The Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel examines and reviews how PCC Matthew Barber ensures that Thames Valley Police, which covers Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, runs effectively and offers support to his work.
It is seen as a scrutiny function with members remaining politically neutral in offering constructive criticism and ideas while holding the PCC to account.
Published government advice for chairs of such panels states "the committee must not become a battleground between members of different parties" and that “cross-party working is essential” but precious little of that spirit was on show in failing to select a new chair for 2022-23.
A signal of what was to come arrived straightaway with Khalid Ahmed, the panel's scrutiny officer, announcing that a pre-meeting briefing had led to the decision to appoint a temporary chair.
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That was required to rubber stamp the transfer of one of the panel’s places from Buckinghamshire Council to Milton Keynes Council to achieve more equal representation for authorities across the board.
Councillor Robin Bradburn (Lib Dem, Milton Keynes Council) noted that any temporary chair was likely to end up in an “uncomfortable position” and clarified with Mr Ahmed that whoever it was would have the casting vote should there be deadlock on any matters that followed.
The 20-strong panel includes two independent members who are not councillors. One of those, Phillip Morrice, was voted into that post with eight votes, including his own. Councillor David Carroll (Con, Buckinghamshire Council) had received seven votes without voting himself. Only members or their substitutes who are present in person can vote.
Once the new makeup was confirmed, Mr Ahmed said “I think Phillip can vacate the temporary chairmanship” and the meeting moved on to the vote for a permanent chair.
Cllr Bradburn and Councillor Keith McLean (Con, Milton Keynes Council) were put forward and received eight votes apiece.
Mr Morrice had voted for Cllr Bradburn and was invited to use his casting vote by Mr Ahmed but Councillor Simon Rouse (Con, Buckinghamshire) interjected, telling Mr Ahmed: “For the record, you noted that Mr Morrice vacated the chair for that agenda item, you led that agenda item.
“I would also point to the fact that the point of order at the beginning of the meeting sought an independent member to chair it because they were, by definition, independent in what was clearly going to be a political group vote.”
Cllr Bradburn argued the vacation had been done in error with Mr Ahmed later apologising “if I messed up”. Conservative councillors proposed a new temporary chair but it soon became apparent that any vote – for a temporary or permanent chair – would be deadlocked at eight votes each.
The meeting was adjourned for private talks to end the impasse but there was no breakthrough and the meeting was abandoned without the PCC presenting his annual report, hearing the panel’s annual report or running through topical issues as planned.
Liz Jones, the other independent panel member, attended remotely and could not vote. She said: “As an independent member, I want to reiterate that our role is non-political.
"I cannot really understand why Phillip Morrice’s vote is being interpreted as political, that would be against the substance of our role. To me, the discussion has gone totally off-piste in attributing a political motive to his vote.”
There are 10 Conservative councillors on the panel with four Liberal Democrats, three Labour, one Green and the two independent members.
As things stand, the panel is next scheduled to meet on September 16, 2022.