On the 29th of June 2011 I observed a meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority.
- A decision was taken to axe the force helicopter, saving £500,000 a year by moving to use the Chiltern Air Support Unit as well as continuing with current arrangements with Suffolk and Essex police forces to provide a helicopter service. Members of the authority took this decision in secret session.
- New members of the authority were welcomed. It’s not easy to work out who the authority is currently comprised of as the police authority have not updated the list of members on their website yet. Errors in the membership list published by the authority appear to be:
- Cllr K Churchill has joined the authority. He is a Cambridgeshire County Councillor, and a Magistrate, he is on the police authority as a representative of the County Council though.
- Mr N Khan has joined the authority. (He is a Peterborough City Councillor)
The police authority’s list of members of the authority states it lists: “the 15 members of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority”, this is inaccurate, there are 17 members. The police authority is a committee serviced by an administration which costs about a million pounds a year to run and the committee clerk (known as the chief executive of the police authority) is paid around £100,000 a year. I find it astonishing and appalling, particularly given the huge amount of public money being spent, that they can’t even get the basics of how many members of the authority there are, and who they are, right. This is not the first time I have flagged up such errors.
- Cllrs Shona Johnstone and N Khan were absent from the meeting as they had chosen instead to attend a Local Government Association conference. Benjamyn Damazer a magistrate member of the authority was also absent. This left the meeting with seven elected representatives, and seven unelected appointees.
- The Chief Constable was absent. No one appeared to notice this until the meeting was well underway when the chair remembered that she’d missed mentioning him during the “apologies for absence” agenda item. He’d decided to go to an interpol event on disaster victim identification, a subject on which he is the “national lead”, instead.
- There were no votes taken; everything was passed on the chair’s ruling. The chair struggled to get any of the members of the authority to indicate approval or not for anything, they all just sat there like lemons when she tried to get them to express their views, it would be wrong to say matters were even nodded through.
- The authority decided to take some action in relation to police injury pensions. They approved the police ignoring the Home Office guidance, stopping waiting for new Home Office guidance, and starting to obey the law. What actually happened was Assistant Chief Constable Feavyour asked the authority for a clear approval for this course of action, members sat there looking vacant, which, after doing his best to prompt them to say something but failing, he said he’d take as the clear steer he was looking for. Independent Member Olive Main said the problem would soon go away as the individuals in question would die in the near future; she prefaced her remarks with a request they not be minuted.
- The authority accepted a performance outturn report (on how police spending in reality had matched up to the budgets) even though members complained it contained no numbers.
- Authority members accepted a simplified statement of accounts and said that they weren’t sure that even their finance scrutiny committee were up to getting to grips with the detailed, 64 page, version, never mind the full authority. The chair of the authority, realising this sounded awful, countered these sentiments with a decree that members of the finance scrutiny did understand the accounts and reported that they had received a seminar explaining them.
- Independent member Olive Main stated that she and independent member Ruth Joyce had spent much of their lives working closely together in the Home Office.
- Notably the meeting was being observed by only me and Raymond Brown of the Cambridge Evening News. No candidates for the elected police and crime commissioner appear yet to be following the authority’s work in person. The lack of public interest may relate to the need to show identification before being allowed to observe the meeting, and being escorted to and from the meeting room even though it is just off the reception at police headquarters.
- Independent members Ruth Joyce and Olive Main made clear they saw their role as being to represent and defend the authority and police force at public meetings, they asked for information and reports which would help them do this. Olive Main specifically requested a paper she could brandish at public meetings showing crime was down.
- A new police station (called a Police Investigation Centre) in Kings Lynn had been opened on the 6th of May 2011. It’s unusual as it is staffed by officers from both Cambridgeshire and Norfolk forces. It has cells and detectives. Astonishingly the authority was told that Cambridgeshire Police have a breathalyser for subjects they bring in, and Norfolk have one for those they bring in; other duplication includes two different computer systems for taking finger prints, again one for each force. This shows how bonkers the police are when it comes to working together.
The item on the helicopter was preceded by an item throwing out the press and the public (the pair of us). The agenda called for a resolution of the full authority, but the chair, independent member Ruth Rogers decided to dispense with this and make the ruling herself. This meant members of the authority did not get a chance to debate or vote on the move into secret session. Had such a debate been allowed I would have expected at least Liberal Democrat member Cllr Wilkins to question why the entire report was being kept secret and if the meeting could be re-opened once any confidential elements had been debated for any vote and decision (along with reasons) to be made public.
