The make-up of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel was discussed on Wednesday the 14th of December 2011 by both the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership and Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Police and Crime Panel’s role will be to scrutinise the work of the elected police and crime commissioner. The key bit of law describing its make-up and operation is Schedule 6 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
The powers of the panel (listed in Chapter 4 of the act) include:
- A veto over the appointment of a Chief Constable proposed by the commissioner. (Schedule 8 Paragraph 4 Police Reform etc. Act 2011)
- A veto over the precept (the police and crime element of council tax) proposed by the commissioner. (Schedule 5 Paragraph 4 Police Reform etc. Act 2011)
- Reviewing the elected commissioner’s draft police and crime plan in public.
- Reviewing the elected commissioner’s annual report, questioning the commissioner on it in public, and making recommendations.
- Suspending the elected police and crime commissioner if they are charged with a serious offence.
The McGuire Proposal
Cllr Mac McGuire Deputy Leader of the Cambridgeshire Council and Cabinet Member for Community Engagement attended the overview and scrutiny committee and presented a proposal for the make-up of the panel which he said had been agreed between Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council.
The committee asked him to provide them with, and publish, the written document he had with him outlining the agreed make-up and rationale but he refused saying it was not yet finalised.
The McGuire proposal is:
|Peterborough City Council||3||2 Conservative, 1 Independent|
|Cambridgeshire County Council||3||2 Conservative, 1 Liberal Democrat|
|Cambridge City Council||1||1 Liberal Democrat|
|Fenland District Council||1||1 Conservative|
|Huntingdonshire District Council||1||1 Conservative|
|South Cambridgeshire District Council||1||1 Conservative|
|East Cambridgeshire District Council||1||1 Conservative|
|Co-Opeted Lay Members||2||1 to be appointed by the Labour Party. 1 Other.|
By party that is:
- Conservative: 8
- Liberal Democrats: 2
- Labour: 1
- Independent: 1
- Lay/Other: 1
The McGuire proposal is for a 13 member police and crime panel.
This will require the approval of the Secretary of State as the default number is ten members appointed by local authorities (subject to conditions imposed on them) plus two co-optees.
The Secretary of State is able to approve a panel membership of up to 20; so there are other options open.
McGuire made clear that he sees the police and crime panel as a scrutiny body, and not a group exercising executive functions. This is one of the key decisions to be made about the panel – if it ought have cabinet and executive members on it, or “backbench” scrutineers. The indications from Cllr McGuire suggested he has made this decision and it will not be cabinet members, like him, being appointed to the panel.
This is an update from the Interim Community Safety Countywide Board on the 24th of November 2011 where McGuire said the decision had not been made as to if cabinet members would be appointed to it. At the board meeting a process was described of filling the spare seats on the board by additional councillors in order to achieve more politically proportional representation on the panel. Now there is to be only one such member, the Labour co-optee, McGuire suggested the force area’s Labour party groups together ought make the appointment. Their appointee will have to be a Labour party member, though maybe not a councillor (this needs clarifying).
McGuire had described how the county council, along with Peterborough City Council had come up with these proposals alone and intended to impose them on the district councils. As a member of the scrutiny committee I was able to ask if the district councils had been given the chance to influence the proposal. Cllr McGuire said there was no need to involve the district councils as the responsibility to come up with the arrangements lay with the county council and Peterborough City Council. McGuire’s officer said that there had been discussions with the district councils, at officer level, and that in Cambridge, the Chief Executive of the City Council, and the Director of Customer and Community Services had been fully involved.
I think McGuire was wrong to say there was no need to involve the districts. Paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 6 of the Police Reform etc. Act 2011 states:
In the case of a multi-authority police area, all the relevant local authorities must agree to the making or modification of the panel arrangements.
Relevant authorities are defined at the end of the schedule as follows:
- “relevant local authority”, in relation to a police area, means a local authority which the police area covers.
- “local authority” means— in relation to England, a county council or a district council. (Cambridge City Council is a district council).
