After a slew of allegations and mishaps involving chauffeur-driven trips funded by taxpayers and embarrassing rows over staffing, the country’s newly elected but already beleaguered police leaders have been called into Whitehall to be warned of their responsibilities.
Ministers have told their police and crime commissioners that they must detail their spending and hospitality arrangements online after a new round of damaging headlines about the Conservative law and order policy.
The 41 commissioners in England and Wales, each voted into office in November, were called in for a private meeting with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and the Policing minister, Damian Green, last week following a dispute over the expenses claims of the Cumbria commissioner.
“Damian Green talked about the need to make sure websites were updated, and also with details of hospitality,” said one person present at Tuesday’s meeting in London.
A second attendee insisted the meeting was not held in a “finger wagging” way. But the Government may have to endure questions over the transparency and professionalism of the new system for some time yet, with a spokesman for Martin Surl, an independent commissioner in Gloucestershire, saying he had not been able to put his expenses online because his website was not “fit for purpose”.
The Home Office intervention came as analysis by The Independent revealed that a group of commissioners still have not put their expenses online as outlined by law to “allow the public to hold them to account”.
Those who have not include Alan Hardwick, the commissioner in Lincolnshire, who suspended the force’s temporary Chief Constable and then was forced to reinstate him after his decision-making was criticised as “perverse” by the High Court.
At least three others said they would put their expenses online by the end of this week.
Richard Rhodes, the Conservative commissioner for the Cumbria force, may feel fortunate for not having been named during the meeting after expenses claims came to light showing that he had spent £700 on two chauffeur-driven journeys for evening functions. His office justified the journeys on the grounds of “personal safety”.
The episode led to the arrests of three people, including two police staff members, and criticism of Mr Rhodes’ office which triggered the whistleblower hunt. Mr Rhodes has paid back the money.
The controversy also raised questions over the operational independence of the police after Mr Rhodes’ request for a review on the extent of the police investigation was snubbed by the Chief Constable.
Mr Rhodes undertook to publish his expenses online in light of the controversy. Before the elections of the police leaders in November, the Home Office said that the commissioners must publish quarterly details of expenses, including the class of travel and category of hotels used. Expense claims posted by the commissioners showed detailed submissions by some, while others listed the bare minimum.
A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment about matters discussed at the meeting.
Additional reporting by Laura Lea, Alex Wynick and Adam Dobrik