Watchdog urges commissioner to delay chief constable appointment

Police, fire and crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe Picture: LDRS

An influential watchdog has urged a police commissioner to delay the appointment of a new chief constable for up to 15 months, partly to ensure the top police officer sees eye-to-eye with an incoming elected mayor.

All but four members of North Yorkshire and York’s police, fire and crime panel voted to recommend to commissioner Zoe Metcalfe that she postpones finding a successor to chief constable Lisa Winward, who announced last month she would retire in March after a 30-year policing career.

A meeting of the panel at City of York Council’s base heard Ms Winward’s retirement had come at a particularly inopportune time as she would be leaving the key role just weeks before a mayor, who would set policing priorities, was expected to be elected to an incoming combined authority.

Panel members heard while the commissioner had decided to launch the recruitment process, with a likely appointment date in April, if the process was launched after the expected mayoral election in May, a new chief constable may not be appointed until 2025.

Ms Metcalfe told the meeting she had been independently advised to launch the recruitment as soon as practically possible by a string of national bodies and top officials, including the chiefs of the police inspectorate and the college of policing as well as Unison.

She said the force’s operational status, coupled with the force’s required improvement plan, the stability of the force and the need for strong leadership had been part of her decision-making process.

Ms Metcalfe said: “I am not satisfied that deferring the decision to the incoming mayor, which would incur inevitable delay, for many months, and even extending until 2025, is the right decision for the public, delivery of service and North Yorkshire Police.”

Following concerns that uncertainty over who the incoming mayor would be could deter some candidates from applying to be chief constable, she added the role of leading the force was an “immensely exciting prospect” for any police leader.

She underlined that if the process was delayed until after the election the deputy chief constabke wuld be asked to step up for “a very prolonged period of time”.

She said her experience of working with chief constables was that they were “very professional people” who would go out of their way to make a working relationship with the new mayor and deliver the mayor’s priorities.

Panel member Martin Walker, a former judge, backed the commissioner’s decision, saying one of the main criteria for a chief constable was to be “independent and strong”.

He said: “If two people at the top of the most difficult, important and complex jobs can’t get on, and it has to depend on personalities, I think that’s wrong and frankly it wouldn’t be fit to do the job.

“In my own experience, throughout my career, I have had to work with people I don’t like, and I’m sure some didn’t like me, but it’s necessary to do that in life, and in my view you have to get on with it.”

However, several panel members said the relationship between the mayor and chief constable was vital and they wanted to see the priorities of the incoming mayor part of the process for the selection of a new chief constable.

The meeting the commissioner repeatedly pressed to pause the recruitment process until after a mayor is elected.

Councillor Lindsay Burr, who represents Malton, said it would be an incorrect decision for the public to appoint a chief constable when the force’s strategic direction had not been set by the incoming mayor.

Huby councillor and former police officer Malcolm Taylor said while moving ahead with recruiting a chief constable might be a good decision in the short-term, the appointment was a long-term role.