Woman who has spent years holding the police, fire and crime commissioner to account quits saying ‘my voice does not count at all’
By Sarah Ward
An independent member of Northamptonshire’s police, fire and crime panel has decided to resign following the actions of the commissioner over recent months and two anonymous complaints made against her.
Anita Shields, together with Labour’s Zoe McGhee, have been the most vocal members of the county’s police, fire and crime panel, which came out of the shadows this summer following the police, fire and crime commissioner Stephen Mold’s appointment of his close friend Nicci Marzec as the interim chief fire officer after serving chief Mark Jones left.
Nicci Marzec’s appointment caused a huge furore with both Anita Shields and Zoe McGhee publicly critical of the decision, saying it should have been considered by the panel as all other senior appointments have been.
Ten days after her appointment, Nicci Marzec stood down amid calls for her departure from the influential Fire Brigades Union (FBU)and national media attention.
Anita Shields, who has been on the panel for eight years and has a background in local government finance, has recently been informed of two anonymous complaints made against her to West Northamptonshire Council (WNC). The complainants have cited accusations she had made about Nicci Marzec’s relationship with the Conservative commissioner and a lack of respect for the panel’s chair David Smith. Mrs Shields has now decided to resign having become ‘very sceptical’ of the role of the panel.
“I feel like the panel does not mean anything and that as an independent member my voice does not count at all.
“I used to think it did, but nothing is being done. I am not going to play the game.”
At a meeting in July to appoint Nicci Marzec’s replacement, Mrs Shields and Zoe McGhee decided to walkout saying they were not being given the opportunity to hold the commissioner to account for his decision to appoint a friend to a top job, with Mrs Shields saying the matter was ‘being brushed under the carpet’.
The panel met in September to scrutinise the commissioner’s appointment of Nicci Marzec and decided to ‘note his error of judgement’ and impose the light sanction of reading the code of conduct again.
A letter was sent to Anita Shields on January 2 from WNC’s deputy monitoring officer Sarah Hall citing the two anonymous complaints and asking for a response within seven days. The letter said a decision would be made about whether an investigation should take place and she would be notified in writing. She has not had any correspondence since.
The complaints referenced a lack of respect shown by Mrs Shields to interim fire officer Simon Tuhill at his confirmation hearing, ‘disparaging remarks’ made about Nicci Marzec and a ‘refusal to stop speaking’ when asked by the chair.
As an independent panel member Mrs Shields is paid £500 per year to be part of the panel, plus expenses.
The role of the panel is to hold commissioner Mold to account for his actions and performance. Since he came to power in 2016, police inspectors have found the Northants police force has improved from an inadequate force to one requiring improvement.
However the commissioner’s appointments have caused concern - in particular those of his friend Nicci Marzec and also questions are being asked of his 2018 appointment of chief constable Nick Adderley who is due to face a gross misconduct hearing for potential breaches of police standards for professional behaviour concerning honesty, integrity and discreditable conduct.
Chief constables are supposed to receive advanced vetting before appointment, which would have been the responsibility of the commissioner to request. NN Journal asked his office in October whether vetting had taken place and were told it would be ‘inappropriate to comment’ due to the ongoing investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Stephen Mold’s preferred candidate for the new fire chief, former deputy chief constable of Avon and Somerset police Nikky Watson, has also been criticised by the FBU, who says the officer does not have the ‘necessary experience’.
However following a last minute no show in December to her confirmation hearing, Watson still has not been appointed, with no date set for when she may officially get the role.
Anita Shields has been one of the most vocal panel members, continually asking for performance indicators and benchmarking of the police and fire service against other forces.
The police, fire and crime commissioner and WNC have been contacted for a response to Anita Shields resignation and the commissioner’s office said ‘it would not be appropriate to comment’.
The panel will meet today to set the annual precept. The commissioner, who will go up for re-election in May, is proposing to raise payments for the average band d household to an extra £15 a year for fire and police services.
The meeting can be watched live on WNC’s YouTube Channel starting from 12.30pm.