Police and Crime Commissioners: Register of Interests - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Scrutiny of PCCs

5.  The appointment of a single individual to pioneer policing practices over large force areas has many potential benefits, offering flexibility, a single point of contact and the potential for improved leadership. However, apportioning so much power to one individual also brings risks of maverick behaviour, which may be magnified for the first police and crime commissioners who wish to make their mark in the new role. In order to make the best of the PCCs, it is necessary to have effective checks and balances without tying the commissioners' hands.

6.  Ultimately, the PCCs are held to account by the electorate and the Home Secretary was keen to distance herself from any responsibility to assess the performance of the PCCs. For instance, on 18 December 2012 we asked the Home Secretary whether she held information about PCCs with second jobs, but she responded that "I do not have somebody who puts that sort of information in front of me because that is information that I believe is for the electorate to make a decision on".[3]. However, as the Association of Police Authorities noted, "they will be the subject of few, if any effective checks in between election".[4]

7.  At the local level, Police and Crime Panels (PCPs) scrutinise the work of PCCs. In line with our recommendations, PCPs are comprised of locally elected representatives from each local authority (including district councils), plus two independent members.[5] A Panel may require the attendance of the PCC at any time and has the power to suspend a commissioner from office where he or she is charged with a serious criminal offence, or exercise a "veto" over a proposed precept or candidate for chief constable. This level of local scrutiny is likely to be very important. As the Chair of Association of Police Authorities, Rob Garnham, told us "you have to have a panel that is strong enough and has enough influence with the PCC so that they're not the maverick; so that they do not run away with their ideas".[6]

8.  There are early indications that Police and Crime Panels may need to take a quicker and more decisive approach. One of the most potent powers afforded to commissioners is suspension of a chief constable. We were concerned by the suspension of Chief Constable Neil Rhodes by Alan Hardwick, police and crime commissioner for Lincolnshire. This kind of intervention is potentially operationally disruptive and costly, and damaging to the reputation of the police force and individuals concerned; it should be undertaken only on the most rigorous grounds or where the risks of leaving the chief constable in office are high. In this case, the decision was overturned at judicial review by Mr Justice Stuart Smith who noted "serious error" by the PCC in his "failure to engage in any assessment" and disregard for the chief constable's character and record.[7] Following the decision to suspend the chief constable, the PCP failed to meet for over two months, with the Chair citing legal advice as the reason he was unable to convene a meeting. In the end, the powers and jurisdiction of his Panel were so unclear that he resorted to writing to the Home Secretary for clarification, at least to the East Lindsay District Council legal adviser apparently concerned.

9.  Where a police and crime commissioner exercises his power to suspend a chief constable, it is the PCC's responsibility under Schedule 8 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to inform the Police and Crime Panel. In the Lincolnshire case, however, the public was left in the dark about the reasons for the suspension and the Police and Crime Panel took no action to avert or even review an intervention that was ultimately thrown out of court. The Police and Crime Panel seemed totally incapacitated by erroneous legal advice that it was unable to investigate the Commissioner's course of action, so that the PCC did not even appear before the Panel for over 2 months.

10.  We recommend that where a PCC proposes to exercise his power to suspend a chief constable under section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, there must be immediate review of the action by the Police and Crime Panel. In addition, the Police and Crime Commissioner must give the Panel and the chief constable a written explanation of the reasons for the suspension.

11.  In between elections, the Police and Crime Panel is, in all but the most extreme circumstance, the only check on a PCC's power over local policing. All three of the PCP chairs we heard from believed that their Panels did not have strong powers to hold a PCC to account. Parliament has defined the power of PCPs and it is the responsibility of the PCPs to exercise their powers. We are concerned that incompetent legal advisers appear to have sought to prevent PCPs from even meeting to scrutinise key and highly questionable decisions by PCCs, for instance the suspension of the chief constable in Lincolnshire and the fiasco concerning the appointment of a "Youth Commissioner" in Kent. It is in such circumstances that a PCP chair needs to ensure that the PCP meets urgently. If they fail to do so, on the basis of wholly inappropriate legal advice or otherwise, the process of local scrutiny of the PCP role falls into disrepute.

12.  Local scrutiny relies on the engagement of the public in the force area. With this in mind, we note the comments of Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, in its report on the PCC elections, that "the extremely low turnout - at just 15.1%- must be a concern for anyone who cares about democracy". We have not yet taken evidence on this issue, but will return to the matter in our forthcoming inquiry later this year.

13.  At the national level there is little if any provision for scrutiny of PCCs' work. Despite our recommendations, there is no central register of information about PCCs that can inform any comparison. As the Home Secretary stated to us on 18 December 2012, information about PCCs' interests is "not co-ordinated in one register because in each police force area individuals will want to know their PCC rather than all the national PCCs".[8]

14.  Police and Crime Commissioners are required to publish the information that they consider necessary to enable the local public to assess their performance and that of the Chief Constable. As the Home Secretary noted, this ought to provide the basis upon which the public is able to judge their PCC.[9] In addition they are required to publish particular information specified by the Home Secretary in regulations issued under section 11 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. So far the relevant regulations are the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specific Information) Order 2011 SI 2011/3050. The required information is set out in Annex I. However, as we note in the conclusions below, a number of PCCs have so far failed to publish the required financial information, or disclose the details of their own interests and allowances. The Home Office must monitor compliance with legal responsibilities to publish information and publish a list of non-compliant PCCs.

