Saturday, 20 April 2013

Leaky arguments

There have now been three arrests for the leaking of information about the Cumbrian police commissioner Richard Rhodes' £700 expense claims for two chauffeur-driven trips. Richard has now apologised for the expenses, and has paid them back, but the people arrested still face substantial jail terms for making public what should have been public anyway.

Something is not right here. This is not a private company we are talking about. As Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, has said: “Details of the expenses of public officials ought to be publicly available anyway, we shouldn’t have to rely on leaks to find these things out. ..Most councils publish this information on a regular basis so why not the police commissioner?"

In fact, police commissioners expenses are supposed to be regularly published. According to the Daily Mail, "PCCs, who earn £65,000 to £100,000 depending on the size of their force, must disclose their expenses every three months, but more than half the 45 in England and Wales have failed to". The PCC elections were back in November, and the expenses were apparently incurred very early in Mr. Rhodes' tenure, so I have to wonder when the expenses would have been reported if there hadn't been a leak. The decision to repay the expenses was also apparently taken after the leak occurred. Would that decision have been taken, if there had been no leak?

The Home Secretary has said that PCCs are ultimately "accountable to the electorate", and the public will decide if they have "done their job properly", but how can the public decide such things if the only information they get is from leaks that are then aggressively pursued?

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