An excellent expose by Chris Burn in the Shropshire Star yesterday reveals just how much the new Police and Crime Commissioner, Bill Longmore, will be costing the citizens West Mercia. Curiously, this cost was not mentioned when the three candidates were campaigning for election. Neither did the candidates talk of appointing a highly-paid deputy.
The commission looks set to cost at least £675,000, a cool £335,000 more than the previous police authority. This is money that could be available to police West Mercia’s streets and lanes. But it will instead be used to pay people to talk and shuffle paper without any direct responsibility for reducing or solving crime.
Barrie Sheldon, deputy commissioner, tells the Shropshire Star: “We intend to do everything a bit cheaper than the previous police authority.” These words defy the reality that bureaucracy expands to consume the budget available. There will always be a reason or an excuse to spend any money available up to the limit.
The commissioner’s budget was set before Longmore’s appointment but the hiring of a deputy is his decision alone. It is a decision that is set to overshadow Longmore’s entire tenure.
Sheldon was not appointed in open competition as is best practice for all government posts. He was Longmore’s campaign manager during the election. The West Mercia Police and Crime Panel told Longmore not to appoint him. The panel said that it did not have confidence in his appointment process and complained that he had disregarded the Nolan principle of ‘selflessness’. Longmore’s lengthy rejection of the panel’s criticism suggests he is a man more at home with telling people what goes than he is with listening and negotiating.
How will Longmore ever shake off the public perception that Sheldon was appointed as a reward for his election efforts and not for his capabilities? How will he dispel the impression that he will simply disregard any advice from the Police and Crime Panel that he disagrees with, rendering oversight by the panel next to useless?
Bill Longmore is not alone in this. There are similar scandals in Northamptonshire, Humberside and across the country. Longmore could have stood out from the pack – “Honest Bill” I once called him – but he chose cronyism over best practice.
Public trust in institutions is more quickly undermined than it is built. The Police and Crime Commissioners were never popular with the public, but the first actions of Bill Longmore and his colleagues across the nation are undermining trust further. Public confidence in the police fell dramatically during 2012. If one of the hopes of the Police and Crime Commissioners is to restore public confidence in policing it has certainly got off to a bad start.
I voted for Bill Longmore because I thought he was the best of a pretty indifferent lot. Frankly, he hasn’t started very well. He needs to build trust with his public.
One action he might immediately take is to formally agree to cap the costs of his commission at not a penny more than the previous police authority cost the taxpayer. He must also set clear deliverable targets for his first year. And the third essential action he must take is to treat the Police and Crime Panel as a trusted adviser and take good advice when it is given.