Political divide remains as new chair appointed on Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel

    Thames Valley’s Police and Crime Panel ended a near three-month hiatus by finally agreeing on the appointment of a new chair but political divisions remain. 

    The panel, made up of representatives from councils across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, examines and reviews how Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Matthew Barber ensures that Thames Valley Police runs effectively.

    It is seen as a scrutiny function with members meant to remain politically neutral – government advice states “the committee must not become a battleground between members of different parties” – while holding the PCC to account.

    That spirit went up in smoke in June when a deadlocked tie for who should chair the meetings pitted Conservatives against Labour, Green Party and Liberal Democrat councillors.

    Both independent members of the panel, neither of whom were councillors, have since resigned. 

    Panel members can only vote if they attend in person and the Conservatives this time had the numbers in the room – nine to eight – to elect Councillor Keith McLean (Con, Milton Keynes Council) as chair. Councillor Eddie Reeves (Con, Cherwell District Council), who is also the leader of the Tory opposition at Oxfordshire County Council, was voted in as vice-chair.

    Such appointments are generally agreed without dissent but despite the inevitability of the numbers, both sides stuck to their guns before more uncomfortable discussions over which authority should host the meetings. 

    The host authority, currently Oxfordshire County Council, can be decided by the panel annually. 

    It does not dictate where the meetings take place – the panel this week agreed to continue to gather in Aylesbury – but which of the councils on the Thames Valley patch administers the meetings and manages the grant funding from the Home Office that pays for the panel to function.

    Cllr Reeves proposed that Buckinghamshire Council should host, “at least for the rest of the municipal year”, with Councillor Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem, Milton Keynes Council) and scrutiny officer Khalid Ahmed stating that the host had conventionally passed over to the chair’s authority after six months.

    Councillor Simon Rouse (Con, Buckinghamshire Council) interjected to read out the rules which give the panel the scope to select an authority. 

    “It is perfectly right for this panel to determine that it wishes to transfer,” he said. 

    Mr Ahmed advised that talks should take place between chief executives at various councils before decisions are made, citing that West Oxfordshire District Council did not wish to take the responsibility of being host when its representative was in the chair. 

    “It is not just a case of switching in name, there is all the behind-the-scenes stuff that has to be changed regarding the grants, officers, etc,” he said. 

    “It would be difficult if you made a decision that the chief executives did not agree with.” 

    Cllr Rouse replied: “I would just like to confirm that Buckinghamshire is happy to take on being the host authority.” 

    Cllr Reeves said he had raised the matter with the monitoring officer at Cherwell, that Buckinghamshire had stepped forward and that the panel was unaware of any counter offer, encouraging the panel to at least vote on its preference. 

    Cllr McLean replied: “I hear what you are saying, I feel uncomfortable about that from my own authority’s point of view because I was not party to that dialogue that you referred to.”

    Having “heard nothing” on the matter, he asked Cllr Bradburn if he had.

    Cllr Bradburn replied: “If Buckinghamshire desperately want it, I am sure the chief executive of Milton Keynes would consider that but there seems to be a urgency to get it to Buckinghamshire.

    “What is the rush for Buckinghamshire to run it? Is it because they want the Home Office money? It seems strange to me, why not stand by the way we have always done it?”

    The decision was deferred to the panel’s next meeting in November.

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