The chair cited Paragraphs 3 and 7 of Part 1 of revised Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act when throwing us out. These refer to:
- 3. Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).
- 7. Information relating to any action taken or to be taken in connection with the prevention, investigation or prosecution of crime.
While I realise it might be a good idea not to reveal to those planning a bank robbery how long they can expect it to be before a police helicopter is overhead, or let criminals know how long they’ve got to outwit police by hiding in the woods before the helicopter runs out of fuel and has to leave, many of the items one would expect the authority to be considering are clearly matters of great public interest and I can see no excuse for such excessive secrecy.
Members of the authority had a report on air support, printed on yellow paper – indicating its confidential nature, before them. I have submitted a Freedom of Information request for a copy of that report. While there may be sections which are exempt from disclosure I would expect the bulk of the document to be released with minimal redaction if there are any parts covered by an exemption in the FOI act.
The press and public were informed before the meeting that a prepared statement would be released following the authority’s decision. The press release is now available on the authority’s website.
Police Injury Pensions
Pensions for police officers injured on duty have been discussed at a number of previous police authority meetings. Officers affected by the current policy have commented on my previous articles relating their own situations.
Cambridgeshire Police authority has been waiting for Home Office guidance for years, its publication has been “imminent” according to the Home Office for over a year now. The police and police authority have decided to give up waiting, and find a way forward themselves. Assistant Chief Constable Feavyour said the police, police authority and the National Association for Retired Police Officers were all working together on a solution. He explained that the principle of the pension was that it ought reflect the extent to which a disablement caused by an injury on duty affects the person’s ability to earn. The problem arose when Home Office guidance introduced “age related triggers” for reassessment of the pensions benefits. These reassessments though were not mentioned in the relevant regulations. The authority was told a number of court cases had shown the regulations to be the important thing and the Home Office guidance to be wrong. The Home Office assumption had been that when someone reached 65 they’d no longer be working and therefore ought not get a benefit intended to make up for a reduced level of earnings.
Independent member of the authority Olive Main said her contribution “better not be minuted” (apparently forgetting it was a public meeting) she appeared to be arguing against taking any action when she said: “They’re a dying breed, the problem will solve itsself”. She said she, along with fellow member Ruth Joyce had served on appeals panels within the Home Office on pensions and they’d never once been able to uphold an appeal due to, she said, the nature of the regulations they were working within.
ACC Feavyour asked the police authority to give him approval to “follow the regulations” (ie. ignore the Home Office). They didn’t do anything clearly, but it appeared that the interpretation taken from the authority members’ silence was approval for his proposed course of action. Mr Feavyour explained the need for urgency as otherwise those involved might take further appeal / legal actions, whereas it would be best to sort things out now and “try to be fair”. Mr Feavyour said that in terms of reassessments, the decision on reassessment periods ought be left to the medical doctor conducting the assessment and the police would make clear that they wanted a flexible system – so that if someone’s condition was not likely to improve they should not face repeated assessments.
The police authority were told that all police staff had been to a session on restorative justice.
Raymond Brown of the Cambridge News was asked if he thought there was a need for a media briefing on the subject; he told the authority the Chief Constable had already run one (and that the coverage of Restorative Justice in the Cambridge News was getting lots of interest from the public).
A report on the restructuring of the force stated that 146 “disposals” had taken place using “Restorative Justice”. This is where offender who admit their crimes get to apologise, and perhaps agree to some penalty, rather than face the courts. A full report on its introduction will come to the police authority in September, at the same time a national review by HM inspectorate of the constabulary is also published. Cllr Wilkins asked for statistics on those dealt with via “Restorative Justice” who ended up entering the criminal justice system later to be provided. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hopkins said that witnesses and victims had without exception been positive about their experience of restorative justice.
Unelected appointee Ruth Joyce asked for “support materials” so she could “cope with public meetings” where the police’s new approach was discussed.
The police said that the use of restorative justice increased the visibility of action taken to the subject’s peers and this was a positive thing.
The use of restorative justice is making savings for the police; and quite probably for the wider justice system too, though the effect on that has not been quantified. ACC Hopkins stated the Chief Constable’s report to the authority was wrong to say 146 people had been dealt with via Restorative Justice and the number was now much greater, he also added that the force had “just agreed new offences” to be covered by restorative justice. As they were not revealed to the authority, I have made a FOI request for the current list and the new additions.
