Watchdog unanimously approves councillor in £68,750 salary police and fire role

Jo Coles.

An influential watchdog has unanimously approved appointing a Labour councillor who represents one of the York’s most deprived wards to oversee police and fire services in the city and North Yorkshire.

Westfield councillor Jo Cole, who had been nominated for the £68,750 salary role by York and North Yorkshire mayor David Skaith, faced questions from the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel for more than an hour before members enthusiastically endorsed her to become Deputy Mayor Police, Fire and Crime.

While Mr Skaith will have responsibility for setting the budgets and masterplans for the police and fire services, Ms Cole will take on most of the other responsibilities of a police, fire and crime commissioner.

Romanby councillor Peter Wilkinson, who said Ms Coles was “a very strong candidate for the role”, underlined to her how the panel had seen challenging relationships with her predecessors.

Former policeman and Huby and Tollerton division councillor Malcolm Taylor asked Ms Coles to give assurances that she recognised the clear requirement for separation of political and operational responsibilities of the police and fire and rescue services.

In response, she said she was committed to serving the communities of York and North Yorkshire, that she had been honoured to be elected to represent Westfield ward last year, that she was “very driven by evidence” and would endeavour “to stay in touch with the public”.

When Coun Taylor pressed her again, she said she would ask questions of the chief constable and chief fire officer on behalf of the public “to ensure we are properly approved of all the facts”.

Highlighting that both the mayor and Ms Coles were “York-based”, Coun Wilkinson asked her how she would serve the best interests of residents in the city as well as rural North Yorkshire.

She said: “I did anticipate this question. As I said in my statement I was born in North Yorkshire, I grew up in York. I obviously spent time in other places that were not in York and North Yorkshire, horrifically. I live here now, but this whole region is my home.

“But I think for all of us, we none of us can represent everywhere, that’s why it’s important to listen and to engage with people from across the region to be open to different points of view, to be open to different stakeholders who might not be stakeholders who I would habitually deal with.”

When panel member Fraser Forsyth asked Ms Coles to explain any differences in direction she had with the mayor, she turned to Mr Skaith and replied: “What are we going to do when we don’t agree? I actually don’t know!

“The importance of an electoral mandate that David has is that it is his electoral mandate and ultimately I am here because of his electoral mandate and because of the policies on which he stood for election.

“In that respect if David and I have a difference of opinion I will argue my case, I will argue my corner and use the evidence and data that is given to me to try and persuade him, but ultimately David is the mayor.”

Ahead of the panel voting to approve Ms Coles in the role, fellow York Labour councillor Michael Pavlovic said her performance in responding to questions had been “very impressive”, addressing any concerns the panel may have had.