EMBATTLED South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings has prompted controversy by appointing the wife of his former election agent as his official part-time assistant, on a £31,500 salary.
Sioned-Mair Richards, a former Labour Sheffield councillor, is married to Howard Knight, who worked as Dr Billings’ election agent during his successful campaign to be re-elected commissioner (PCC) in May.
Sheffield Lib Dem councillor Joe Otten said the appointment “stinks” but Dr Billings insisted the process had been open and transparent and said Ms Richards was the best person for the job.
The role of an assistant PCC is classed as ‘politically restricted’, which means the post-holder cannot be politically active at the same time.
Ms Richards was a high-profile Labour Sheffield councillor until she failed to win a seat at the local elections in May.
Until then she was also chairwoman of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel and chairwoman of South Yorkshire Fire Authority audit committee.
The new assistant police and crime commissioner post was advertised in June. Dr Billings, who is facing a High Court challenge to his decision to sack former chief constable David Crompton, said the new role will focus on rebuilding public trust in South Yorkshire Police and added that there was no favouritism in the appointment.
He also said that Ms Richards will cease being a politician tin order to allow her to take up the role.
But Coun Otten, who is a member of the police and crime panel, said: “The appointment of Sioned-Mair Richards to Assistant PCC stinks.
“After being rejected by Sheffield voters in May’s elections she has found herself a cushy non-job at the taxpayer’s expense.”
Coun Otten added: “There are serious questions about her “I believe her previous experience on both the Fire Authority and Police and Crime Panel has shown her to be an ineffective Labour insider who failed to challenge her Labour colleague’s poor decisions, whilst her partner’s relationship to the PCC as his election agent raises questions about the impartiality of the appointment.
“Dr Billings says he has made this appointment to restore trust in the force, but as far as I’m concerned he has undermined it even further.”
A spokeswoman for the PCC’s office said there were eight applications for the 26-hour a week position, with three people interviewed.
It is the second time Dr Billings’ connections with Mr Knight and Ms Richards have raised queries. At the time of Mr Knight’s appointment as election agent on April 4, Ms Richards was chairman of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel whose role is to hold the commissioner to account.
Dr Billings faced down a public question at the meeting of the panel in June as to whether he should have declared the connection when he appointed Mr Knight, after originally approaching him on March 15.
The commissioner told the panel the appointment was in his role as a Labour candidate, not his elected role, and that he had not, in any case, been required to declare the relationship with Ms Richards under the official code of conduct.
He added that had a panel meeting taken place between March 15 and the election in May he would have flagged up the connection in the interests of public transparency.
In a statement, Dr Billings said: “I no longer have an election agent and the name of my previous election agent has always been a matter of public record.
“Sioned was a very good candidate in part because she had experience on the Police and
Crime Panel and the Fire Authority which is of great importance given the need for South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue to work together.”