Cllr Bick, Cambridge City Council’s Executive Councillor for Policing, had complained about this point at the Community Safety Partnership meeting. He said that the City Council was not a wholly owned subsidiary of the County Council and they should stop treating it like one. He said he expected the City Council to be involved in determining the make up of the panel and was not expecting to be handed-down a final solution.
Cllr Bick said there had been various rumours about the make-up of the panel, but no solid proposals. (Even now we only have an orally presented proposal).
It appears that while the City Council has been consulted at officer level, Cllr Bick, has not been involved. Part of the problem appears to be the County Council’s approach, but another appears to be officers at Cambridge City Council not keeping elected members informed. When Cllr Bick raised his point the Director of Customer and Community Services was present, but did not speak up to admit to having been “fully involved” by the County Council. It appears Cllr Bick might have to stress his point that the City isn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of the County to his own officers and remind them who they work for.
The primary concern raised by councillors on the scrutiny committee was how the arrangements would change to reflect election results. A number of councillors complained about the requirement in the law to take account of the political make up of the force area, Cllr West, in particular, expressed a preference for the law to allow the allocation of seats to the various geographical areas without conditions.
Cllr Brooks-Gordon asked if there were any plans to ensure proportional representation on any basis other than political allegiance, for example on the basis of sexuality. Brooks-Gordon indicated she wanted to see a panel representative of the population in wider respects than simply political allegiance and geography. McGuire had no response to this. If any such criteria are adopted we could see, for example, Cambridge City Council being required to appoint a female, non-cabinet member, Liberal Democrat councillor to the panel. I strongly oppose any such quotas or positive discrimination and think the best people for the role ought be appointed on merit.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Whitebread asked if it would be possible to co-opt people onto the panel for a particular meeting. (Perhaps she was considering some kind of temporal proportional representation?). Cllr McGuire said no, as the Secretary of State’s permission was needed for the extra co-optees. (This isn’t quite true as the Secretary of State has to approve the number of co-optees, who they are is up to the panel itsself – subject to the requirements for political balance).
UKIP’s Cllr Reeve complained about the law, saying it would be better to have had a directly elected panel. Responding to a statement from McGuire and his officer saying Elected Commissioners were to be “non-political” Cllr Reeve asked what checks and balances were in place to ensure that.
Cllr Samantha Hoy asked what would happen if the panel ended up with a different political view / make up to the commissioner.
Cllr Tierney picked up something the county officer had said. The officer had said the police commissioner would scrutinise the police and in-turn be scrutinised by the police and crime panel. Cllr Tierney said the commissioner’s role would not only be scrutiny but setting the force’s strategic objectives. The officer accepted this.
The Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee decided to return to the subject of the make up of the police and crime panel at their next meeting on Thursday, 09 February 2012. Appointments to a shadow police and crime panel will follow that very soon after, and the first meeting of the shadow board will take place in March or April 2012.
During the agenda planning item for the scrutiny committee I suggested the committee ought consider which of the many current roles fulfilled by the Police Authority and its committees will be carried out by the scrutiny committee, the police and crime panel, and by the commissioner themselves, and make sure that someone takes each one of them up. I was concerned that the committee had only discussed the make-up of the committee, not what it was going to do. While clearly an incoming commissioner will probably want to make their own arrangements so they get help doing things like monitoring the performance of the police, running custody monitoring schemes etc. it appears reasonable for councillors to set something up as a starting point which the commissioner can adapt rather than leaving it all to be built up from scratch following their election.
While it is clearly important the police and crime panel has independence from the commissioner and it has a scrutiny and veto holding role, it also, under S28(2) of the Police Reform etc. act has a role “supporting the effective exercise of the functions of the police and crime commissioner”. I think that’s really important and I’d like to see the panel, and committees of it, taking up some of the roles of the police authority and its committees. Some councillors appeared to be in favour of more rigorous “independence” and separation.
My view is that a panel who are supporting and working with the commissioner on a routine basis will be best placed, and best informed, to effectively scrutinise and wield the vetos.