Cambs Police and Crime Commissioner Proposes New Chief Constable

Thursday, August 13th, 2015. 7:49pm

Alec Wood – Temporary Chief Constable, Cambridgeshire

At 16:55 on Thursday the 13th of August 2015 Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright announced Alec Wood as his preferred candidate for appointment as Cambridgeshire’s Chief Constable.

The press release didn’t describe a very active role for the Police and Crime Commissioner in the appointments process, describing it as “overseen by the College of Policing”. I would have expected the Police and Crime Commissioner to have taken the lead, turning to the College of Policing perhaps if he felt he needed advice.

In his announcement Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright referred enquiries about his proposed new Chief Constable to Sallie Blair at public relations and marketing consultancy Better Times Ltd.

If Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright has employed a PR consultant to answer queries then presumably he would have had to have briefed them with a list of likely questions and their answers. I would have rather he just published that material pro-actively on his website.

I was surprised to see an elected representative using a PR consultant in this way but thought as we’re probably paying huge sums for them to be available to answer questions I may as well put my questions to them. I called the phone number given (there was no email address); the exchange was as follows:

Q: What role has the Police and Crime Commissioner played in the appointment process so far?
A: “The Police and Crime Commissioner is on a panel and he does the preferred appointment.”
Q: Has the Police and Crime Commissioner interviewed the candidates?
A: “Oh Yes” … he has definitely interviewed the candidates.
Q: How many applications did he have, how many were short-listed and interviewed
A: I don’t know the answer to that one but I can check it out and come back to you.
Q: What are Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s main reasons for recommending Alec Wood?
A: I’ll write that one down and get someone to get back to you.
Q: Has Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright reviewed the complaints record of the applicants?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Did the commissioner consult with the Police and Crime Panel prior to announcing his preferred candidate? They asked to be involved, and to consider the short-list.
A: That’s not how the process works as far as I’m aware. I’ll find out.
Q: The press release notes the Police and Crime Panel will be required to arrange a public confirmation hearing. Is that a request from the Police and Crime Commissioner for the panel to hold their deliberation in public?
A: “It is a meeting which is held in public when they confirm or not their preferred candidate”.

As the PR consultant didn’t know the answer to even the most the straightforward questions, and suggested putting me in touch with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, I asked what the point of her role was.

The PR consultant told me she had published the press release but didn’t write it, leading me to wonder if we’re paying hefty sums to a consultant just to copy and paste words into a content management system.

If I was a Police and Crime Commissioner publishing the name of my preferred candidate for Chief Constable I would have pro-actively published the candidate’s CV, and pro-actively answered all the above questions and more. I wouldn’t employ a public relations consultant to represent me so wouldn’t have someone answering questions on my behalf who didn’t know the answers to the most basic of questions.

It is notable that the Police and Crime Commissioner’s announcement says “Graham Bright, is required to formally notify the Police and Crime Panel” suggesting he has not done that yet. The Police and Crime Panel has not yet published a date and time for a confirmation hearing.

I hope the Police and Crime Panel do deliberate in public. When the panel dealt with the confirmation hearing for the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner they deliberated in private and never even returned to public session for the vote and decision; if they take such an approach over the Chief Constable it will be a farce. I am aware the panel may wish to consider personal material, or other material it would be reasonable and legal to exclude the public from discussion of. The panel may also wish to suspend their proceedings and return to them on another day; this is possible and does not preclude a public decision and vote.

22 comments/updates on “Cambs Police and Crime Commissioner Proposes New Chief Constable

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    A key question is who was on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s interview panel. What role, if any did central government play via the Home Office and Inspectorate of Constabulary. Where any local councillors or MPs on the interview panel.

  2. Edward Leigh


    I’m sorry to say that in all probability the panel will go into private session for the final discussion and vote. Unfortunately this is a case where transparency conflicts with practicalities and people’s careers.

    If a Panel exercises its veto, the candidate is placed in a very awkward position. It would be insensitive to publicise that information before the candidate is told in person. We follow the Local Government Association’s guidance here: “… it is suggested that a five working day period should elapse between the hearing and the release of information about ANY recommendation from the panel whether positive or otherwise.” ( p.18). This gives the candidate and the Commissioner time to consider their next steps and prepare statements. (Incidentally, I have proposed an amendment to the Rules of Procedure to incorporate this approach.)

