The political balance of a group of councillors tasked with holding to account the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber has again been called into question.
The Thames Valley Police & Crime Panel is made up of nominees from various councils across the patch and is meant to be supplemented by two independent members who are not councillors.
Following a political squabble and deadlocked vote in June over which political group would provide the chair – a role that is meant to be politically neutral – both independent members Phillip Morrice and Liz Jones resigned.
Mr Morrice had seemed set to resolve that impasse between Conservatives on one side and Labour and Liberal Democrats on the other by using a casting vote, but Councillor Simon Rouse (Con, Buckinghamshire Council) interjected, pointing out it had been declared that he had vacated the chair.
When the panel next met in September, the Conservatives had the numbers in the room to win the vote, with Councillor Keith McLean (Con, Milton Keynes Council) taking the chair and Councillor Eddie Reeves, who represents Cherwell District Council but who is also the leader of the Tory opposition at Oxfordshire County Council, named vice-chair.
Since then, the search to replace the independent members has been led by Councillors McLean, Reeves and Rouse, who decided to put forward one of the three candidates that came forward, Peter Gammond.
One of the unnamed two who was rejected has now penned a letter questioning whether politics influenced the selection process.
Councillor Karen Rowland (Lab, Reading Borough Council) said: “I appreciate that a member was selected and put forward, but just to make colleagues aware, a person that I had suggested to be put forward (who) was not chosen has received his rejection and has taken himself out of future consideration.
“He has sent Khalid (Ahmed, scrutiny officer) a letter that I have been cc’d (copied in) on that is questioning the make-up of the panel being three Conservative members, that it is not more representative of the population.
“I just wanted to let members know that I am in cc on that letter and wanted to know if I could seek any public comment on that.”
Councillor McLean replied: “The applications were received by the scrutiny officer and circulated to the members of the selection panel.
“We interviewed all three in the manner you would expect for a public appointment, i.e. the same questions were asked of each of them, and we felt that the one candidate we have put forward, Peter Gammond, was suitable.
“I can assure you the reasons that we did not put forward either of the other two candidates were nothing to do with any political persuasion. I think anyone who sat in on the interviews that we did would probably have totally agreed with the decision we made.
“At no point did we talk about political allegiance, and nor did they.”
It was decided that Mr Gammond would join the panel for a four-year period and that the vacant second role for an independent member would be readvertised.