Ex-South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner prompts calls for review of powers available to sanction police chiefs

Shaun Wright
Shaun Wright

Home Secretary Theresa May should hold an urgent review of the powers available to sanction elected Police and Crime Commissioners who fall short of the standards expected of them, a report has recommended.

The report by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) also called for candidates in next year’s PCC elections in England and Wales to be invited to sign an ‘ethical checklist’ to demonstrate their personal commitment to high standards of behaviour.

It follows controversy over the resignation in September last year of the then South Yorkshire PCC Shaun Wright, which followed weeks of pressure for him to quit over his failure to act on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham while in charge of children’s services on the town’s council.

The committee said Mr Wright’s initial refusal to stand down was seen by many as being ‘illustrative of the impotence of the accountability and standards framework’ for PCCs, which allows them to be removed from office only in ‘very limited circumstances’, not including bringing their office into disrepute.

Mr Wright resisted numerous calls for his resignation, including from the Home Secretary and the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, as well as a vote of no confidence from the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, before deciding to quit.

The new report recommended changes to provide more ‘effective and strategic scrutiny and support’ by Police and Crime Panels, the bodies set up to oversee directly-elected PCCs following the creation of the post in 2012.

CSPL chairman Lord Bew said police leaders ‘need to set the highest standards of integrity, honesty and objectivity if they are to be trusted and respected by the public’, and said ‘a more robust set of checks and balances’ was required to allow the public to assess the performance of PCCs.

He added: “PCCs have undoubtedly shaken things up. The arrival of an ‘unshackled’ democratically accountable figurehead has brought about new ways of working and greater public engagement in many areas. But there have also been concerns about the way some PCCs have behaved and the way in which some decisions have been taken.

“The Committee suggests an ‘ethical checklist’ to be used at PCC elections starting with the forthcoming elections in April 2016. The checklist will inform the public about the ethical approach of all candidates seeking election to the post of PCC. If the tone and culture of policing is set by those at the top, then the public is entitled to know that the person they vote for will promote, support and sustain high standards.

“In between elections, a more robust set of checks and balances is needed to enable the public to make a fair and balanced assessment of their PCC. Police and Crime Panels must be more future-focused in the way they carry out their scrutiny and support of PCC decision making and there needs to be stronger safeguards for monitoring officers.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome this report, which recognises the new impetus that Police and Crime Commissioners have brought to policing, bringing greater innovation, increased visibility and a greater focus on community engagement and victim support. We also welcome the Committee’s recognition of the importance of the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

“High ethical standards and strong leadership lie at the heart of good policing, and this report shows the importance of reforms brought forward by the Home Secretary to improve police integrity. We will consider the Committee’s findings and respond in due course.”