Labour cock up leaves Luton without representation on Bedfordshire Police Authority

As I hinted in an earlier post, there is currently a big row going on about who should represent Luton on the Bedfordshire Police Authority. It seems that arrogance by the Luton Labour party has screwed up the appointment process and left Luton without any members.

The police authority is the body that oversees policing in Bedfordshire, sets the police budget, and appoints senior officers. It is made up of independent members and councillors appointed from the three Bedfordshire local authorities. Following this month’s local elections a new set of councillors needed to be appointed and their membership was to be confirmed at the first meeting of the new police authority last Friday morning.

However, at that meeting the appointment of the three councillors from Luton chosen by Luton Borough Council were rejected. This means that as things stand Luton has no representation on the police authority.

What I understand has happened is as follows.

It is a legal requirement that the councillors who sit on the police authority should reflect the party political balance across Bedfordshire. The number of councillors on the police authority should be in proportion to the number of councillors elected from each political party. Note that this is not reflecting the balance within their own councils but reflecting the balance across the whole of the county.

Following the elections the expectation of the police authority and other officials was that Bedford Council would choose as their representatives a Labour and a Liberal Democrat member, Central Bedfordshire would choose four Conservative councillors, and Luton was expected to send two Labour members and one Liberal Democrat. This would have achieved the right balance. Also, I understand the the Chair of the police authority had written to all three councils asking for as much continuity in appointments as possible given that this is likely to be the last year of the authority in its current form before the Government changes the system.

However, at the meeting of Luton Borough Council earlier in the week things didn’t go to plan. I am told that the Liberal Democrat group put forward for their one expected place Cllr Martin Pantling. Martin has been on the police authority for six years as was, until the election, the Chair of the Performance and Planning Committee. However, presumably believing that they could grab all the places available, the Labour party put forward three councillors. These were Cllr Malik, Cllr Riaz and one of the new councillors Cllr Whitaker. A vote was duly held and by using their majority the three Labour councillors were chosen to go forward to the police authority meeting.

I don’t know whether that decision is because the new membership of the Labour group are particularly keen on policing issues, I have to say that has not been my experience in the past, or it is to do with the fact that members of the police authority receive a healthy allowance of ¬£9,000 a year. Whatever is the reason, it was a very arrogant and short-sighted decision to take.

It was also a completely incompetent one. When the police authority met, Bedford and Central Beds having chosen appointees of the party stripe expected, it had to deal with the fact that to accept the Labour nominations would have meant that the authority had the wrong political balance. So the choice of Labour members from  Luton was rejected.

I suppose it would have been possible for them to accept the Luton nominations but then they would have had to ask Bedford to change their mind about the Labour councillor they had chosen and come up with a second Liberal Democrat. I wonder what the Bedford Labour group think of their Luton brothers and sisters attempting to nick their place?

So this cock up by Luton Labour means that the police authority starts its new term without any councillor representation from Luton. Decisions will be made over the next weeks and months without anybody there to be a voice for Luton’s interests. Obviously, this is not sustainable. I guess that they will have to go back and revisit this at the next council meeting and appoint the people they should have appointed in the first place.

I’d like to hope that Labour at the Town Hall would learn from this farce – but I am not holding my breath.

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