The inaugural meeting of the “Interim Community Safety Countywide Board” is to be held at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Shire Hall on the 24th of November 2011.
This new board is intended to be central to the strategic oversight of policing and crime related matters in the county. Its members are made up of representatives from each of the county’s “Community Safety Partnerships” (one for each district council area) along with the police force, police authority, probation, public health, NHS, fire service and County Council.
The board is the “strategy group” required by the The Crime and Disorder (Formulation and Implementation of Strategy) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 which came into force on the 1st June 2011.
The “interim” in the name is due to the fact it is intended to operate until a Police and Crime Commissioner is elected. At that point presumably the incoming commissioner will shake things up and either re-invigorate the existing board or start from scratch with something better. The current board contains only one democratically elected member, and does not contain any representatives of many groups it would be useful to have present, including, at the top of the list, the judiciary / magistracy.
Since the committee was first suggested I have been trying to find out about it. In July 2011 I made a FOI request for its meeting dates and asked for its papers to be published. I obtained an assurance “meeting information” would be published on the County Council website, and a suggestion was made that I should watch the council’s meeting calendar.
The meeting never appeared on the council’s meeting calendar. The problem might be that like the CSPs themselves, it is not seen as a council meeting. This means it can be hard to find out when the meeting is scheduled and results in papers not being published in the usual way.
I lobbied the chairman of the relevant scrutiny committee, Cllr Tierney, asking for the council to put more information about the meeting on its website. Once the meeting date was eventually published I made a further FOI request for the meeting papers. The meeting papers were eventually released on the 23rd of November 2011, on the afternoon before the meeting.
Those who know what the predecessor to the new committee was called can find the committee date, but not the agenda or papers, on the Community Safety Strategic Board webpage.
There’s a section on public attendance which states:
Meetings of the Community Safety Strategic Board are open to the public. You are welcome to attend if you have a question for the Board on matters concerning community safety but please contact Katja Nielsen from the Community Safety Team prior to attending in order that we can notify our reception staff that you are coming.
One could read that to mean that members of the public who wish to observe have to have a question for the board; and that the council need to be notified in advance of an intent to attend.
There is no public question slot on the agenda, and if meeting papers are not proactively published in advance of the meetings that limits the opportunity for the public to comment on matters before the board.
The agenda released in response to my FOI request contains seven items:
- Apologies & Declarations of Interest
- DRAFT Terms of Reference
- Community Safety Agreement 2011 -2014
- Funding – from April 2012
- Countywide Strategic Assessment
- Police & Crime Commissioner – Implications
- Future Structure and Strategy of the Cambridgeshire Domestic Abuse Partnership
The purpose of the committee is given as:
To provide a countywide group for the oversight of community safety, ensuring action on those issues which are most effectively tackled at a county level. Those matters which are more effectively tackled at a local level should be dealt with at each individual CSP.
The terms of reference state: “The board is to agree county level priorities”. If the intent is for the board to set police and crime priorities I think that’s worrying given it contains only one elected member.
The terms also state: “The Interim Community Safety Board will meet bi-annually”, which if the Police and Crime commissioner takes over in November 2012 means it will probably only meet twice. With only two meetings it is hard to see how the requirement that meetings “will take place in locations throughout the county” will be achieved.
My main concerns:
- The terms of reference don’t mention public attendance at meetings, or any procedures for public involvement eg. public questions or filming/photographing/recording.
- The terms don’t set out requirements for proactive publication of meeting papers, or other aspects of openness such as responding to requests for information (the board is not subject to FOI).
- The magistrates and professional judiciary are not represented. Even if they won’t co-operate they ought be members and “empty chaired” at meetings if they don’t turn up.
- There are no education and housing specialists on the board
- Policy decisions should not be made by a board made up of predominantly “officers” rather than elected representatives. This should be clarified, especially with respect to the county wide priority setting.
This notes: “where the chair of the CSP is not an elected member, the elected member from that area”, which is surely something which ought be in the terms of reference; but even so the elected member won’t get the vote. Better would be the elected member turning up and the elected member having the district’s vote.
Three issues are suggested as, due to complexity and wider impact, potentially benefiting from a countywide approach:
- Domestic Violence
- Integrated Offender Management (including Prolific and other Priority Offenders)
- Drug and Alcohol Misuse
The agreement says funding for these areas is administered centrally by the County Council.
The report states that in Cambridge “Public chose 3/5 priorities identified from Strategic Assessment.” i don’t think this is correct, there was no direct democracy, no Cambridge wide referendum on the city wide police priorities. In fact what happened was much better, area committees voted on the shortlist and the full Cambridge City Council voted on the final selection, albeit after the CSP, made up of mainly officers, had committed to it.
