4 unelected candidates in North Wales to have their say, and to complain about redaction of addresses and express their doubts about the conclusion. Well, you can assess that yourself – this whole system is very, well, Protestant – virtually a Reformation in criminal investigation. Cromwell would be proud!

For my part, I struggle to agree with them. It seems to me that Mr Roddick is completely exonerated by the IPCC report. The investigator approached Mr Roddick's mobile phone provider and secured details of which mobile phone masts his phone was using for 44 critical days to see if that shed any light on where he was living. And given that, on all but a few of those days, his phone was keeping busy the mobile phone mast within 500 metres of the address that he had been claiming to live at, it appears that everything was in order. If Mr Roddick wasn't living there at that time, he would have had to plan in advance to make sure that his mobile phone was living there, just in case anyone complained. Unlikely. Case closed.

The rest of the argument seems to be about the impact of him having homes elsewhere, and how long he intended to stay, but I can see why someone might find the mobile phone evidence good enough to provide a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, provided the right 44 days were chosen.

So, what does this tell us more generally?

1. Criminal investigations of the IPCC will result in a report for the public to read, not just a decision.

2. The IPCC will not always refer the results of their investigation to the CPS. When there is no reason to believe someone has committed an offence there is no reason to, and indeed no power to.

3. There's a good chance the IPCC and possibly anyone they investigate will have spotted that the report will be made public. This changes the dynamic. There is now less of a reason for PCCs under suspicion to say “it would not be appropriate for me to comment”, as there's a good chance their most relevant comments to the investigators will become public knowledge anyway. Maybe some will see the benefits of being open and transparent right from the start, rather than have a report emerge just as the dust was settling that then prolongs any political difficulties they experience as a result of an investigation.

4. The IPCC are quite happy to seek out mobile phone records to help tie people to places and times in their investigations. I have previously suggested one case where that might be helpful and it only took a few minutes use of the relevant OFCOM database for me to locate the phone masts most likely to assist. Have a go yourself!

5. Despite the IPCC's investigation and their internal quality-control process, no-one seems to have spotted that “electoral role” should actually have been rendered as “electoral roll”.

 

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