One can only wonder why Dr Billings, the South Yorkshire PCC decided to recruit an Assistant PCC at the end of June. He already had a staff of twenty-five in his office whose job titles suggest duplication on speed and a significant waste of resources that could be deployed on front line policing: So what, pray, might the good Reverend Dr Billings have been up to?
The recruitment process might present us with one or two clues here, for it all began a few days after the result of the European referendum was known, when the country was distracted by bigger issues, and when the Labour Party had descended into the civil war that may ultimately consign it to electoral oblivion. ‘A good day to bury bad news,’ perhaps? Furthermore, the entire process from advert to appointment took just fourteen working days. Clearly any aspirant Assistant PCC would need to be able to clear their diary at short notice to fit in with that sort of timetable. Assuming their diary was full that is.
So why was Dr Billings in such a rush, given that he managed quite happily without a deputy since he replaced the odious Shaun Wright as PCC in the wake of the Rotherham Child Abuse scandal? Well, Sheffield Town Hall at the time was awash with rumour that Sioned Mair-Richards, then at a loose end having lost her seat on Sheffield City Council in May, was the heir apparent, and today, three months later, the coronation has been officially announced.
Now, many will remember the outcry about Labour cronyism when Isobel Owen, wife of Paul Nicholson, Labour Party Regional Director in Yorkshire and the Humber, was appointed Deputy PCC in West Yorkshire. And it looks like history has repeated itself with the gift of a consolation prize to Ms Mair-Richards for services rendered. Interestingly, whilst outlining Ms Mair-Richards’ experience for the role, Dr Billings made reference to her being Chair of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel before she lost her council seat in May. Indeed she was. She was heavily criticised for cancelling the Police and Crime Panel meeting scheduled for 15th April before Dr Billings stood for re-election as Commissioner on 5th May, but I’m sure she sought expert opinion on whether this was a sensible course of action from her husband, Howard Knight, who, by sheer co-incidence was Dr Billing’s election agent.
But even more interestingly, Dr Billings conveniently forgot to mention that for nine years between 2002 and 2011, Ms Mair-Richards was Scrutiny and Member Development Officer with Rotherham Council and was thus responsible for commissioning and delivering training to those Rotherham councillors whose names still trip off the tongue. And we all know what Alexis Jay and Louise Casey had to say about Rotherham during those years don’t we? Never mind, I’m sure Ms Mair Richards’ experience with an unfit for purpose council will stand her in good stead with a discredited and disgraced police force.