The agreement states: ” Funding primarily comes from the Government’s Home Office element of the Area Based Grant which for Cambridgeshire in 2011/12 is £503,597 and notes A funding reduction of around 50% is being planned for 2012/13. All funding for crime and disorder reduction arrangements are likely to be transferred to the Police and Crime Commissioners.
The key elements of this report state:
The first Police and Crime Commissioners are due to be elected in November 2012 and this individual will from that point onwards be responsible for allocating all police and crime funding to agencies and organisations (statutory as well as private and voluntary) which successfully apply for funding.
The current 2011/12 grant is £503,597, the report states £254,771 is expected from 2012. The report says it has been suggested only the proportion for April-November will be paid to the County Council as the rest will need to be under the control of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
(Will the Police Commissioner will be able to redirect police funding to the CSPs if the Commissioner thinks they provide good value for money? A good Police Commissioner won’t just have money, but influence, over bodies like probation and the courts. )
This is a presentation of crime statistics produced by the County Council. It identifies location and crime type based trends.
It makes various recommendations; it will be interesting to see if the board work through them and agree to support them or not.
The 2010/11 rate of total crime / 1000 population in Cambridge was 104.9 ie. about 1 in 10 people experienced a crime. The county average is 59.0
One of the key things the report does is identify wards with the highest crime rate. The places are grouped into two sets, one where the high crime is correlated with an index of deprivation, and the others – which are major town/city centres. The wards of high deprivation and high crime are:
- Huntingdon North
- Abbey, Cambridge
- Peckover, Wisbech
- Clarkson, Wisbech
- Medworth, Wisbech
I think the relevant excerpts from this report relating to Abbey ought go to the East Area Committee in Cambridge, who I expect would find it very useful. (As would other local committees of councillors from the locations focused on).
There is a, justified, estimation on p27 that domestic violence costs the county in the region of £40million, taking into account policing, health, housing, social services and other costs.
Many all police and crime documents contain a definition of Anti-Social Behaviour (and they’re often widely different!) this report offers:
- Nuisance (e.g. rowdy behaviour, street drinking or misuse of vehicles)
- Environmental (e.g. Abandoned Cars, graffiti or fly tipping)
- Personal (e.g. acts of intimidation or harassment directed at individuals)
~1 in 10 of those arrested in Parkside, Cambridge in August 2010 were “members of the street life community”.
One of the many informative maps shows how many of the youth (10-19) population enter the Youth Offending Service for the first time in each year. In Arbury, East Chesterton and Abbey in Cambridge the figure is greater than 13.3 per thousand. So that’s about one for every three classes of ~30 children; which is quite a lot when you consider this is just first time entrants, and the age range includes a lot of rather young children.
Another key thing the report notes is the lack of information sharing from the NHS, both A&E and the Ambulance service. this is something it’s really important to solve if we’re going to focus (as I think we ought) on the crimes which really disrupt lives by causing injury.
I’ve seen one of the lead authors of the report Michael Soper present statistical reports on crime to the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership. I was very impressed then, and I am very impressed by this report. Mr Soper does some excellent work presenting crime statistics and has a very good understanding of the data. I’d like to see him share some of his skills with those who produce the neighbourhood profile documents.
This report is a document produced by the Local Government Association and Centre for Public Scrutiny; it’s a high level briefing on the introduction of Police and crime panels and Police Commissioners.
The details are of course in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and we’re still awaiting lots of details to come out in the form of regulations.
One interesting note is that the Home Office proposes to make £30,000/ year available to the lead council which takes on running the police and crime panel (this will presumably be to give it independence from the commissioner).
The suggestion of “task and finish” groups to enable the panels to do more in-depth work than is possible at panel meetings is made. I think somewhere we will need to replicate some of the current police authority committees eg. the scrutiny committee. If possible I think making those committees of the of the police and crime panel might well make sense, as we ought have on that panel the relevant elected councillors with an interest and responsibility in policing and crime related matters. I think that members doing detailed scrutiny work would provide a good foundation of knowledge and understanding on which to base the panel fulfilling its strategic statutory roles.
Future Structure and Strategy of the Cambridgeshire Domestic Abuse Partnership
This report gets off to an odd and in my view rather inappropriate, start, as it describes one of its purposes as being “to celebrate past achievements”.
It notes “the continuing rise in the number of domestic abuse incidents to Cambridgeshire Constabulary (5000+ in 2008 to 7000+ in 2010)” (Though there has been work to encourage more reports).
The main, highest priority, recommendation is suggesting transferring scrutiny and oversight of Domestic Violence related activity to the scrutiny board responsible for the health service. There appears to be little logic presented behind this proposal.
My Pre-Meeting Views
I’m wondering what this group can realistically achieve in two meetings?
This looks like an exercise being forced upon the various bodies by the legislation.
The police should be leading on Domestic Violence and Drug and Alcohol misuse, working with others when needed.
I can’t see how any sensible discussion on offender management can take place without magistrates and judges (and perhaps the sentencing council).