At 16:55 on Thursday the 13th of August 2015 Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright announced Alec Wood as his preferred candidate for appointment as Cambridgeshire’s Chief Constable.
The press release didn’t describe a very active role for the Police and Crime Commissioner in the appointments process, describing it as “overseen by the College of Policing”. I would have expected the Police and Crime Commissioner to have taken the lead, turning to the College of Policing perhaps if he felt he needed advice.
In his announcement Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright referred enquiries about his proposed new Chief Constable to Sallie Blair at public relations and marketing consultancy Better Times Ltd.
If Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright has employed a PR consultant to answer queries then presumably he would have had to have briefed them with a list of likely questions and their answers. I would have rather he just published that material pro-actively on his website.
I was surprised to see an elected representative using a PR consultant in this way but thought as we’re probably paying huge sums for them to be available to answer questions I may as well put my questions to them. I called the phone number given (there was no email address); the exchange was as follows:
Q: What role has the Police and Crime Commissioner played in the appointment process so far?
A: “The Police and Crime Commissioner is on a panel and he does the preferred appointment.”
Q: Has the Police and Crime Commissioner interviewed the candidates?
A: “Oh Yes” … he has definitely interviewed the candidates.
Q: How many applications did he have, how many were short-listed and interviewed
A: I don’t know the answer to that one but I can check it out and come back to you.
Q: What are Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s main reasons for recommending Alec Wood?
A: I’ll write that one down and get someone to get back to you.
Q: Has Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright reviewed the complaints record of the applicants?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Did the commissioner consult with the Police and Crime Panel prior to announcing his preferred candidate? They asked to be involved, and to consider the short-list.
A: That’s not how the process works as far as I’m aware. I’ll find out.
Q: The press release notes the Police and Crime Panel will be required to arrange a public confirmation hearing. Is that a request from the Police and Crime Commissioner for the panel to hold their deliberation in public?
A: “It is a meeting which is held in public when they confirm or not their preferred candidate”.
As the PR consultant didn’t know the answer to even the most the straightforward questions, and suggested putting me in touch with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, I asked what the point of her role was.
The PR consultant told me she had published the press release but didn’t write it, leading me to wonder if we’re paying hefty sums to a consultant just to copy and paste words into a content management system.
If I was a Police and Crime Commissioner publishing the name of my preferred candidate for Chief Constable I would have pro-actively published the candidate’s CV, and pro-actively answered all the above questions and more. I wouldn’t employ a public relations consultant to represent me so wouldn’t have someone answering questions on my behalf who didn’t know the answers to the most basic of questions.
It is notable that the Police and Crime Commissioner’s announcement says “Graham Bright, is required to formally notify the Police and Crime Panel” suggesting he has not done that yet. The Police and Crime Panel has not yet published a date and time for a confirmation hearing.
I hope the Police and Crime Panel do deliberate in public. When the panel dealt with the confirmation hearing for the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner they deliberated in private and never even returned to public session for the vote and decision; if they take such an approach over the Chief Constable it will be a farce. I am aware the panel may wish to consider personal material, or other material it would be reasonable and legal to exclude the public from discussion of. The panel may also wish to suspend their proceedings and return to them on another day; this is possible and does not preclude a public decision and vote.