    You might ask why the Panel does not announce its decision if it approves the appointment? Simply because the public and media would deduce from a non-announcement that the appointment had not been approved.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I think the impact of a Police and Crime Panel veto on a candidate’s career is over-egged; it doesn’t mean they’re not qualified for any position as Chief Constable, just that a judgement has been made that they don’t suit a specific force area (or perhaps that they’re not quite ready for the responsibility, or it’s just not the right time for them, or whatever the reasoning).

      After the Police and Crime Panel’s last attempt at a confirmation hearing the result of the vote was announced via a comment on my website, it would be ludicrous if that was to happen again with something as important as a Chief Constable appointment.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Police and Crime Commissioner’s office has responded to me:

    Dear Richard

    Following your contact regarding the announcement of the proposed choice of Chief Constable I can assure you that an open, fair and robust process has been followed with the full involvement of the College of Policing. A full report, which answers yours questions, will be presented to the Police and Crime Panel at the confirmation hearing.

    Kind regards

    Charles Kitchin

    Director of Public Engagement and Communications

    Office of the Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Commissioner

    PO BOX 688, Huntingdon, PE29 9LA

    Tel DD: 01954 713906

    Mobile: 07809 332291

    Mobex: 7114000

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    A police press release announcing Mr Wood’s appointment as Deputy Chief Constable in 2013 provides some background:

    He said, when appointed Deputy Chief Constable “I want to be as visible as I can be to as many people as possible”, I wonder what he’s done to try and meet that aspiration. The press release also quotes Alec Wood as saying “I lived in Cambridgeshire until I was nearly 12 so it has a sense of home and it is still an important county to me.”

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Writing on Nick Clarke’s blog Police and Crime Panel member Edward Leigh has revealed the Police and Crime Panel were given a role in the Chief Constable recruitment process:

    We did have sight of a list of ‘personal qualities/competencies’ and ‘responsibilities’, and were in fact asked to rank them, a task which I thought was futile (and said so, along with suggesting an additional responsibility).

    The panel did not meet in public to perform the prioritisation exercise. All panel meetings must be held in public by law. The panel should not be operating behind closed doors. We should not be finding out about this activity by the panel via the comments on local activist’s blog, there should have been a formal meeting which the public, including the media could have attended to observe, and the papers including the request from the Chief Constable Police and Crime Commissioner to the panel ought to have been published on the panel’s webpages.

  6. Edward Leigh

    Your first three sentences are a non sequitur: the Panel has not met, in public or private, since the last public meeting on 17 June, so could not have breached any interpretation of the law. Also the ‘paper’ (actually a questionnaire) you refer to came from the Commissioner, not the Chief Constable, and I would expect it to be published with the PCC’s report on the recruitment process, along with analysis of stakeholder feedback (I believe that the Panel members were not the only ‘stakeholders’ consulted in this way).

    Your suggestion that the Panel should have met in public to discuss the new Chief Constable’s qualities, competences and responsibilities has merit, especially if we had involved other stakeholders. However the practicality of getting Panel members (and other stakeholders) together at short notice in late June/early July pretty much ruled that option out.

    If you check the minutes for our last meeting, you will see that we made a number of requests of the PCC, to be involved in the recruitment process, to have sight of the short list of candidates, and to have an opportunity to meet with the outgoing Chief Constable. The PCC demurred, and we have no powers to force him to acceded to our requests. The Commissioner made it perfectly clear that he would follow the published guidance and ‘toolkit’ from the College of Policing, which I understand is what he did:

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I observed, and filmed, and published the film of the last panel meeting.

      While panel members did ask for a greater role in the process it wasn’t clear to me if any of these were turned into a formal recommendation. We will have to see the minutes, as they’re approved, to find out what the panel thought they did.

      If the panel have been able to act between meetings there must have been some mechanism for that, perhaps a conference call, emails, or chair’s actions, or a secret meeting, whatever it was it should be made public.

      I’ve transparently corrected Chief Constable to Police and Crime Commissioner.

  7. Edward Leigh

    To be clear, the Commissioner did not ask the Panel to respond to the questionnaire, but rather individual stakeholders: “I enclose a questionnaire for you personally as a Panel member to complete and return …”.

    I think misunderstand the role of the Panel as defined in legislation: except in the cases of senior appointment hearings, amendments to the Police and Crime Plan, and setting the precept, there is no such thing as a ‘formal recommendation’. Except in those limited cases and where we request information, any recommendations we do make are, from the Commissioner’s point of view, no more than helpful suggestions. This is frustrating for Panel members up and down the country, but our defined purpose is to scrutinise the decisions of the Commissioner, not to influence them.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      except in the cases of senior appointment hearings, amendments to the Police and Crime Plan, and setting the precept, there is no such thing as a ‘formal recommendation’

      This attitude by the panel, presumably passed on to its newest member during training sessions is at the core of why it isn’t functioning effectively.

