THE new police and crime commissioner has been accused of “backroom dealing” and “cronyism” over plans to appoint his “buddy” as his deputy.
Bill Longmore, elected boss of West Mercia Police, and proposed deputy Barrie Sheldon were grilled by outraged councillors during the first meeting of the West Mercia police and crime panel at County Hall in Worcester yesterday.
If appointed, former detective inspector Mr Sheldon, the commssioner’s campaign manager, would get £50,000 a year with pension and expenses.
The position would be funded by the taxpayer, like the commissioner’s own £75,000 job.
The panel refused to back the appointment of the 57-year-old but have no power to veto the commissioner’s decision, leading Councillor Sebastian Bowen to describe the panel as “a bulldog with rubber teeth”.
Coun Adrian Hardman, leader of Worcestershire County Council, led the assault at a tense and awkward meeting, asking Mr Longmore why plans to appoint a deputy were not mentioned in his campaign literature.
Coun Hardman said he could see why the word 'cronyism' had been used and he wasn't surprised there was hostility. He argued that Mr Sheldon was a 'mirror image' of his boss as both had served as police officers.
Coun John Campion said if a local council or the NHS had acted in the same way, there would be uproar. He said: “There will be accusations of cronyism. Why are you choosing to give £50,000 a year of public money to an individual without a competitive process?
"Your first major decision is a backroom deal that can be seen as you putting one of your buddies in a highly paid job.”
Concerns were expressed that the deputy would duplicate the role of commissioner, not complement it, creating three chief constables.
Mr Longmore took offence at Mr Sheldon, who is also a former police officer, being described as one of his buddies.
He said: “I don’t like the word crony being used. To me, it’s all about getting the right person for the job.
"I don't think he's a mirror image of me. I think my wife would disagree.
“There has never been anyone like me in the way I think and act. The similarity is that we both have the passion and commitment and want to go and do a good job.”
The chairman of the committee, Coun Paul Middlebrough, said Mr Longmore’s plans were a matter of “grave public concern”.
He said the proposed deputy must have thought all his “Christmases had come at once” when asked to take the job.
Mr Sheldon said he met the police and crime commissioner and the chief executive of the police authority to discuss the role.
Mr Sheldon said he had limited experience of dealing with public finances and had never managed a big business but was involved in managing organisational changes in West Mercia Police.
He also revealed he had not yet decided whether to take his pension and redundancy pay, which would push up his salary to £70,000.
Although contracted to work 37 hours a week, he said it would be more like 60 hours, and claimed if there had been a selection process he would have been the best person for the job.
Written notice will be given to the commissioner of the panel’s recommendation and he is expected to reach a decision soon on whether to follow their advice.
After the meeting the commissioner declined to comment about his reaction to the panel’s recommendation.