New police, fire and crime boss pledges to maintain high standards

North Yorkshire and York deputy mayor police, fire and crime Jo Coles with chief constable Tim Forber and chief fire officer Jonathan Dyson. Picture: LDRS.

The incoming police, fire and crime boss for North Yorkshire and York has pledged to maintain high standards and work on behalf of the public following the three previous incumbents of the role facing controversy and calls to step down.

Deputy mayor, police, fire and crime Jo Coles said she was determined to remain “honest and transparent” with the public on her second day in the role, which is similar to the police, fire and crime commissioner post set up across the area in 2012, but without budget-setting responsibilities.

The Labour councillor for Westfield in York told a launch event at North Yorkshire Police and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s base in Northallerton, emphasis while her ward had some significant issues she would look to serve all the residents of North Yorkshire and York.

While some of her predecessors have been accused of getting too close to chief police and fire officers, she emphasised she would abide by the Nolan principles relating to upholding standards in public office and would remain “the voice of the public”.

The comments follow Ms Coles’ predecessors, Julia Mulligan, Philip Allott and Zoe Metcalfe facing a range of criticisms, particularly from York and North Yorkshire councillors.

When asked what she would do to avoid pitfalls which had seen all three of her predecessors face calls to step down, she said she was “a forward-looking person” who would pay heed to the advice of professionals and police, fire and crime commissioner’s office.

She added: “I don’t think anyone should ever assume that everything will always go right, because people make mistakes and it’s important to be honest and transparent when things go wrong to retain the trust of the public.

“Ultimately this is a role that is about ensuring the public has some accountability with police, fire and crime across the region, my job is to ensure their voices are heard, but also to ensure the public is aware of what’s happening and how services are operating.

“That transparency works both ways and I’m absolutely committed to operating in that way.”

She told the event how the criminal justice system was at “breaking point if it’s not already broken”, and that she was looking forward to hearing the Fire Brigades Union’s ideas on tackling the challenges facing the service as well-being keen to see how a public heath approach could help prevent the causes of crime.

However, she added she was “still trying to find my way around” the role, adding her decision-making would be based on evidence.

She added she agreed with most of the chief constable’s priorities but wanted to work with other bodies to ensure the best service for residents.

Ms Coles said: “I am completely aware of the role I’m coming into in terms of the responsibility to be the voice of the public and to hold senior police and fire officers to account.”

The deputy mayor, who was selected for the role by York and North Yorkshire mayor David Skaith, said she was aware that the fire service was among the lowest funded brigades in the country and sorting out its long-standing financial issues were at the top of her priorities for the service.

She said she understood the fire service’s financial issues had originated when councillors who were overseeing the brigade about 14 years ago chose to freeze its council tax demand and “the service never caught up again”.

Ms Coles said: “I am absolutely looking to work both regionally and nationally to make sure we get the best service for residents, and the fire budget is up there at the top of the list for the fire service.”

When pressed over whether she would be lobbying Labour colleagues in Westminster for more fire service funding, she admitted she did not yet have the answer about what action was needed to resolve the brigade’s financial woes.

Ms Coles said: “Across public services things have been broken, we have to fix them fairly and that means looking at the budgets, how we work collaboratively across the region and talking to national government about what else might be possible.

“But this is not about having fights with people, this is about trying to work collaboratively to get the best deal for residents.

“We have an opportunity because we have the combined authority, we also have a new government. There are all kinds of ways we can look at how budgets are managed or whether we need to increase funding for fire, which we almost certainly do. How we do that is another question and I’m on day two. I’m aware it is an issue we need to sort out.”

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