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Call for more powers to hold Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner to account

PUBLISHED: 09:57 05 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:57 05 August 2014

Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett. Photo: Bill Smith

Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

The government needs to give the community more power to hold police and crime commissioners to account, according to the county councillor who chairs Norfolk’s Police and Crime Panel.

Alec Byrne, chairman of the county’s police and crime panel says the controversial decision of Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett to take a leave of absence on full pay, while police investigate his expenses claims, showed the need to strengthen scrutiny of the role.

Mr Bett had announced in June that he was taking a temporary leave of absence, with his deputy Jenny McKibben stepping into his shoes.

The panel and crime panel - made up of councillors and independent members - is supposed to maintain a ‘check and balance’ on the performance of the police commissioner.

County council lawyers had advised the panel there was no legislation to enable Mr Bett to step aside and it had been due to consider the issue last month.

But Mr Bett pre-empted the discussion, announcing in a statement that he would return to work to prevent a costly ‘legal wrangle’. He did so last month.

However, Mr Byrne has written to the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel, to call for its powers to be strengthened.

He said: “In light of the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel’s experience of our first eighteen months of operation, the panel agreed that I should write to the Home Secretary on its behalf.

“In our view, the legislation is not clear and does not go far enough to allow representatives of local communities to exercise a robust response to Commissioners proposals and to hold them to account as constituents would expect.

“This reflects the conclusions within the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report that the role of Police and Crime Panels needs to be strengthened and that clarification on the legislation should be issued.”

Calling for guidance on whether commissioners should be allowed to take a leave of absence, Mr Byrne also wrote: “In our view, the legislation does not go far enough to allow representatives of local communities to exercise a robust response to commissioners’ proposals and to hold them to account as constituents expect.

“For example, a power to suspend the operation of a decision of the commissioner pending its clearance by the panel, an arrangement common in local councils operating “executive arrangements”, would compel the commissioner to pay more than lip-service to the concerns of the panel.”

The panel will meet at County Hall next Friday, where the annual report of the police and crime commissioner will be presented.

Mr Bett, who was elected as an independent PCC in 2012, is being investigated for claiming more than £3,000 in mileage from his home to official headquarters.

The IPCC will oversee a City of London police investigation.

Mr Bett agreed to pay back thousands of pounds last year, while maintaining that everything he had done had been “above board”.

He has an annual salary of £70,000.

• What do you think? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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