Friday brief: Police and crime commissioner withholds legal advice used to appoint colleague as fire chief
Plus other news from Northants
Northamptonshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner is withholding the external advice given which he says told him it was ok to appoint a colleague to the top job leading the county’s fire service.
NN Journal asked commissioner Stephen Mold to reveal the advice which told him it was legally sound to bypass the usual channels and appoint long term colleague Nicci Marzec as chief fire officer without the approval of the county’s police, fire and crime panel. But we were refused.
By law the panel has the statutory responsibility of holding the commissioner, who is an elected politician, to account and also has a key role in appointing any chief officers.
However last Friday commissioner Mold made the announcement he had appointed long Marzec to the post, without any other candidates being considered.
He also only told the chair of the panel, Cllr David Smith of Marzec’s appointment shortly before it was made public, giving him no say in the matter.
The appointment has led to many questions and has been called ‘horrifying’ by the Fire Brigades Union who said Marzec has been put in post ‘without adequate democratic process or scrutiny’. Prior to her roles within Stephen Mold’s office she had middle management jobs within local government and is understood to hold a HR qualification.
She was appointed as head of paid service in 2018 and according to the local democracy service is paid £104,000 before the £35,00 payment for chief officer.
When we asked the commissioner’s office to share the legal advice - provided by East Midlands Police Legal Services - they said:
“We have shared the legal advice with West Northamptonshire Council’s monitoring officer and it would be inappropriate to share more widely until we have had the opportunity to fully brief all panel members and answer their questions direct.”
Asked why Marzec’s appointment did not need to go for consideration by the panel when a similar interim appointment for a chief constable earlier this year did, we were told:
“Paul Gibson was an external candidate, so his appointment required and received ratification from the Panel.”
However, back in 2018 when Marzec and colleague Paul Bullen were promoted to joint head of paid service, even though they were internal candidates the panel had to approve the promotion.
NN Journal understands that a panel may meet in arrears to appoint Marzec.
Independent panel member Anita Shields, who has questioned whether Mold’s actions were legally sound, said: “[If that happens] I am going to say to him, ‘what is the point? You have already implemented the post. You have published the appointment. You cannot put the cart before the horse. It is fait accompli. So why call the panel?’”
If the panel is convened eight of the 12 panel members would have to vote against the appointment of Marzec to veto it. As the panel has a conservative majority, that may be an unlikely result.
News in brief:
A solar farm that could be used to power up to 14,000 homes could be given the go-ahead next week.
EDF Energy Renewables wants to build its Glassthorpe Solar Farm off Brington Road, north of the M1 in Flore and near Little Brington.
The company said 99,840 solar panels would be used to produce 49.9MW of electricity which would be fed into the National Grid.
The 96 hectare site would be divided into two parts and each would have access for vehicles if West Northamptonshire Council’s strategic planning committee approves it next Tuesday.
Planning officers have recommended it is approved.
But parish councils said they were worried that good quality agricultural land could be lost.
Flore Parish Council voted to support it and said it accepted “there is a pressing need to generate power from renewable sources in the face of carbon-driven climate change”.
But it said it was concerned about the loss of land “reducing the solar panels’ benefit…since such land is likely to become of even greater value as the pressure on worldwide food production grows and this country faces a growing need to import grain”.
Upper Heyford Parish Council objected too and CPRE Northamptonshire has also asked for it to be refused.
Stowe Nine Churches Parish Council said it too had concerns.
Councillors initially held a meeting in June but the decision was deferred to next week so they could undertake a site visit.
Report by Nathan Briant, Local Democracy Reporter
The councillor in charge of special needs provision at West Northamptonshire Council has refused to resign in face of claims she presided over “failure after failure”.
Councillor Fiona Baker last week said delays to a project that mean some children with special needs start school at least a month late “could have been a disaster” but was a “positive result”.
Cllr Baker struck a more conciliatory note at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday when she said the last fortnight had been “really challenging” for children and parents affected by delays at the proposed unit at Hunsbury Park Primary School in Northampton.
The unit for 50 children had been due to open in September but some of the children will now be educated at Chiltern Primary School in the town from October. It is still not clear whether the new unit will be built.
Shortly before she presented a three-year strategy for special needs provision, Cllr Baker told cabinet members: “I need to acknowledge the impact this has had on children and their families and I am committed that the council will learn from this experience.
“For me as a cabinet member the last two weeks have also been challenging. I remain disappointed that we have not delivered on our own expectations.”
Labour group leader, Cllr Wendy Randall said Cllr Baker had presided over multiple failures, including issues with special needs provision that saw nine families affected by problems paid a total of nearly £49,000 in compensation.
But Cllr Baker said:
“I do have to say that calls for my resignation are not helpful, not just for me personally but also for the service as it does not support the stability that we are working so hard to create.”
Report by Nathan Briant
The murder trial of the teenagers who killed Northampton schoolboy Rohan Shand started this week.
Read the BBC’s coverage here.
Kettering MP Phillip Hollobone yesterday took aim at the doctors strike saying every three-day strike is costing the local Kettering hospital £250,000.
He told leader of the house of commons Penny Mordaunt:
“That money could be better spent on reducing the waiting lists and improving patient care. Will she make a statement urging the doctors to withdraw their completely unrealistic 35% pay demand and to get back to work so that Kettering General Hospital can get back to work on cutting the waiting lists and improving patient outcomes?”
The hospital has been waiting for funding for a rebuild for many years, and still has not received the promised millions. Recently its children’s ward was rated as ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission, which accused the organisation of not having an ‘open culture’.
Yesterday after several months of industrial action the government offered various public sector professions a pay increase, with a 6.5 per cent offer for teachers and 6 per cent for junior doctors and consultants. PM Rish Sunak urged the doctors to take the pay rise and said no further offers would be coming.
📖 You can catch the subject of last Saturday’s culture piece conservationist and author Mark Avery giving a talk at Raunds library on Thursday from 7pm.
🌳 The John Clare Festival is happening in Helpston from today until Sunday. More details of what’s on here.
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