This article was first published in the Local Government Association First magazine – see here, where you can also find Dorset Labour’s PCC candidate Rachel Rogers giving her view that she doesn’t need a Deputy PCC, and Northamptonshire Conservative PCC candidate Adam Simmonds giving his view that having a Deputy PCC makes sense.
Even before a single vote has been cast, some candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioner role are already choosing their Deputies.
With the election in November and races in 41 different areas of the country it helps to give the election a little of the feel of that other election in the United States.
But a Deputy PCC is not a Vice-President. The winning candidate is not required to have a Deputy, though they are free to appoint one if they wish. Deputies do not hang around waiting for their boss to get shot, as any temporary vacancies for PCC will be filled by whoever the local police and crime panel picks.
While Vice-Presidents’ day-to-day jobs are pushed to extremes of being either very busy or completely ignored, Deputy PCCs are able to have well-defined chunks of the main role delegated to them, and have to suffer a confirmation interview with their local Police and Crime Panel, although technically they don’t need to pass it.
A Deputy will also not be elected, even though some candidates have been willing to reveal their nominees in advance of the election. Their name will not be on the ballot paper. Their contract may run out on the day of the next election but if things turn bad they may not last that long.
Candidates who have declared their chosen Deputy already have taken an important and risky decision. They have accepted the budgetary cost of the post, but also the political risk of ignoring any disagreement to the appointment from their local Panel and, while Deputies are not required to be appointed on merit, this does not mean that equalities and employment legislation have been thrown out of the window. Some PCCs may struggle to justify employment decisions that they have already predetermined for political reasons.
Yet these are political appointments in the sense that they will be the only senior members of a commissioner’s staff allowed to engage in politics. We are accustomed to Vice-Presidents being chosen because they represent a particular political, religious or geographic constituency. Will voters stand for that approach in a British election, or will they think it smacks of ‘jobs for the boys’?
Will appointing a Deputy to address a PCC’s personal skills gap be seen as a sensible approach or as an admission of weakness? Will appointments to pacify parties or to secure electoral advantage from this or that voting bloc be thought excessively political in an election where many voters do not welcome party involvement?
So far the most noticeable things about Deputies has been the general silence from candidates as to the role, and few commitments to do the job without one. Is it possible candidates do not know whether they will appoint a Deputy, or have some deals already been done that voters will only be told about once votes have been cast?
One reason why there may be so many questions and so few answers is that the Deputy PCC role was added to the legislation on its way through the House of Lords. While the PCC post has had a long gestation, the Deputy post has not benefited from a similar amount of debate – so we will all learn about their good and bad points on the job.