Today, yes, election day, at 4.29 pm I received information from Lancashire Police Authority which I first requested from them on 3 October. It is over 6 weeks later, and 2 weeks beyond the legal limit for a Freedom of Information request. I will let you draw your own conclusions from this story:—
Those who have been following TopOfTheCops will be familiar with Clive Grunshaw, Labour candidate for Lancashire, who I have christened “the gift that keeps on giving”.
I have raised with you the fact that one reason he may have secured the Labour nomination in Lancashire was that, unlike the other two contenders, he had £5,000 of in-kind help from Unite the Union in the form of mailshots to Labour members during the selection campaign.
1 – The Electoral Commission
The donation came in two tranches of £2,500, putting it above the £1,500 limit that required Councillor Grunshaw to report it within 30-60 days (depending on when you measure from). The first tranche was declared late. The Electoral Commission can decide to prosecute or to issue their own penalty. In any event, they decided to do neither. Councillor Grunshaw got away with it.
2 – The Labour Party
Failure to comply with the law in this regard is a breach of the Labour Party’s Code for PCCs. Cllr Grunshaw knows all about that – he was disciplined under it for negative campaigning against his rivals in the selection process, but if they have also disciplined him for his failure to comply with the law, they’ve not publicised it. Looks like he’s got away with that one.
3 – Lancashire Police Authority
On 19 September I revealed on TopOfTheCops that Cllr Grunshaw had received these donations. On 20 September I emailed the Chief Executive of Lancashire Police Authority to ask whether the Register of Interests that Councillor Grunshaw had on their website was still current and to ask whether he ought not to have declared his in-kind benefits from Unite the Union, and to ask the Authority to investigate the non-declaration if he was obliged to report the payments.
On 2 October she emailed a reply that stated “County Councillor Clive Grunshaw asked for advice with regard to a Declaration of Interest by letter dated 14th September and I advised him that he did have a declarable interest.” She said he had then completed the relevant notification and so had complied.
This struck me as odd. Cllr Grunshaw had declared these donations to the Electoral Commission in July, not declared them to the Police Authority for 2 months and then apparently remembered to check with the Chief Executive in a letter dated before my article. Really?
So on 3 October I asked her when the authority had received the ‘letter dated 14 September’, and 3 other questions I’ll not bore you with right now. It took 13 days to get a reply on 16 October, which stated that Cllr Grunshaw had complied with the requirements of Standards legislation in respect of his disclosure, and that he had resigned on 7th October to stand for election as a PCC, and so was no longer subject to a Standards regime. Curiously the letter did not provide any of the information requested, including the arrival date of his 14 September letter.
On 31 October, I reminded the Authority that they still owed me on that very day the answers to those questions, at which point they appeared surprised to discover that my request for information was a Freedom of Information request. My email was then treated as a request to review the Authority’s decision not to provide any further information on my request of 3 October, and today, two weeks later, I received the results of that review.
Guess what – the letter dated 14 September is date stamped as received by the Police Authority on 24 September 2012 – a whole 10 days later! I’ve heard of snail-mail, but this is ridiculous. Furthermore, it is now suggested that the Chief Executive spoke to Councillor Grunshaw about the matter on 12 September.
The response I have on whether Councillor Grunshaw was in breach of the Authority’s Code of Conduct states that the interest only had to be declared within 28 days of him becoming aware of it, and argues, in my view rather tenuously, that this is to be dated from when the Chief Executive spoke with him, rather than when he actually received the donation several months earlier, which seems to me to make a mockery of the entire Code of Conduct.
But Councillor Grunshaw is now beyond the reach of the Code of Conduct. If he did break it, he has gotten away with it. But the idea that a letter takes 10 days to get the 20-odd miles from Fleetwood to Preston is almost as incredible as the facts that the Police Authority refused to reveal that information for so long, or that an investigation into a potential breach of the Code of Conduct was not launched when I requested it.
Draw your own conclusions.