Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright attended Cambridge’s North Area Committee on the 20th of March 2014.
I asked Commissioner Bright why he had not published his decisions relating the time taken by the police to answer calls to their non-emergency, 101, phone number. I noted the decisions were not on the Commissioner’s published decision log and had not been reported to the Police and Crime Panel. The commissioner responded to say he had published the material, which gained him a round of applause. In my view this was a brazen lie, and it is easily verifiable as such by reference to the decision log and panel meeting papers.
I also asked why the commissioner had not published, or reported to the panel, his decisions relating to the initial set up of his organisation, including deciding to hold his key decision making body, his business co-ordination board, in secret. The commissioner avoided this question, merely noting the meeting papers are published (which they are, but only in retrospect)
The Police and Crime Panel have the power to hold the commissioner to account, I would like to see them taking action to curb the commissioner’s habit of making misleading statements. I have already used the public participation slot at panel meetings to question the accuracy of some of the commissioner’s statements to the panel.
Cllr Tim Bick, Cambridge’s representative on the Police and Crime Panel has accepted the commissioner has not reported his decisions relating to 101, and has noted the panel has consequently not looked into them, and he has proposed they look into widening the scope of the panel’s activities to include unreported decisions. Responding to my public submission, at the February 2014 panel meeting Cllr Bick said::
There are some serious changes, some serious decisions, and they bear deep examination and whether it is call handling, which suggests itself actually first, as it was one of the first declarations of change that was made, maybe we should contemplate: “What is our agenda?” and spend some time not going through the structured agenda like we have today but go through an issue based agenda where we sit down and decide who we want to talk to and questions we want to ask so we can go from beginning to end on the subject. For me that is what scrutiny ought to be about and I’m missing it so far.
Exchange from the March 2014 North Area Committee
Richard Taylor: Thank you. Well one of the things that Sir Graham has said to have been one of his big successes is dealing with the problems that existed with the 101 non-emergency phone number and the police’s performance answering the phones. And what I’d like to ask the commissioner is: Why hasn’t he published the decisions which he has made on that subject, both to the public on his decision log on his website and make them available to the police and crime panel along with the performance information which shows what has actually changed following those decisions so we can all see exactly what you’ve done and to see how much of a good job… or to see if the good job you claim to have done has actually happened.
Another area where I’d like to see the commissioner reporting his decisions relates to when he set up his operation when he first came into office, so when he did things like deciding to hold his key decision making body, his Business Co-ordination Board, in secret behind closed doors. One of the things I’ve really missed since the transfer to the commissioner is being able to see, in advance of major police policy changes, what those proposed changes are. Because the Police Authority published their meeting papers in advance of decisions whereas your Business Co-ordination Board doesn’t, and I could go to the Police Authority and I could see people make those decisions and see the decision makers, and the Chief Constable, which I can’t do under this, under Sir Graham Bright.
Chairman Pitt: Can I interrupt. There are two related questions and your other question I know I’ll come back to you on that. The first one is on the particular aspects of the call answering statistics and changes; why aren’t they published and why isn’t the data available. And the more general point about could you make your meetings more open.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: Well first of all I hate to disappoint but we have published those; because there have been a number of instances where I’ve called for reports and they’re online so I suggest you go online and have a good look at them.
Now in terms of improving it. 101 I was pretty upset that 101 was taking far too long to respond when somebody phoned in and I was picking this up all the time from people. Now there was an incidence where I tried and it took over nine minutes, we’re now getting an average of seven seconds for the answer and that is good, but we haven’t finished yet because we need to speed up the secondary, in other words putting you through, getting additional information for you, that is a matter of training lots of people, which is going on so we hope to speed that up, because obviously it is the way public engage and we’re very keen on building 101 because we want to know what’s going on. If you’re concerned about something, if there’s something suspicious, let us know about it. What we don’t want to do is hang on the phone forever. So yes we’ve made huge strides on that and we are now working on the secondary part of that because it is taking too long, I admit that, and we’re working on it, it is a matter of training people.
In terms of the board that we have, again, that’s all published, it’s all online, that’s all there for you to read.
