AN influential body of MPs today demands major reform of the way police and crime commissioners appoint their highly-paid deputies amid widespread concern about taxpayer-funded “cronyism”.
In a hard-hitting report published this morning, the cross-party Commons home affairs committee calls for new powers of veto for local watchdogs to allay public concern.
It follows months of outcry in West Yorkshire over the appointment by Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson of a former Labour Parliamentary candidate, Isabel Owen, as his highly-paid deputy. The PCCs in South Yorkshire and the Humber have also courted controversy by appointing well-salaried deputies after being elected.
“The concept of police and crime commissioners is still very much on probation,” said committee chairman Keith Vaz. “Some commissioners have fallen well short of the public’s expectations, and urgent reforms are needed to ensure that this concept does not put at risk public trust and engagement in the police – the very objectives for which PCCs were brought in.”
Earlier this year Alison Lowe, who chairs the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel – set up to oversee the work of the PCC – hit out at Ms Owen’s appointment as Mr Burns-Williamson’s deputy. She told the committee in February that she believed the appointment was “a waste of taxpayers’ money”, but that her panel had no power to overrule the PCC.
“It was not the person of Isabel Owen that I had any exception to,” she said. “It was the concept of recruiting a deputy.”
Today’s report says these local watchdogs should be given the power of veto over such appointments in all cases where the deputy did not run on the same election ticket as the PCC.
“Deputies should not be cronies that are given their job on the basis of nepotism,” Mr Vaz said. “By electing them on the same ticket, we ensure that the public will be able to have their say on someone who often acts with the powers of the commissioner.”
The committee also called for the local watchdogs to be given new powers to scrutinise the sacking of chief constables by PCCs following a number of high-profile cases. Last year Lincolnshire PCC Alan Hardwick’s decision to abruptly suspend his chief constable was overturned by the High Court after a judgment that branded the move “irrational and perverse”.
The report also warns that many PCCs are using statistical targets to monitor chief constables’ performance, “despite strong evidence that target-setting has resulted in the manipulation of police-recorded crime statistics”.
Policing Minister Damian Green said falling crime rates showed police reforms were working. “The introduction of police and crime commissioners has been the most significant democratic reform of policing and they are working hard to ensure communities have a stronger voice in policing,” he added.