The third North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner this year has spoken of her confidence about handling the intense scrutiny that comes with the role on her first day in the £74,000 salary job.
Zoe Metcalfe said she wanted to be “very visible” and would use her experience as a North Yorkshire County councillor and as deputy mayor of Harrogate district to become “the people’s commissioner”.
She was speaking following both her predecessors facing severe criticism over their communications with both their own staff and residents, despite both having backgrounds in public relations.
Philip Allott resigned last month after making controversial comments about women and the overwhelming majority of his 32-strong team of staff signing a letter saying they had no confidence in him, accusing him of making “sexist and misogynistic comments” towards female colleagues.
Julia Mulligan, who stepped down from the role in May, accepted a recommendation to regularly survey her staff about bullying and be supported by a mentor in the “challenging and difficult role” after being accused of levelling “constant criticisms” and “humiliating” comments.
Since Ms Metcalfe was elected on Friday, opposition councillors have questioned how Ms Metcalfe would deal with the pressure of the role, particularly as she had been “almost invisible” at the county council.
County council opposition leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said: “Zoe is an unknown quantity. When I read on an election leaflet that she was a county councillor I had to look her up because I had not heard her in any debates, apart from obeying the party line.
“She has been in a public forum for a number of years, but nobody knows who she is or what she is.
“She could be one of those people who has hidden her light under many bushels and she may come out and surprise us, but it is quite difficult to understand how she is going to fulfil the role because all her leaflet said was only women matter.
“I understand the focus on women, but it would appear all men in North Yorkshire don’t fit into her plan.”
‘I want to be very visible’
At a media briefing, Ms Metcalfe highlighted how the first appointment had been to meet with victims’ support groups at the force’s Northallerton headquarters, even before meeting with the chief constable and chief fire officer.
She said: “I want to be very visible. I will be on the market squares and in the supermarkets, visiting residents and getting their views.”
The Conservative Knaresborough division member said her first actions would be to bolster victims services, crime prevention work with schools and further action to aid those suffering domestic abuse.
She said: “I have been a district and county councillor since 2015, I’ve stood for two general elections, I’ve been deputy mayor of Harrogate District for two years and a governor of Harrogate Hospital, so I‘m quite happy with scrutiny. I want to work in a very transparent way and very much have an open-door policy.
“My style is getting out and talking to people. I want people to feel I am very approachable. It’s about embracing the role, taking it forward and making sure people trust in the role to deliver for them.
“I am very firmly here as the people’s commissioner. I am here to represent the residents of North Yorkshire and York when we are having those conversations and will hold the public services to account, but working with them too to achieve their goals is really important.”
Ms Metcalfe said she would be meeting her staff this week and would remain a district and county councillor until the May elections as she did not want public money to be spent on a by-election.