MPs worried by police sacking powers

Keith VazMr Vaz’s comments follow confrontations between PCCs and chief constables

Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) are showing a “worrying” ability to evade rules when sacking chief constables, the Commons Home Affairs Committee chairman has said.

Keith Vaz spoke out as the committee raised concerns that PCCs are too quick to call upon police chiefs to quit.

The new PCCs set police budgets and can hire and fire chief constables.

The MPs said it seemed “very easy” for a PCC to remove a chief constable for “insubstantial” reasons.

PCCs replaced existing police authorities in 41 force areas across England and Wales following elections in November 2012. Fewer than 15% of voters turned out for the PCC elections.

Confrontations have already arisen between them and chief constables.

In Gwent, Chief Constable Carmel Napier retired under pressure from commissioner Ian Johnston, and in Avon and Somerset, Chief Constable Colin Port decided not to reapply for his job.

Lincolnshire chief constable Neil Rhodes was suspended by PCC Alan Hardwick but was reinstated following a High Court judgment that described the decision as “irrational and perverse”.

‘Hold to account’

The Home Affairs Committee said the early indications are that it was “very easy” for a PCC to remove a chief constable for reasons of an “insubstantial nature” and even the home secretary was powerless to intervene.

They were particularly critical of Mr Johnston who “persuaded” Chief Constable Carmel Napier to retire earlier this year.

Commissioners remove chief constables by “calling upon” them to resign or retire – but they must first give a written explanation of the reasons for the proposal and then consider any response.

Police and crime panels must make a recommendation to the commissioner within six weeks backing or opposing the plan and may consult HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Neither of the two chief constables removed had ended up going through the process, the committee said.

Mr Vaz said: “It is worrying that Police and Crime Commissioners seem able to side-step the statutory process for dismissing a chief constable. Police and Crime Panels should make more active use of their powers to scrutinise decisions such as this.

“We will be returning to this area when we carry out our next major inquiry into Police and Crime Commissioners, towards the end of this year.”

The chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners board, Tony Lloyd, countered that “in the vast majority of cases, the relationship between Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables have developed strongly and purposefully”.

He added: “The appointment and removal of a Chief Constable is a duty that Police and Crime Commissioners take very seriously.

“Police and Crime Commissioners and chief constables work together to decide the direction of travel of a force and Police and Crime Commissioners have a duty to hold chief constables to account for the delivery of the most efficient and effective service for the public.”

BBC News – Politics

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