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SPECIAL REPORT: Northamptonshire police commissioner’s office now costs £1.4 million to run a year

Wootton Hall, Police HQ, Mereway. Safest place in the country conference with  Adrian Lee and Adam Simmonds.

Wootton Hall, Police HQ, Mereway. Safest place in the country conference with Adrian Lee and Adam Simmonds.

The number of staff employed by Northamptonshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has almost trebled and the wage spend nearly doubled in the 18 months since he started his job, latest figures have shown.

A Freedom of Information request revealed PCC Adam Simmonds employed 12 staff in his office at an annual cost of £729,100 when he began his new role in November 2012.

By March 31 this year, the number of staff had risen to 34 and the associated costs had increased to a total of £1.4 million.

Analysis of all the staff structures used by PCCs at all the other police forces in England revealed Mr Simmonds had the largest amount of employees under his direct control.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) in Northamptonshire has 10 more staff members than West Midlands police force which covers an area almost five times as large.

Even after taking out 18 members of his staff who are “shared” with the chief constable, Mr Simmonds still has the largest amount of employees relative to the size of the police force he leads.

The figures also do not take into the account the new Crime Institute which has 12 staff, some of whom are funded by the commission.

The commission has defended the size of the department, arguing it is essential to deliver the change required to the police force.

But Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood), the leader of the Labour Group on Northamptonshire County Council, said he thought the PCC was not achieving value for money.

Councillor McGhee said: “We have been opposed to the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) from the outset, but feel that if they showed value for money, then they would have been difficult to argue against.

“We were told that creating PCCs would give power to local people to help them influence decisions over local policing priorities, when in reality all the scheme has provided in Northamptonshire is an opportunity for Adam Simmonds to spend £1.4m [double the cost of the former Police Authority].

“It simply cannot be right that several members of staff in the PCC’s office earn three times more than the average salary of a person in Northamptonshire. What a kick in the teeth for the hard-working people across this county who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Councillor Brendan Glynane, leader of the Liberal Democrat group for Northamptonshire County Council, said the public would feel outraged at the increase in costs of the PCC’s office.

Councillor Glynane said; “The PCC promised to reduce costs and increase frontline policing when he started the role. I think people will ask whether he has delivered on that promise. I think people will be dismayed over the lack of control he has shown over his own budget.”

Former Northamptonshire Police officer, Justin Brown, who set up a website to challenge Mr Simmonds, said the commissioner was guilty of “empire building”.

Mr Brown said: “Adam Simmonds tells us the police need to save millions of pounds and advocates volunteers on a vast scale. Yet he finds it completely acceptable to create a small army of staff out of public funds.”

However, Michael Ellis, Conservative MP for Northampton North, who is a member of the Home Affairs Select committee who recently published a report on the role of PCCs, said he thought Mr Simmonds was doing a good job.

Mr Ellis said: “A number of the employees included in the calculations are police employees in the communications team and under joint ownership with the chief constable, so it gives a misleading picture.

“What matters is the outcomes of the office and, like everybody else who is elected, members of the public will be able to vote based on what he has achieved and his record at the end of his term.

“There is bound to be teething problems and criticism of a brand new role which is under such heavy public scrutiny. I think he is doing a good job and he will be judged by his outcomes. People in a political office have a history of appointing people they feel they can work with. Adam Simmonds said he advertised and appointed staff in the normal way.

“The old police authorities were largely anonymous whereas the police and crime commissioners are very much in the public eye and have an awful lot of media scrutiny. I think that is a good thing.”

Conservative MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, said he also thought Mr Simmonds was doing a very good job and needed a number of staff roles to support his work.

Mr Binley said: “I think if you look at the reduction in police costs it will balance out. We all need to judge him over a longer period. I do think he needs to keep a close eye on budgeting. All public servants need to ensure they are spending public money wisely.”

‘CHANGING THE FACE OF POLICE FORCE NEEDS A NEW APPROACH’

Changing the county’s police force needs investment and resource, according to the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

Staffing levels in the commissioner’s office have nearly tripled in the 18 months since Adam Simmonds took charge. The cost of running the office has doubled to £1.4 million.

But a spokesman for the Office of the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commission (OPCC) said comparisons with the previous police authority were meaningless.

“Any comparisons with other commission offices across the country is equally less meaningful as we operate in completely different ways,” he said. “We set out from day one to maintain police numbers, to do some very innovative things and to change things for the better. All this needs investment.

“When the commissioner took office the first thing he did was to reverse the decision by the previous police authority to reduce the number of police officers. We have pledged to retain officers at 1,220.

“We also developed a police and crime plan to reflect the priorities people asked for, including reducing violent crime and putting the victims of crime at the centre of the criminal justice system.

“There is better public involvement, better working with local communities and a large number of high-profile initiatives.

“The world is changing and we either sit back and try to do the same with less, or see what we can do better by using technology and different ways of working.”

New body-worn cameras were one example of this, he said, and other crime commissioners were now looking to replicate many of the initiatives that had been launched in Northamptonshire.

“To do all these things needs investment and that is why we have people employed in the office with different specialisms.

“Under the old regime no-one was doing this.

“If you want to change and improve, you need fresh ideas and a new approach,” he added.

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