On the 18th of July 2012 Cambridgeshire Police Authority are to run a briefing session “about the current priorities of the Police Authority and how these are likely to affect the future working of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner”.
The event is to be public, and open to all, but aimed at prospective candidates for Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
The location has not yet been announced, but I presume the intent won’t be to keep that a secret once it has been decided. I hope it will be held in a public building and not within Police HQ where visitors have to bring photo ID, have their photographs taken by the police, submit to having their car registration details recorded on a police database, and be accompanied at all times and are not free to come and go as they please. These rules apply even when an event is being held in a meeting room immediately off the reception lobby of the building, which suggests to me they’re simply being applied to oppress and intimidate and deter the public from attending Police Authority meetings and events. When I attend a police authority meeting I am almost always the only one there, the only others I have ever seen present have been Raymond Brown of the Cambridge News and representatives of retired police officers.
The Police Authority press release / news article described the event as “a ‘must attend’ briefing session”; complete with slippery dodgy quote marks being used to excuse the misleading impression this could give that it is compulsory for all prospective candidates for commissioner to attend the event.
In fact of course there’s no such requirement, anyone (well anyone with 100 nominees and the £5,000 deposit) can get their names on the ballot paper.
The Police Authority have stated:
The session will be video recorded and a link made available on the Police Authority website for people to view afterwards.
I suspect the intent is that the content of the briefing will be recorded and made available so those who can’t attend, or those who become candidates after the 18th of July 2012, can see what was said by Police Authority staff.
However the Ely Standard, which may or may not have had the benefit of being provided additional information on the event, reported the announcement of the briefing with the headline: “Candidates for police commissioner role to be filmed at ‘must attend’ meeting“.
I and others have sought clarification from the Police Authority via Twitter on the question of if one of their aims is to film prospective candidates at the briefing event. It’s not clear if the authority will be giving those attending the briefing a platform to feature in a YouTube video hosted on the authority site outlining their manifestos; or if the authority is seeking to get image of prospective candidates in-front of the electorate. It may be prospective candidates will have to shoe-horn their policy statements into the form of questions to be asked at the briefings if those elements are to be filmed.
Lautaro Vargas of Cambridge commented on Twitter:
People after more info shouldn’t be publicly scrutinised.
The Police Authority responded with a tweet containing just a link to a draft of a Police Authority document entitled “Engaging with candidates”.
This is typical of the way the Police Authority deal with the public; brusquely, arrogantly, and without engaging with the questions raised. This is despite the authority’s £1m/year secretariat containing some staff who are professionals charged public engagement.
The document linked is interesting, it notes there will be only one public briefing session; but that in the run-up to the election they may hold further one-to-one briefings with candidates and state:
The sole aim of the briefings will be to allow the Authority Executive Team to receive and understand manifesto commitments from the prospective candidates and ensure all candidates have access to all the information they require.
I have commented on the draft document noting that while it draws attention to the fact candidates can use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the authority, and contains a promise that the authority will keep its disclosure log up to date with information released to candidates, it does not mention another key route the public can use to engage with the authority, the public question slot at authority meetings.
I have personally received a hostile grilling from Police Authority members when I used the public speaking slot many years ago in the run up to a local election period, they wanted to know if I was planning on standing as a local councillor, before they would allow me to speak. In light of this I think it would be worth clarifying that candidates can use the public speaking slots, and also draw the attention of the public speaking slots at authority meetings to candidates.
The Police Authority claim their motivation here is to ensure candidates are well informed. In my view one of the best things they could do to better inform candidates is publish minutes, papers and calendar for meetings of the Joint Working Group they run with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire police authorities. I have been lobbying on this point for quite some time, complaining that the meeting are effectively secret (though the minutes do appear in Bedfordshire Police Authority’s full authority papers), they, or what is discussed and decided at them, is certainly not made easily accessible by Cambridgeshire Police Authority to the people of Cambridgeshire.
Lastly I think any candidates ought be highly sceptical of anything they hear from the Police Authority staff. The staff have an significant personal interest in the elections, in that they are currently seeking to keep their highly paid roles (the clerk is on ~£100,000/year), for at least four months after the election of the commissioner. Speaking on behalf of the authority a police priority setting meeting in Orton, Peterborough member Olive Main said the staff would be kept on until April 2013 when the Police Commissioner sets new budgets.
My view is the authority ought make arrangements now to ensure the new commissioner can start making savings right away. Olive Main said the authority expected commissioners to spend £1m/year running their offices; I would be astonished and appalled if anyone stands, and gets elected in Cambridgeshire making a manifesto commitment to spend £1m/year on their office.