Richard Taylor: Can I ask for some clarifications then? You say that the reports I was asking for have been published. Are you saying you have published your records of decision on call answering performance in the same way as you publish your other decisions, on your decision log, and you report them to the Police and Crime Panel?
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: [The commissioner made an unintelligible noise]
It was always the 101 system was up and working. I had to hold the police to account on that and you will see quite clearly where I have reports to the board on account and the report that’s come back and I will quite soon have asked for another report on that because I am concerned about the secondary part of things.
Richard Taylor: So I think that’s a “no”; we haven’t had the decisions being reported.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: But, I mean. No. Nonsense!
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: It’s there for you to read. I mean you tell us you’re literate well go and read them because they are there.
[Public applause for the commissioner]
Richard Taylor: We hear now that the commissioner tells us the average is seven seconds. What I’ve been asking for is the statistical information so I can see for example how long the longest waits are and that’s the kind of information which we should have available.
Chairman Pitt: That’s a related question I think. I would like to move on.
I have noted a recent performance report published by the commissioner contains only information on 999 performance under the call handling heading and nothing on 101 whereas previously both were covered.
Later in the meeting a member of the public, Mr Bond, spoke of his recent experience of the police being slow to answer 101.
Cllr Ian Manning: Could we consider publishing the median call time rather than the mean so we get a probably more realistic, well actually my experience of 101 has been quite good, but if you could publish the median rather than the mean it could help to let us know, what the actual spread is
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: I have actually asked for a full report on 101 to come to the board meeting in the next sort of, sort of, couple of months I think we will have a proper report on that and I will ask if we’ve got that, we know what the response time is up because we’re down to around seven seconds, and when I first took over as the, well I didn’t take over there was no-one else there, when I got the job as Police and Crime Commissioner people were telling me how long it was taking and I’ve told the story to several people before, but I tried it out and it took me nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds to get a response and so I did have some very senior people in to see me and I asked them about it and they told me there was a blip sort of a couple of months ago now and I said well what is it today then because it just took me nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds and we did actually, or they introduced, various things to actually speed it up..
Chairman Pitt: Can we go onto the hotspots, we have heard this before, my Cllr Todd-Jones colleague is going to beat me up otherwise.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: Yes I will try and …
Some of my previous articles and actions campaigning, lobbying and drawing attention to this subject:
- Cambridgeshire Police Not Answering Phone – September 2011 article following a Police Authority Scrutiny meeting I observed where problems with phone answering were raised via the police performance report.
- Cambridgeshire County Council Full Council Question on Phone Answering – November 2011, question asked by Cllr Steve Tierney following my suggestion that the issue ought be raised.
- I was a co-opted member of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee in December 2011 and raised the issue of police phone answering performance.
- Cambridgeshire Police Authority December 2011 – phone answering was again discussed
- Cambridgeshire Police Getting Even Worse at Answering Phone – December 2011 article reporting my use of the public speaking slot at Cambridgeshire Police Authority’s Scrutiny Committee to stress importance of the subject
- Asking Cambs County Council Police Scrutiny Committee To Chase Cambs Police for Phone Answering Performance Data – June 2012
- I asked a public question to the June 2012 Full Meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority this question stated: “Will the full authority take on the work the scrutiny committee was doing monitoring phone answering performance, and in particular take on the committee’s efforts to get information from the police on how badly they were missing their target phone answering times?”. The “answer” did not address the question.
- FOI request to OFCOM on 999 system performance and failures. – July 2012
- Cambridgeshire Police Phone Answering Failures Continue – July 2012
- Ely Neighbourhood Panel – July 2012
- Police Phone Answering Discussed at the East Area Committee – August 2012
- Cambs Police Still Holding Back Phone Answering Data – September 2012
- Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright Speaks in Cambridge – January 2013 – target of answering all calls within 30 seconds announced.
- Draft Police and Crime Plan for Cambridgeshire Published – February 2013 – including pledge to answer all 101 calls within 30 seconds
- 101 Now Answered Within Thirty Seconds Says Police and Crime Commissioner – March 2013