This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thames Valley Police Authority: the debate on impartiality continues

On Thursday, I received a detailed reply from the Chief Executive to the points I raised with him a few days ago (see here for a copy of my email to him). I have thanked him for the due care he is giving to my concerns. At least he is willing to answer my questions in the way that the Conservative candidate is conspicuously not.

Below, I reprint his email together with my responses and questions I have embedded and sent back to him in highlight:

Dear Mr Harvey

With reference to the content and claims made in the campaign website of Mr Stansfeld, regarding Mr Stansfeld’s influence as a Police Authority member on Thames Valley policing performance, my view is that these comments appear to be intended to present statements of fact (I do not agree they are ‘statements of fact’ as they include several adjectives and assertions which mean they are far more rhetorical. Do you maintain that they are purely factual? Your words could be read in different ways) designed to impress upon the electorate his suitability and credentials in support of his campaign to be their elected PCC.  However, may I reiterate that the comments referred to make no claim that either the Police Authority or any other individual member of the Authority are supportive of his candidature. (I agree but your policy as I understand it says that actions by members “must avoid any action which is or might reasonably be perceived as being supportive” – with my extra italics. In my view, citing his role and asserted achievements in his role could be very easily perceived as being supportive.) Furthermore, the website content claims no endorsement by the Police Authority, any individual members of the Authority, or any persons who work for or on behalf of the Authority, of the role, opinions or performance of Mr Stansfeld as presented on the website. As such his comments do not in themselves do anything which compromises, or is likely to compromise, the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the Authority. (Naturally, reference my comment above, I disagree.)

(However you have not offered me a convincing reason yet, I believe, as to why you deemed it appropriate to contact Balvinder Bains about his name appearing on Tim Starkey’s blog. His picture merely appeared along with a factual description of his role as a member of the PA. Please explain to me how you are prepared to see words on Cllr Stansfeld’s campaign  website as “designed to impress upon the electorate his suitability and credentials” as being acceptable whilst Mr Bains mere description was sufficient to write refer him to the PA policy? You will recall from my first email to the PA, it is this distinction that prompted me to write and blog about all this. Had you not written to Mr Bains, then we would probably not be communicating. It is your differential action that I believe suggests a bias on behalf of PA, not the fact that you seem prepared to allow Cllr Stansfeld’s assertions to stand unchallenged. Please would you comment on this matter of differential particularly. Thank you.)

Accordingly, my understanding of normal electoral practice is that it is for other candidates and the electorate to challenge a candidate if they have concerns over the factual accuracy or appropriateness of the claims being made by that candidate. (I am sure Tim will be doing this in due course. You will note that I have not commented to date on the veracity of the claims made by Mr Stansfeld, merely that his words are not just factual, which is the point you raised before. Meanwhile as an ordinary voter and resident of Thames Valley, I believe I have the right and responsibility to highlight contradictions and unfairness in any election. Like you, I would imagine, I want these elections to be open and fair for all.)

Regarding any meetings that Mr Stansfeld has been involved in whilst acting in his role as a Police Authority member, provided that his involvement in such meetings, including any discussions, questions asked and answers given are relevant to his ability to effectively discharge his role and responsibilities as a member, then the fact that any meetings or questions asked may relate to policing post-November 2012 is irrelevant to me.  Such appropriate involvement is, and will continue to be, legitimate until such time as when Mr Stansfeld chooses to resign as a Police Authority member. (Is there a full verbatim record of all the contributions and questions that Cllr Stansfeld has made during the course of all such meetings in the period between now and when he was declared to be the candidate? Has he had any private meetings with the Chief Constable during this time?)

With regard to your question of 3rd September (“...can you (Mr Lawson) or Mr Hammond explain to me how it is tenable to allow a publicly declared candidate to remain a member of the Police Authority?”), it is tenable to allow a publicly declared candidate to remain a member of the Police Authority because there is nothing in the legislation that prevents it or requires a member to resign prior to submitting their candidature nomination papers to the Police Area Returning Officer and national guidance therefore allows it.  It is irrelevant whether you or I agree with this and it is not for me or Mr Lawson to explain or justify it; it is the way it is. (I understand this. Perhaps you would agree with me that this is another example of this rather poorly drafted legislation? However I do wonder whether a) a quiet word might have been had in the light of the PA’s role to be a neutral agency in the election. I also note, with reference to our communication some months ago about the PA hosting hustings etc – which you declined on grounds of perceived bias – that South Yorkshire Police Authority are indeed now organising a ‘Question Time’ style debate for all the candidates to attend: link here)

With reference to your query concerning the accuracy of Mr Stansfeld’s register of interests, the Code of Conduct requires members to declare personal interests where they fall within a certain categories specified within the Code where the business of the Authority may relate to or is likely to affect the interests of the member.  As Mr Lawson has previously stated in response to your query, it is for members to declare their interests and, once declared, they are then entered  in the register.  In other words, the responsibility for ensuring an accurate register in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Conduct lies with members themselves. Members may seek advice from officers of the Authority but the Police Authority itself has no routine role in investigating any possible anomalies in members’ registers of interests unless, of course, there is prima facie evidence that a member has been or is likely to be involved in any business of the Authority in which they have a personal interest that has not been declared. Otherwise, any apparent anomalies will be highlighted to the member concerned (which is the case in respect of the anomalies you have brought to officers’ attention in connection with Mr Stansfeld’s register of interests) for them to consider and act on as necessary but officers cannot amend or direct members to amend their entries. (I understand all this and that a member’s register is his/her affair. However, when it can be shown by dint of inconsistency – as I have indeed shown – is there not a matter of the public standards here? What do you think? If there were, would that be a matter for the TVPA standards committee? But I thank you for bringing it to Cllr Stansfeld’s attention)

Therefore, in summary, I do not see any evidence of a breach of either national or local guidance concerning the behaviour of police authority members who are standing as candidates.  Nor do I see any evidence of a breach of the Thames Valley Police Authority Code of Conduct.  Accordingly, I do not see any appropriate reason for my intervention in the matters you refer to and, for the avoidance of doubt, I will not be doing so. (Thank you for being clear. I am now going to consider what further action I now take. Jon Harvey)


Paul Hammond
Chief Executive & Treasurer
Thames Valley Police Authority

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