Police payments are unjustified

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TODAY’S revelations about the pay and perks accrued by some chief constables, and in addition to their well-remunerated salary and bonus system, are so serious that they need to be examined in the context of the disquiet which surrounded the mismanagement of MPs’ expenses.

Claims of Parliamentarians became so widespread, and so toxic from a public perspective, because there was an unwritten acceptance that this “arrangement” could compensate MPs for their own salaries not keeping pace with the rest of the economy.

It is the same with policing and a broken system of governance which enabled the likes of Sir Norman Bettison, the former head of West Yorkshire Police now under investigation for his role in the Hillsborough and Stephen Lawrence tragedies, to acquire an extra £250,000 over five years for sundries like private health insurance and gym membership for himself and his family.

Taxpayers will be incredulous, and rightly so, that there is still no record of the Government authorising of this “special allowance” in March 2007 when Mark Burns-Williamson, the then chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority and who is now the force’s crime commissioner, was asked to seek the approval of the then Home Secretary.

This was at a time of political tumult as John Reid prepared to step down at the end of Tony Blair’s reign. However this still offers no excuse for police authorities sanctioning highly questionable ex-gratia payments, and on such a generous scale, when it was clear that spending would come under close scrutiny from the Freedom of Information Act and the growing need for financial efficiencies.

It is unclear whether a force like North Yorkshire will have grounds to recoup the “professional development” payments given to Grahame Maxwell before he stepped down as chief constable after trying to help a relative to get a job with his force.

However the pursuit of individual cases must not detract from the need to reform a broken system that allowed top officers to claim these payments when their basic salary, and legally approved bonuses, already sees them take home considerably more pay than the Prime Minister. This simply is not justifiable, despite a chief constable’s onerous responsibilities.

As such, the newly-elected crime commissioners – maligned in some quarters – do deserve credit for expressing their disquiet. Their task now is to find a way to close such loopholes before more damage is done to the police’s tarnished reputation. In short, this scandal must not happen again and the public interest demands total transparency at all times.

It is time to rural-proof policies

AS this newspaper acknowledged just five days ago, Chris Grayling faces a tricky task balancing the scales of justice between the need for efficiency savings and a requirement to protect the public interest.

It is not easy and is further illustrated by the Justice Secretary’s decision to cancel plans to award legal aid contracts to the lowest bidders after fears that large law companies would enjoy an unfair dominance and that droves of small firms could be forced out of business.

Sadly, this volte-face is another example of the Government failing to “rural-proof” policies at their outset. Like this week’s concerns about the bedroom tax, and whether it can be implemented fairly in rural communities where there is a shortage of council houses, the Conservatives – the traditional party of the countryside – should have been alert to the concerns of those small solicitors whose local expertise ensures the smoother running of the judicial process.

At the same time, Mr Grayling might reflect upon his assertion that left-wing activists are holding back Britain because of spurious challenges in order to gain publicity and bog down the courts. It will set a dangerous precedent if a Cabinet minister uses politics to determine the type of cases that come before judges. This must always be the preserve of the judiciary; Mr Grayling’s brief is to ensure that all enjoy fair access to justice.

Can childcare become affordable?

HOW times change. One hundred years after suffragette Emily Wilding Davison died when stepping in front of the King’s horse in the Derby, it is widely accepted that women can be good mothers and high-profile politicians – at the same time.

This was unthinkable in 1913 when women did not even have the right to vote. Yet, as Rachel Reeves returns to Labour’s front bench after six months maternity leave, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is fortunate that she has a supportive family, and access to improved childcare facilities at Parliament, in order to perform her political duties.

This contrasts with those families across Yorkshire whose household finances are buckling under the strain of childcare costs, and how it is simply impractical for most private sector firms to provide creches and so forth.

Perhaps the Leeds West MP can use her own happy experience to devise imaginative and affordable policies which tackle this imbalance. After all, her first major intervention this week was on the theme of the rising cost of living.