Home Secretary to step in over Lancashire police panel's "political balance"

The police and crime panel is made up of councillors from across Lancashire who hold the police and crime commissioner to account
The police and crime panel is made up of councillors from across Lancashire who hold the police and crime commissioner to account

The government will have to get involved to settle a dispute over the political make-up of the group which scrutinises the work of Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner.

The police and crime panel usually comprises 15 councillors – one from each local authority in the county. The committee must be ‘politically balanced’ with each party’s total number of representatives being in proportion to the number of council seats which they hold across Lancashire.

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But more than four months after this year’s local elections, the line-up of the panel has still not been finalised, because the nominations put forward by each authority have not resulted in the required balance.

In that scenario, three additional members can be added to the panel to try to resolve the problem. But the councils have failed to unanimously back two suggested 18-member compromises – and none will agree to change their original nominees.

Now the Home Secretary has been asked to settle the matter.

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In the meantime, the panel is continuing to function with the politically imbalanced make-up of the 15 original nominated councillors. But the work of the panel’s task and finish groups – set up to explore particular issues – has been delayed by the dispute.

Cllr David Whipp, representing Pendle Council, told the latest meeting of the panel that he felt “hopeless” about the stalemate.

“I think we ought to get on with it,” he said.

“Effectively, the engagement of the panel runs through until March, ahead of the local election period – after which we have to go through the process of making appointments all over again.

“That means there is only about six months during which there is very active scrutiny of the commissioner – so the fact that we have not yet got [agreement] really disappoints me,” he added.

The panel holds the power of veto over commissioner decisions on the proportion of council tax to be levied for the police and the appointment of the chief constable. It can also make other recommendations.

The current political make-up of all of Lancashire’s local authorities means that a balanced police and crime panel of 15 members should comprise six each from the Labour and Conservative parties, one Liberal Democrat and two independents.

But the nominations made by the councils resulted in nine Labour members, four Conservative and one each from the Liberal Democrat and independent groups.

Regulations governing police and crime panels state that political balance should be achieved “as far as is practicable” – leaving the door open for local areas to come to their own consensus.