If a stereotypical police officer from central casting were to ask me “What were you doing on the morning of Wednesday 21st March 2012?” I would be able to give them a surprisingly full answer for something nearly 9 months ago, but they might be inclined to believe me because I would also be able to produce something they would recognise, namely a contemporaneous note.
The note in question was of the meeting that day of the Lancashire Police Authority, where I was one of perhaps two members of the public watching them do their generally invisible work. I used it to inform this post, but not everything in my note made it straight to the web. Some of it had to wait patiently, until today.
It was something that struck me as odd at the time. Saima Afzal, an 'Independent' member of the authority, kept talking about the arrangements after the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, and whether she and others “may or may not be around”. But Saima was not one of the potential candidates for any of the parties, and had displayed no interest in running as an Independent. The Police Authority and its 'Independent' members would be abolished. Whatever did she mean? How could she be around, and to who else was she referring?
Fast forward to today and this announcement from Commissioner Grunshaw, whereby he reveals a slew of unadvertised appointments to positions of “Assistant Commissioner”, including Bruce Jassi, who became Chair of the Police Authority shortly after TopOfTheCops revealed that Grunshaw had begun wrongly referring to himself by that title, Amanda Webster, the outgoing Vice-Chair of the Police Authority, and guess who…Saima Afzal MBE.
Including Grunshaw and his nominated Deputy this makes 5 members of the Police Authority, four nominally Independent, who will still be involved in the governance of policing in Lancashire – all four of these Independents last year voted to support Grunshaw's contentious proposed rise to the Police Authority's part of the Council Tax, ensuring the Commissioner would have as much money to spend as possible. Wow – whoever you vote for, the unelected Police Authority still gets in, and in particular the tax-raising spend-spend-spend part of it.
The announcement is somewhat lacking in clarity, particularly in how long these 'interim' appointments will last, but it seems that each will be paid at a full-time rate of £51,000 per annum although, doing only 2 days each, their individual payments will be £20,000 each year. Well, we wouldn't want them going short, would we?
Another of my contemporaneous notes, in the form of a tweet from the last Police Authority meeting of 7 November, records the fact that Saima Afzal declared she was supporting Grunshaw in his campaign for PCC – what a shocking coincidence that he should later give her a job!
As the Taxpayer's Alliance joins the debate on Commissioners' appointments started by TopOfTheCops and the Mail on Sunday, some will see this as more croneyism and jobs for the boys from Grunshaw, and will criticise the new Commissioner set-up for allowing this to happen. But, in lacking an open recruitment process, the appointments are not clearly lawful and the Commissioner cannot rely on exemptions from appointing on merit that are limited to the Deputy post. Any who suspected that, regardless of a Conservative majority on Lancashire Councils, Labour had through the 'Independents' an informal permanent majority on the old Police Authority can now reflect on a new transparency, and the ability voters will have to punish errant Commissioners at the next election, which is, at most, 41 months away.
I worry that this story is going to run and run Sam, and not just in Lancashire. The accusation of cronyism is one I would expect that PCCs will not want to stick. The key issue is how long these (and other) interim positions are made to last.
Our local paper in South Tyneside has published letters and blogs criticising newly elected Northumbria PCC Vera Baird of this. Her choice of Deputy is a top notch retired local Senior Police Officer, hardly a “job for a boy” I would have thought, but a carefully considered appointee subject to ratification. These local letter writers and bloggers lose sight of the fact that the concept of a PCC and support staff was the policy of a Conservative Coalition Government; write to Cam Clegg don’t blame Vera et al for implementing their policy.
If someone has made a legal appointment according to a fair and open recruitment procedure then there is little to complain about. However, if lawful open processes go out the window then people have a right to complain to whomever they like.
Unfortunately, local paper allows ill informed, sounding off from contributors, who take little or no trouble to research the facts.
I am looking on in wonder at the level of cronyism. I have no doubt that in the larger forces a deputy will be needed. There is no excuse for just appointing “your mate”, usually of the same Political colour. The recruitment of a deputy (or any position) should be open, transparant and a fair process. In order to attract a person who will have the right mix of skills and experience to do a good job.
I suspect that in 12 months we will look back and see the total cost of the PCC empire’s, crime panel expenses and allowances dwarfing the cost of Police Authorities and this does not include the £100m spent on the elections itself.
None of this would matter if the introduction of PCC’s reduced crime to an extent that covered the cost of PCC introduction, but I suspect the reverse will be true. So I have to ask what was the purpose of the policy, if not to reduce crime?
Down here in Wiltshire, a deputy is “on the cards” but I suspect the fallout from Northants, Simmonds will delay the announcement until after the new year. In Wiltshire, there is not even a need for a deputy, if Dorset can manage without one, so can Wiltshire.
What a lot of commentators fail to appreciate is that cuts in local government regulatory services such as Trading Standards will lead to increases in crime eg sale of unsafe, counterfeit products, itinerant rogue traders defrauding customers, short weight and measure etc. The cost of the PCC initiative, election and bureaucracy is indefensible, even if we were not living in “austere” times.
Well these PCC posts are going swimmingly – widespread public indifference, rampant cronyism and spiralling costs.
Why did no one speak out? Why weren’t we warned that this was an dogmatic solution to a problem that did not exist? Oh yes – they did.
Reblogged this on Sam4Lancs.com.
Because I noticed that a few things I’d written were missing from some of my sites where they might be relevant to someone reading just that site, and not the others. Don’t get too excited just yet, Jon.