In response to questions from the authority the police confirmed that restorative justice was not targeted at young people.
ACC Feavyour stated that Restorative Justice “Can avoid the criminal justice bureaucracy”. He then questioned if he ought to have said that; it is very revealing about the way our police officers view the courts as “bureaucracy” to be avoided.
- See also this article where I ask questions about Cambridgeshire Police’s use of Restorative Justice
Further Meeting Notes
- The old Police Authority chair, appointee, Ruth Rogers was re-elected by the authority to serve for another year. The existing vice chairs (two of them) were also re-elected.
- A new public questions rule allows public questions to be taken on the day, at the discretion of the chair. The chair invited questions limited to items on the agenda. (They keep twiddling with the public questions scheme, but its still very broken, eg. it calls for the public to read out verbatim their pre-submitted questions. and still allows for the chair to introduce new rules, on the day, as she did at this meeting. While the chair made a sensible ruling it would be better for the public to be told how the public questions slot is to operate in advance.)
- The authority approved the “publication to the Home Office” of the policing plan for 2011-14. Members asked about wider dissemination and the authority’s communications officer reported there was a “Twitter plan”; members suggested also sending it to the community safety partnerships and to the public via the E-Cops email system. Members were told a full media plan had been devised and could be shown to them.
- The authority congratulated the force on maintaining officer numbers (only a small drop) despite cuts in funding. Assistant Chief Constable Feavyour said there were now 1,011 officers in the force. No authority members noted this was 380 fewer than the 1,391 quoted in the plan they’d just agreed to publish.
- The force’s plan to get officers doing jobs they didn’t need to be police officers to do back to the front line. An example cited was driver training, where some civilian driver trainers already do the same jobs as officers. This, it was reported would increase officer numbers a little in the medium term.
- An underspend of £3m last year was reported. This is to be moved to the capital reserve – which will help the replacement of Parkside Police Station in the future.
- Cllr Wilkins asked why the Government owed the authority money. He was told it was “unpaid grant” and promised a detailed explanation.
- The “Stragetic Policing Alliance” between Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire police was discussed, with the lead civilian officer present to answer questions. This is all about “back office” functions, and the work is starting with information technology. The authority were told they were on track for about £20m of savings between the forces, £3.6m from the first step of the IT collaboration. The authority noted it was storing up problems for the future by not clarifying who would own the IT infrastructure, (though the report does say it will be owned by whichever force hosts it). We could see Cambridgeshire buying a share of a bit of kit which goes straight into the ownership of another force. The effects on individual members of staff, particularly the current heads of IT in the individual forces, only one of whom can remain head of IT for the collaboration, was briefly discussed. The authority was told the staff were behind the collaboration and saw the need for it despite the potential for them personally losing their jobs.
- Officers who are currently “acting up” – being paid for having a rank they’ve not formally got yet, are to lose that extra rank and the pay that goes with it as a cost saving measure. The exception will be those in positions where they supervise other officers eg. those acting up as local sergeants, who the authority were told need the rank in order to be able to give their underlings orders. Those given a rank simply due to taking on a policy role are to lose it.
- The police appear finally to be starting to very slowly get to grips with “Common Assessment Framework” forms for assessing risk to children. In 2008 I wrote about how the police were refusing to fill them in on the bonkers grounds that the police said a police officer isn’t able to see a form without trying to fill in all the boxes, and doing the investigation to fill in the all the boxes on a CAF form would take a very long time. Three years on they’re now grasping they can just use the forms to share information they have, related to child safety, with others like schools and social services. They’re still reluctant though, training only 12 officers, mostly PCSOs, in the force to share information in this way (though it was pointed out the force has dedicated child protection teams too). A number of authority members tried to probe the police’s continued reluctance to share child safety information with others in the way other public sector bodies do, but they didn’t really get anywhere.
- A proceedure for re-opening the cells at March police station, if needed, is to be worked up.
- The police authority Chief Executive spoke against Police and Crime Commissioners, saying one person could never be expected to keep on top of all the wide range of things the police authority does. (I’d hope the Chief Exec of the Police Authority would be doing that now!). She argued for a strong police and crime panel, saying that the role of the panel was in flux and changing as the legislation to bring in commissioners goes through parliament. She said that while the date for commissioner elections is May 2012, the parliamentary timetable to meet that was “quite close”.