There was an element of quiet but persistent confusion at Monday’s Police and Crime Panel for Lancashire.
The first issue to come up was the Curious Case of the Missing Chief Executive. This has two key elements, the first of which is that if you, as PCC, are legally required to have a particular post, can you make that post redundant, as Mr Grunshaw intends to do?
The Panel’s secretary, who is a solicitor, refused to comment on the redundancy issue, so it was left to the Commissioner to give an account of the situation. He said “Chief Executive Miranda Carruthers-Watt made the decision to take voluntary redundancy and she will leave the organisation on 31st July… Now, there has been some questions asked about the legitimacy of offering the Chief Executive voluntary redundancy. I can assure the panel that we did take legal advice when considering Miranda’s request and we was given the advice that it was absolutely in order to do so.”
That doesn’t help us much, but what I managed to piece together from other answers and comments was that the advice appears to be that the PCC has to have a Chief Executive and that he can make one Chief Executive post redundant, as long as he creates a new Chief Executive that is substantially different from the post he started with.
So, conveniently enough, the PCC revealed that the new post would be substantially different from the old one. There were references to ‘a slimmer managerial structure’ and the post being ‘graded differently’. You’d think this was all planned and thought through, analysed and agreed, yet the PCC has previously portrayed this redundancy as the event that gave him the opportunity to oversee a review of his support arrangements by an interim Chief Executive not yet in post. She could then identify opportunities for improved service delivery, which doesn’t sound like the logical conclusion of a review that had already happened, which it would seem to need to be to provide the legal basis it requires.
So it was not that the new job description is different, but that it will be different, whatever the review says, etc. Anyone familiar with policing will recognise the inevitability that sometimes attaches to a review of structures, but rarely is the ugly foregone nature of the conclusions so openly on display.
The second element of the Chief Executive being missing is the need to introduce a new one. Cllr Peter Gibson, Leader of Wyre Borough Council, made the point that the Act requires the PCC to propose any such appointment to the Panel, who then hold confirmation hearings, but that here we had a PCC announcing an appointment without reference to the Panel, despite the fact that the law did not differentiate between permanent and interim appointments.
Over to the Panel’s Secretary for legal advice – but there was none. “It’s only been a week.” “We’ll have to ask the Home Office.” “We think Hampshire did something similar.” The question was deferred to be resolved outside the meeting. The Commissioner says his advice is that his permanent appointment will need a confirmation hearing, but if the Panel think differently he will comply. So we don’t know what’s happening there yet.
The Panel then agreed a new complaints procedure, which includes a Sub-Committee dominated by politicians and that isn’t able to investigate complaints, but will have hearings about them in
secret private, and will then decide whether and how to report its own decisions. Don’t you just love open government?
And then we had a statement from the PCC about his most recent expenses problem.
“To be clear I have not submitted any inaccurate expense forms. The claim forms only require me to sign to confirm the number of miles that I have travelled and the accuracy of the mileage is not in dispute.” It was an administrative error not of his making. It was an overpayment, not a misclaim. But he was overpaid on 11 occasions between January 2013 and June 2014 – i.e last month, when the news broke.
Questions followed, with Cllr Peter Gibson turning detective, pointing out that a journey from the PCC’s Preston office to Blackburn Town Hall was claimed as 26 miles on 26 November 2012, but as 58 miles on 30 May 2013, and also asking about openness, transparency, and the rigour with which the claims have been treated.
The Commissioner could only assume that the longer journey to Blackburn may have included a journey elsewhere but this would be checked.
Further debate ensued. The Chairman, Cllr Kate Hollern of Blackburn with Darwen Council, felt the Panel were in danger of becoming a kangaroo court. Cllr Gibson felt that the Panel was a scrutiny committee and was there to scrutinise. There were varied views as to whether they should only scrutinise policy or also the way the individual exercises the PCCs functions, as their terms of reference provide.
The Panel then decided that the Sub-Committee should consider the matter. It has been reported that they would investigate. So, the Complaints Sub-Committee, which considers complaints but can’t investigate them, will consider something that isn’t a complaint, and will apparently investigate it, to decide whether it needs to go to the IPCC. So that’s cleared that up then.
Perhaps that is where they will cover the issue that was raised twice at the Panel, but without any answer being given, namely why the Lancashire Telegraph say they received denials that the PCC had a new expenses problem before admissions were finally made on a third occasion. As the PCC was insistent he was only told for the first time at some point in June, and as the Telegraph report the first denial was on 30 May, this raises the curious situation that the Telegraph supposedly knew what to ask before the PCC himself had any idea there was a problem, which seems very odd.
There was a further problem created by the expenses information on the PCC’s website, though no-one in the meeting was aware of it at the time. The current version of the PCC’s claims show him claiming 45p per mile for a couple of months in 2012, and then 12p per mile since. This made it look as if someone appreciated what was the right mileage rate for the Commissioner from January 2013 onward, not June 2014, so the Commissioner was asked why didn’t he know earlier.
I’m speculating now, but I have the benefit of having downloaded these expenses on a number of previous occasions, and retained them for comparison. Those previous downloads show 45p claimed throughout, and so the current versions on the website have been changed from the originals. So it appears that the Commissioner’s allowances page on his website is now a revision of history – showing what the Commissioner should have been paid, rather than what he was in fact paid, and as the website ignores the problem entirely, including any explanation, it creates confusion. It also doesn’t help that the most recent version has several months missing in 2013, and nothing for 2014. (note, these may change after publication of this article)
The web-page also says (with my emphasis added) “The documents on this page will be updated with details about the allowances claimed for by the Police and Crime Commissioner and his Deputy once they have been processed.” The mistake in the middle of that sentence looks like an edit gone wrong. Did it say “claimed by” and was this replaced with “claimed for”, which would better fit the story the PCC is telling? Who knows? But the result is confusion, rather than transparency.
So, another expenses investigation of sorts is on the cards, but don’t think for a moment it will be the grand 18-month-long-so-far affair that preceded it. I fully expect it to exonerate Mr Grunshaw. When I brought up this expenses issue as part of the public questions section of the meeting the Chair interpreted it as an allegation of fraud, which I immediately corrected. There is no suggestion of fraud here – just a worry that the Commissioner’s previous actions have rendered his expenses an issue of great concern for the people of Lancashire, such as to require that the expenses paid need to be faultless, and that the Commissioner does not appear to be taking adequate personal responsibility for ensuring this is the case.
There was a time when journalists could inadvertently wind-up senior cops by referring to PCC’s as “Police Chiefs”. The Lancashire Evening Post’s coverage of this meeting goes for “Crime Boss” as an alternative, which is a particularly unfortunate description, followed as it is by “Beleaguered Police and Crime Commissioner”. Public statements, such as that by the CPS, clearing Mr Grunshaw of having acted dishonestly, whether based on sound evidence or not (£), are not likely to be enough if mistake continues to follow mistake, or if the impression is created that the laws that are there are merely obstacles to be avoided.