      The law which introduced Police and Crime Panels, Section 28 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, was clear that one of the panel’s functions is to:

      make reports or recommendations to the relevant police and crime commissioner with respect to the discharge of the commissioner’s functions

      Clearly a functioning panel ought be making reports and recommendations on all sorts of aspects of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s activities, or lack of activities.

      When I recently volunteered to be a member of the panel one of the key things I said I’d do is try and focus the panel’s aimless discussions into coherent recommendations.

      The suggestion the panel doesn’t have the power to make formal recommendations is not only at odds with the law, but there’s even a whole section on “Panel Reports and Recommendations” in the panel’s own rules of procedure, which they’ve been largely ignoring. I don’t think the panel have ever for example invoked the section stating:

      The Panel may require the PCC within 20 working days (or within such other period as is indicated in these Rules) of the date on which s/he receives the Panel’s report or recommendations to:
      a) consider the report or recommendations;
      b) respond to the Panel indicating what (if any) action the PCC proposes to take;
      c) publish the response from the PCC where the Panel has published the report or recommendations.

      The panel arrangements agreed by all the force area’s councils, state:

      The Panel must review or scrutinise the decisions or actions of the PCC in the discharge of his/her functions and make reports or
      recommendations to the PCC with respect to the discharge of the PCC’s functions. The Panel may carry out investigations into the decisions of the PCC, and into matters of particular interest or public concern.

      The local councils who created the agreement also asked for a copy of recommendations made:

      The Panel must publish any reports or recommendations made by it to the PCC in a manner which the Panel will determine and must also send copies to the Authorities.

      As yet I don’t think the Police and Crime Panel have made any clear recommendations, beyond those required by law.

  8. Edward Leigh

    The point I made, which you deliberately distorted, is not that the Panel believes it has no power to influence – that would be pathetic; it is that the legislation defined the role of the Panel to scrutinise the PCC’s decisions and policy, not to direct or define them. We can expose wrongdoing, malpractice, inconsistency, or anything else that we believe should be brought to the electorate’s notice; and we can block a specific few decisions of the PCC on the first attempt (but, as you are no doubt aware, that is easy to game: the PCC has only to propose something s/he knows will be unacceptable to the Panel in order to follow up with his/her real first preference).

    Yes, we can ‘make reports or recommendations’; we can require the PCC and his/her staff to attend a meeting (but we can only ‘request the relevant chief constable to attend’); and we ‘may require the relevant police and crime commissioner to respond in writing’. But the Commissioner is perfectly entitled to respond, “Thank you, but no thanks.” We have no ‘formal’ powers to take things further.

    We do of course have ‘soft’ powers of influence, via the media, Community Safety Partnership teams, and other points of contact between the public, the police and the PCC’s office; and we need to learn how to use those powers effectively.

    I agree with you that the Panel should make clear recommendations (even if the Commissioner dismisses them), and not just ask questions and demand reports. That is a challenge in a time-constrained meeting: to identify a problem, achieve something like consensus on a desired remedy, and articulate that clearly to the Commissioner.

    I hope we achieved that at the last meeting with respect to recommending the reinstatement of KPIs in the draft Police & Crime Plan. We have made a number of other recommendations, e.g. to publish accounts and budgets in a way that permits year-on-year comparisons; to publish BCB papers before meetings; to make BCB meetings public; to break down statistics on crimes against the person to enable meaningful historical comparisons (e.g. by separating out domestic violence and sexual abuse, which are being reported more, from other categories of crime).

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    While the confirmation hearing is not listed at:

    UKIP’s Nick Clarke has written to say a “new, unpublicised meeting is now planned on the 16th Sept in the morning to confirm the appointment of the Chief Constable”.

    If there is a time and place for the confirmation hearing it ought be made public via an official channel.

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have submitted two public questions to the confirmation hearing scheduled for the 16th of September aimed at making the process more open and transparent.

    1. If any elements of the confirmation hearing, such as the panel’s deliberation and decision, are not held in public can the panel please explain what it is doing with reference to the law on public access to local government meetings?