15.  By contrast, in response to Lord Leveson's recommendations, the Home Secretary announced on 12 February 2013 that a national registers of chief officers' pay and perks packages, gifts and hospitality, outside interests including second jobs, and their contact with the media would be published on-line.[10]

16.  It has already emerged that Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner for Cumbria, had claimed £700 for two chauffeur-driven trips, which had not been declared. Following this revelation, three individuals have been arrested, including two police staff, and a third member of staff has been suspended. Mr Rhodes has apologised for the episode and claims that he does not know why the arrests have been made. The Police and Crime Panel is investigating.[11]

17.  We wrote to the new PCCs in January and in March 2013 to call for information that will assist Parliament and the public in holding the commissioners to account. In this Report, we draw together a set of indicators to provide a much-needed national perspective.

18.  We are disappointed to note that not all Police and Crime Commissioners are meeting the standards of openness that we would expect. We conducted a survey of Police and Crime Commissioners' websites to investigate whether the necessary information was being published clearly. On 19 April 2013, we found that 10 PCCs had met their statutory obligations and published the full financial data required. Those were Avon and Somerset (Sue Mountstevens), Bedfordshire (Olly Martins), Cambridgeshire (Sir Graham Bright), Cheshire (John Dwyer), Hampshire (Simon Hayes), Merseyside (Jane Kennedy), Surrey (Kevin Hurley), Warwickshire (Ron Ball), West Mercia (Bill Longmore) and West Yorkshire (Mark Burns-Williamson).

19.  Our search suggested that 12 PCCs have yet to publish their annual budget data online: Cleveland (Barry Coppinger), Cumbria (Richard Rhodes), Derbyshire (Alan Charles), Devon and Cornwall (Tony Hogg), Essex (Nick Alston), Hertfordshire (David Lloyd), Humberside (Matthew Grove), Leicestershire (Sir Clive Loader), Norfolk (Stephen Bett), South Yorkshire (Shaun Wright), Suffolk (Tim Passmore) and North Wales (Winston Roddick).

20.  Following our evidence session with the Home Secretary on 18 April 2013, we understand that PCCs were contacted to encourage them to publish this data. However, on 3 May 2013, five PCCs still had not published annual budget data online—Humberside (Matthew Grove), Leicestershire (Sir Clive Loader), Norfolk (Stephen Bett), North Wales (Winston Roddick CB QC) and Suffolk (Tim Passmore).

21.  Where Police and Crime Commissioners are considered to have exceeded their powers or otherwise behaved inappropriately, it is unacceptable that those who expose the matter should be at risk of losing their jobs, or face other reprisals.

22.  We do not accept that a national register of PCCs' interests is not necessary. There was unanimous agreement among the Police and Crime Commissioners we called for evidence that such a register would be a fair and helpful way to hold PCCs to account. If a national register is being compiled for chief constables, it makes clear sense to do the same for their elected counterparts.

23.  While it should be for the local electorate to determine a PCC's suitability for the role, an informed choice would be facilitated by a reliable central register which would provide a ready comparison and a reliable source. The lack of such information centrally will inevitably encourage rumours, media speculation and suspicion, which may well be totally unfounded. We strongly recommend that an independent national body such as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary compile and publish a central register of police and crime commissioners' financial interests, pay and perks packages, gifts and hospitality, outside interests including second jobs on an annual basis. In the absence of such a register, we will attempt to do so, but it would be far preferably for an independent national body to undertake this essential function. Until this happens, we will undertake this task.

3   Home Affairs Committee, The work of the Home Secretary, 18 December 2012, HC 563-ii, Q 170 Back

4   Association of Police Authorities, Pay proposals for PCCs Back

5   Home Affairs Committee, Police and Crime Commissioners: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2010-11, Seventh Special Report of Session 2010-12, 28 March 2011, HC 862, para 11 Back

6   Home Affairs Committee, Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners, Second Report of Session 2010-11, HC 511, Q 104 Back

7   Policing for All Back

8   Home Affairs Committee, The work of the Home Secretary, 18 December 2012, HC 563-ii, Q 176 Back

9   Home Affairs Committee, The work of the Home Secretary, 18 April 2013, HC 563-iii, Q 300 Back

10   HC Deb, 12 February 2013: Column 713 Back

11   http://www.nwemail.co.uk/home/update-11-55am-cumbria-police-and-crime-chief-breaks-silence-over-whistle-blower-investigation-1.1050402?referrerPath=home Back

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Prepared 23 May 2013