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.

Posted in Perspectives, Selecting Candidates, Updates | Tagged | Leave a comment

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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“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?

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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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