      I note the fact there was a vote by the panel at/after its confirmation hearing for the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner was only made public when a panel member commented on my website revealing what had happened after panel members gathered in a secret, behind closed doors, meeting after inexplicably walking out of the room where they had been questioning the candidate.

      I would like to urge the panel to carry out as much of the process as possible in public.

    2. Has the panel received any information about the proposed candidate beyond that contained in the the published meeting papers, and if so will it publish the elements of that material which it considers appropriate to release?

      I expect the panel may have a copy of the candidate’s application form, the interview assessment forms, reports, the candidate’s complaints / disciplinary / criminal record and similar material which could largely be made public.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      At the panel meeting chairman Cllr Ablewhite did make the kind of statement with reference to the law which I was seeking. He stated:

      In accordance with Part 1, Schedule 12a, of the Local Government Act 1972 we will retire to deliberate and determine the recommendations to the commissioner on whether to approve or refuse your appointment with the panel’s consent.

      What I believe Cllr Ablewhite was intending to do was propose a motion under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 to exclude the public from part of the meeting, citing the grounds of “information relating to any individual” found in Paragraph 1 of Part I, to Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972.

      To exclude the public from part of the meeting under that provision requires a resolution of the panel; not just a decree from the chair.

      I have been told the panel had nothing other than public information on which to base their deliberations. I can only assume the information relating to any individual might relate to panel members’ views on the candidate – I think the nature of the information ought to have been made clear as the motion was proposed, and if required, debated.

      When the time came the panel chair announced: “we will now retire to consider the recommendation and and we will return shortly to advise you”.

      I spotted that some non-panel members were present during the secret session. I asked who these people were. Initially I got no response but I was later told they were a legal advisor and two human resources advisers.

      The panel’s legal adviser later made the rather odd claim that the Police and Crime Panel had a “Common Law” right to meet in private session. The legal advisor, as Chairman Ablewhite had done at one point, described what had happened as the panel “going into recess” (as opposed to saying the panel excluded the public). This is odd as “going into recess” suggests the panel made one of its most important decisions outside of a formal meeting.

      I was told by a panel member that a vote took place in the secret session and that vote was not unanimous and not recorded, so we will never know how each panel member voted.

      Overall I think while not done properly due to the lack of a resolution, and due to the a clear explanation of what material relating to an individual was to be discussed, I think the panel’s intent was clear and the process was much better than the previous confirmation hearing especially given the panel returned to public session to share the result of their decision – something which I had reminded them had not happened previously.

      The published papers make no reference to any intent to exclude the public from the meeting (that’s not required as far as I know, but often if consideration of such a motion is expected it is often placed on agendas). Also the officer team supporting the meeting are named on the agenda, but the legal advisor and two human resources advisors, were not included on that list.

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    One of the officers of the panel’s secretariat, Ian Phillips, has replied to me to say:

    I can confirm that the Panel has published all papers it has received from the Commissioner’s Office in relation to the proposed appointment. The Panel has not received any further information regarding the candidate.

    He has also rejected my questions to the meeting scheduled for 10am on the 16th of September stating:

    The confirmation hearing is a meeting held in public this is defined as “a meeting of the panel, held in public, at which the candidate is requested to appear for the purpose of answering questions relating to the appointment”. As that is the purpose of the meeting and as with previous confirmation hearings, there is no opportunity for public questions during this session. However, I am happy to answer your questions although you can of course request the Panel to consider as part of the public questions section of the meeting at 2pm on 16th September should you still wish.

    The public question item has been omitted from agendas before. I will reply making clear I expect the panel itself, not its officers, to interpret its rules of procedure. The rules of procedure do not say public questions cannot be submitted to panel meetings at which a confirmation hearing is taking place. Officers have previously refused public questions on spurious grounds.

  12. Edward Leigh

    As you know, I am seeking to clarify/change the rules about public questions at extraordinary meetings, including appointment hearings. I believe it’s important that the public should be able to contribute to all meetings, with information or questions that might be of assistance to the Panel in carrying out its function effectively.

    I can confirm that the Panel has not been given any personal information relating to the proposed appointee’s application, interview, or assessments. I have to say it’s difficult to see how a Panel can, in good faith, veto an appointment without access to this information, but that’s the result of poorly conceived legislation. Looked at negatively, the Panel is merely there to rubber stamp an appointment; looked at positively, the Panel is there to give the appointee a public platform on which to demonstrate his or her suitability for the job, and style of leadership. This is the only opportunity most of the public are given to ‘get to know’ their Chief Constable.

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