UPDATE at the end of the post.
Full council meetings in the East Riding of Yorkshire are usually dull affairs, however yesterday afternoon high drama replaced the usual humdrum.
I commented towards the end of last year that Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Matthew Grove had appointed his council colleague, Paul Robinson, as his deputy. The Police and Crime Panel (PCP), by an eight to one margin, advised Mr Grove to think again about the appointment, however he rejected their advice, and confirmed Mr Robinson's appointment. Yesterday the following motion appeared on the agenda at the full council meeting:
That this Council considers the role of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner to be incompatible with holding office as an elected member of this Council.
The motion was proposed and seconded by the Labour opposition group, however despite it being an opposition motion, the Conservative leader, Stephen Parnaby, allowed a free vote, despite Paul Robinson being a member of his group. Cllr Parnaby went further and also spoke in favour of the motion, as did the majority of his Conservative colleagues.
The majority of councillors present felt there was a conflict of interest in the Deputy PCC remaining as a councillor and voted 54 in favour; 5 against; with 4 abstaining. This is despite Mr Robinson announcing to the media, and on his blog, that he still intends to continue representing his constituents in Howdenshire. He also announced he intends to give up his councillor's allowance.
So what happens next? Well, yesterday's vote has no legal standing, although their arguments about a conflict of interest, and Mr Robinson not having the time to fulfil both roles, are not without merit.
Mr Robinson has been forced to stand down from certain scrutiny committees because there is a conflict of interest, and whilst the last thing we want are councillors not having any outside interests, if Mr Robinson is representing the PCC, he cannot also attend meetings on behalf of his constituents. During other meetings there will be times when he will have to recuse himself, and therefore will not be in a position to fully represent his constituents' interests. I know there are other examples in the country where councillors have been appointed deputies, but I cannot see how in practice it will work.
Politicians have to be honest with the voters, and they also have to listen to them. All prospective PCCs should have made clear during the election whether or not they intended to appoint deputies. This would have given the voters the opportunity to make an informed decision on the package they were voting for. Too many people have commented since Mr Robinson's appointment that they were unaware a deputy would be named.
Voters in Howdenshire should also have the right to recall. Judging by the comments made on local newspaper websites, and by those people contacting the BBC in Hull, many of his constituents feel he should stand down. They feel the goal posts have been changed and that he cannot represent them in the same way as before. If enough of them feel this way, they should be allowed to either say yes or no to him continuing as a councillor now, not at the next election in over two years' time.
UPDATE 14 January:
Mr Robinson announced on Friday 11 January that he intends to resign his council seat.