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

Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett. Photo: Bill Smith Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett. Photo: Bill Smith

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
9:57 AM

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.

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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.

16 comments

  • The job being done by PCCs across the country is much more than was achieved by the old Police Authorities. Our problem here in Norfolk is Mr Bett's judgement, not his role - in addition to some appalling public image decisions he has basically followed Labour's tax and spend agenda. He hasn't turned out to be 'the safe Bett' at all. I wonder if he'll stand for re-election on his record?

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    Jack1956

    Friday, August 8, 2014

  • norman hall you do exaggerate. The old police authority used to cost about 1.3 million each year but the overall cost of Mr Bett and his office is now much smaller than that.

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    BG

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • What this next fiasco of the failures of the system created by the government is just how much of our money they are prepared to waste on ridiculous PCC elections,giving away Royal Mail to their mates in the city and the shambles of Universal credit.No wonder the national debt is set to rise to £1.5 trillion.It's due to failed experiments like this.

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    Peter Watson

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • I notice that Tim Passmore, the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, publishes on his website - in respect of each of his ten members of staff - a job description, an e-mail address and a direct dial telephone number. And, he has never appointed a deputy Commissioner. We know that Stephen Bett has recently had a spat with Mr Passmore, but possibly he should take one or two leaves out of his book.

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    Nemesis

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • In my dealings with him as a member of the public to the PCC, I have found his attitude to me arrogant and overbearing.

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    la barbe

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • Why do we need this man. Let the police manage their own affairs

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    MIKEJ

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • Yet another case of bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. All of these issues should have been sorted before appointment. The ineptitude and lack of management capability of the Financial, Legal & HR departments involved beggars belief and yet again no heads roll. The issue of mileage claims for expenses is well covered by HMRC and the person who signed off the expense claims needs some basic training. Maybe the Audit commission should take a look at how other contracts and expenses are managed by these people

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    Arkle

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • So, according to reports, allegations include wrongful claiming of expenses that were subsequently refunded (even though apparently all above board), taking unauthorised time off on full pay, Mr Bett arbitrarily kindly returned to work to prevent a costly ‘legal wrangle’ and isn't busy on his farm at harvest time. Are we all lucky to have such a head of department? I wonder if such latitude would be given in any other role in the commercial world funding a similar state of affairs ....

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    F G HOB

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

  • I wonder if all PCC's act in the same manner as Betts holding themselves above public accountability or even scrutiny? Perhaps a general question to the ICO and a friendly enquiry to Tim Passmore's office as to his public accountability may reveal that Bett is a biy of a maverick in need of a strong reining in.

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    Canary Boy

    Sunday, August 3, 2014

  • In terms of scrutiny by the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel, there is another aspect of this that concerns me. The legislation allows a Police and Crime Commissioner to work part time only, with no abatement of salary, if he or she chooses to do so. We know, from Mr Bett's disclosures, that he owns the 2,000 acre Thornham Estate, which he farms. Does he work part time only in his role as Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner? If he does, that would explain his early decision to appoint a deputy. Has the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel ever asked him the obvious question? Has it, for instance, required him to produce his working diary as Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner? the public has no right to question him. That is the privilege of the Panel. But does it do so on our behalf?

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    John Martin

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • That is disgraceful Nemesis, and adds to what appears to be Mr Bett's current line of thinking that he is above the law. I wrote to him over a matter that is his direct responsibility, holding the Chief Constable to account, and my letter received responses from several different people but nothing from him. Was the matter addressed or dealt with? No. Is there any way of getting him to respond? No. Does he actually do anything himself that remotely warrants £70k? No. Is there any wonder he is against disclosure, I expect an FOI would produce absolutely zero communication from him other than arranging his shoots.

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    Honest John

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • I gather that Mr Bett is currently trying to argue that, in his capacity as Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, he is not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. He is maintaining that it is only information held by his "office", i.e. those whom he employs, is liable to disclosure. This cannot be correct. It would mean that information that he has chosen to withhold from his staff cannot be obtained by the public. Has the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel challenged him on this?

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    Nemesis

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • Mr Betts has a salary of 70k ,plus expenses of course, and his deputy and entourage costs must run into millions. It was recently announced that Norfolk police will cut the number of front line officers by 150. Officers who do an absolutely essential worthwhile job. Not knowing quite what Mr Betts is supposed to do makes it difficult to consider if his position is worthwhile. One thing for sure 150 front line officers will be missed. Would Mr Betts and his lot be missed? We seemed to struggle along without them before quite nicely.

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    norman hall

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • The EDP reporter must have read a different version of the report that went to the Police and Crime Panel containing the advice of the QC whether the Commissioner could take "leave of absence". The report that was published was quite clear that Parliament had given the Commissioner no such power - quite the opposite of what your report indicates. It was the publication of this clear advice that the Commissioner had assumed a power that he did not have which prompted him to return to his duties.

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    Old Hand

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • Stephen Bett’s decision not to make publicly available individual e-mail addresses and direct dial telephone numbers within his office is both arrogant and unnecessarily defensive. He seems to overlook the fact that a Police and Crime Commissioner is a public authority, accountable to the public and funded by the public. Sadly, as matters presently stand, the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel is unable to override that decision. And even if the Panel had increased powers, it would still be unable to do anything about the poor judgment that Mr Bett has displayed to date. A prime example was his decision to "appoint" a deputy long before he had secured the post and ascertained exactly what the role involved. Charging mileage logged up in attending a colleague's funeral was another lapse of judgment. And recently, of course, we have seen him "stand down" on full pay only to have to reverse that decision shortly afterwards.

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    John Martin

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • Bit of a turf war going on if you ask me. They should let Mr Bett get on with the job. He is there to monitor the Chief constable and now it seems Mr Byrne wants to be in control of Mr Bailey AND Mr Bett. I thought the whole idea was to get rid of these committees which cost a packet and are a complete and utter waste of time. The PCCs have been a fresh air as regards policing and anyone who says they don`t know who their PCC is now must be living on planet zogg. Mr Byrne may want to be in charge of the police but that job belongs to Mr Bailey, monitored by Mr Bett. End of.

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    BG

    Friday, August 1, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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