Questions asked about why police commissioner appointed member of his team to fire chief role
Chief fire officer stood down on Friday and his replacement has not been received well
By Sarah Ward
There is widespread concern about why Northamptonshire Police and Fire commissioner Stephen Mold has appointed a member of his own staff to take on the job leading the county’s fire service.
The fire brigades union (FBU) and members of the statutory panel which holds the commissioner to account have expressed concern about the appointment of Nicci Marzec, when she has no operational experience at a top level in the fire service.
The sudden resignation of the former fire chief Mark Jones, who only took up the role twelve months ago, has also left many unanswered questions after Stephen Mold’s office made the announcement on its website late on Friday afternoon.
The FBU says that Marzec, who has been head of paid service and monitoring office within Stephen Mold’s office since 2018, ‘has no operational experience’ and called her appointment a ‘horrifying decision’.
Members of the Northants police and crime panel have voiced their uneasiness at why the decision to appoint Marzec did not involve them, as is usually the case. When a temporary chief constable took over the running of Northants police force earlier this year, there was a confirmation hearing in front of the panel before the appointment was made.
Independent panel member Anita Shields says she thinks the new interim chief fire officer appointment has been made ‘illegally’ and has called for a special meeting of the panel to be convened.
Marzec will be deputised by incoming deputy chief fire officer Simon Tunhill who starts in this new post next week.
When NN Journal asked a series of questions to the commissioner’s office yesterday, we were told the commissioner had taken legal advice before appointing his long term colleague.
His office said the decision to appoint Marzec was taken by the ‘wider team’.
A spokesperson said:
“We took legal advice on the process, which confirmed a confirmation hearing was not required for an acting up role. We will of course hold a hearing when the post is appointed to on a permanent basis.
“The police, fire and crime commissioner has contacted the chair of the police, fire and crime panel and briefed him and asked to be able to introduce Nicci Marzec and Simon Tuhill to the panel at the next scheduled meeting. Separately, the PFCC will be briefing the panel on the acting arrangements. Nicci Marzec is an existing member of staff taking on temporary higher responsibilities as Acting Chief Officer. The legal advice was that this arrangement does not need to be ratified by the panel.”
Asked whether any other candidates were considered the response was:
“This is an acting appointment. Nicci Marzec was put forward to hold the role by the wider team, because she has been the service monitoring officer for the past four years and has worked closely with the chief fire officer team.”
Asked on what basis she had been appointed the office said:
“There is much improvement required in culture and people. The PFCC expects the acting chief officer to lead this area and push forward to make this service a more comfortable and inclusive place for everyone to work and to run efficiently as an organisation.”
“The arrangement will be reviewed regularly but will not go beyond the next PFCC elections [May 2024]. Recruiting immediately would mean an incoming chief fire officer would only be in post very shortly before the political purdah period before an election.
“Some of Nicci Marzec’s current responsibilities for managing staff within the OPFCC will be transferred to colleagues while she is acting chief officer.”
According to her Linkedin profile Marzec has had a career in local government since the mid 2000s, and worked for the former county council managing the troubled families scheme before joining in the office of the police and crime commissioner in 2016. Her role was early intervention director.
After the departure of chief executive Martin Scoble in late 2018 she was appointed jointly with Paul Bullen as head of paid services and monitoring officer. Bullen then moved onto another post in 2020 and Marzec has carried out the role since then.
She will be paid an additional £35,000 for the new role on top of her current salary which is around £80,000. She will also have use of the chief fire officer’s car.
Every police and crime commissioner (which is a political post) is held to account by a police and crime panel. The statutory panel meets quarterly to question the commissioner on performance and a key role is to ratify any chief officer appointments put forward by the commissioner. It has the power to veto any suggested appointments.
Independent member of the police and crime panel Anita Shields only found out of the appointment when contacted over the weekend by NN Journal. The chair of the panel Cllr David Smith had not informed her, as she said she would have expected.
She said she thinks the appointment may even be illegal as it has not followed the process as set out by government.
“Members of the panel should have been informed by the chair at the very least of the executive decision that the commissioner was about to make and to call an extraordinary meeting. That’s what he should have done, so the panel could then be made aware of the situation.
“As it is, the panel had to learn from the media.
“It is up to the panel to account for a check and balance and as it is here, it is robbing the panel of doing the due diligence of a process that has worked up to now, by a confirmation hearing.
“Even if it is an emergency thing, it should be informed by email, or text - but nothing has been done.
“The media knew everything and we didn’t. This is not democracy - this is dictatorial.”
Anita Shields has requested the chair of the panel hold an extraordinary general meeting as soon as possible.
We were unable to speak with Cllr Smith directly but the media office at West Northamptonshire Council said he had not been consulted about the appointment and was only informed of it shortly before the news was made public.
“WNC officers are looking at this to ensure the panel discharges its responsibilities. Should an extraordinary panel meeting be required in doing this then one will be convened, five clear business days would be required to do this.”
Departure of Mark Jones
Mark Jones’ appointment in July last year was not itself without controversy as he came out of retirement to do the highly paid job.
Asked about his departure the commissioner’s office said it was ‘by mutual agreement.’
“He said that he had been affected by injuries and wished to take time to concentrate on his well-being and make a full recovery.”
Asked when it was finalised that Jones would leave, the commissioner’s team said it was confidential and also said any compensation or payments to him would also be confidential.
The Fire Brigades Union
The FBU has come out against the decision to appoint Marzec.
FBU regional officer Adam Taylor said:
“The chief fire officer is responsible for keeping the communities of Northamptonshire safe. How can you do that with no experience and where is the accountability when things go wrong?”
The union also has concerns about the lack of scrutiny given to Marzec’s appointment. Adam Taylor said a meeting was being called of its Northants members this week and a demonstration outside the next police and crime panel meeting could take place if members decided.
The police commissioner
Stephen Mold has been the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Northamptonshire since 2016. In 2019 he was one of the first commissioners to take on the responsibility for the fire service as well.
During his time in office the force has slightly improved from rated as ‘inadequate’ by inspectors to ‘requiring improvement’. Mold has been accused of a lack of transparency before and has on many occasions declined to give the police and crime panel crime data when they have asked for it.
Labour’s Danielle Stone who will be attempting to win the commissioner role at the elections in May, is also not happy with the appointment.
“Now we have a lay person, and someone very close to Mold put in as the interim chief.
“It is unbelievable. It smacks of nepotism. It devalues the skill and knowledge fire staff have.”