On the 12th of July 2013 I observed Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel’s annual meeting.
The only substantive item of business was a review of decisions made by the Police and Crime Commissioner. The meeting turned into a total farce as it emerged the panel was under the impression it was to scrutinise the decisions on the basis only of their “titles” and a short oral update from the commissioner.
Members of the panel had not realised that the intent was that the decisions listed in their meeting papers (PDF) ought be accompanied by links to the background on the decisions available on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s website. While the dates of the decisions are in blue and underlined they do not function as links for me (perhaps they do in some software).
The Police and Crime Commissioner publishes a list of decisions he considers to be of public interest on his website. Members of the Police and Crime Panel appeared unaware of this, and had not sought out the detail themselves.
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s Chief Executive noted that as soon as every decision was made the Police and Crime Panel’s officers had been informed and sent a copy of the record of the decision.
Based on the titles, the only decision the panel requested more information on, for further scrutiny in detail, was the collaboration arrangements for the Operational Planning & Support Unit, Dog Unit and Roads Policing Unit. The Commissioner’s Chief Executive told the panel she would struggle to get a detailed report prepared for them on the decision before November; which the panel accepted, noting they were in no hurry.
Selecting Decisions for Scrutiny
I think there’s a serious flaw in the process of allowing the Police and Crime Commissioner to decide which of his decisions are of public interest and ought be scrutinised. The Commissioner did not for example invite the panel to scrutinise his decisions to appoint a strategic advisor and outreach officers to whom he appears to plan to delegate significant elements of his role. The Commissioner didn’t invite the panel to scrutinise other aspects of his decisions relating to running his office, and the associated costs. The Commissioner’s decision to move the force’s IT to Microsoft was another decision the commissioner didn’t put to the panel.
Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright told the Police and Crime Panel they had a “complete list of decisions”. This is clearly untrue.
Cambridge residents were unexpectedly represented at the panel by Cllr Andrea Reiner; she spoke to me on the way in and I suggested she clarify how the decisions to be scrutinised had been selected; she told me she would ask, but failed to do so.
Having failed to prepare themselves to scrutinise the Commissioner’s decisions, the panel allowed Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright to ramble on about the various things that he has been up to, and panel members asked him questions about it. This, rather than what they were meant to be doing, took up almost all of the hour long meeting.
During this exchange a few notable things emerged which I will write about in detail separately::
- The Commissioner said he was “thrilled” that all local councils in the County had signed up to the ECINs website for sharing information with the police, NHS and others. He assured the panel that no details of individuals would be held on the system beyond the fact they had merely been in contact with various other agencies. I suspect the Commissioner got this wrong as it is at odds with what Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership has repeatedly been told about the datasharing website.
- The Commissioner revealed a licence for a system called “ALERT” has been purchased. The Commissioner stated the system will be used by the police to share information from their incident log, in a near real time manner, with Neighbourhood Watch and Parish Councils. My view is this sounds excellent, or it would be if the information was published to all interested rather than just Neighbourhood Watch members and Parish Councils. The Commissioner said he thought access to information would encourage people to join neighbourhood watch and would result in parish clerks being very well informed. Asked about the potential overlap with the ECops email system, Cmmr Bright stated he had no responsibility for Ecops.
Other items raised included:
- A member of the panel noted he had learned from personal experience that Cambridgeshire Police no longer handle the paperwork associated with vehicle collisions; this is now handled by Herts Police due to “collaboration”; he noted this had caused problems with having to provide information twice.
- A member of the panel expressed concern that if the police were too easy to contact they might be overwhelmed with too much information.
- Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright said that 38,000 man hours would be saved by issuing every police officer with a smart-phone. (Presumably per year?).
- Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright told the panel 95% of 101 calls were being answered in 30 seconds and the previous delay was 10 mins. This again is a backtrack from what he told the East Area Committee in March where he said all calls are now being answered within thirty, or thirty four, seconds..
- Cmmr Bright told the Police and Crime Panel the Chief Constable says he has to run to keep up with him.
- Commissioner Bright explained his decision to renew the Chief Constable’s employment contract. He said the Chief Constable would remain in office until after the next Police and Crime Commissioner’s election.
- A member of the Police and Crime Panel asked why their comments on the Police and Crime Plan were ignored; they were told that was something they were going to discuss at their next meeting
Cllr Irene Walsh appeared to like the rambling question and answer session and asked it to be added to every Police and Crime Panel agenda. It was suggested that this might be added as an informal element after the meeting. My concern is “informal” might mean in private with the public excluded.
The meeting was poorly attended, with Cllrs Bick and Elsey giving their apologies along with independent member Raja Ali. All those apologies were without explanation, and only Cllr Bick sent an alternate. Others were also absent without apologies or explaination including Cllr Martin Curtis, the leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. I counted seven of the thirteen members of the panel present as the meeting started, and one arrived late.
The Police and Crime Commissioner, his deputy, his chief executive, and his treasurer were present and sat at the committee table. Two other officers, probably from his office, were present. In addition a community engagement officer from Cambridgeshire County Council was observing. I was the only member of the public at the meeting (there were no professional press present either).
One thing which went well was the doors to the venue were unlocked; and there was a notice visible from the outside stating the meeting was taking place and pointing to its location (although it did get the start time wrong by two hours!). On previous occasions the doors have been locked and it has been quite a struggle to get in and observe.
I asked Cllr Reiner and the committee’s support officer Alex Daynes why there was no mention of a public speaking slot shown on the agenda. Mr Daynes told me that this was due to it being the annual meeting. I’ve checked the rules of procedure but they make no reference to a suspension of the public speaking section for the annual meeting.
Election of Chair
Cllr Mac McGuire was re-elected chair of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel.
Review of Rules of Procedure
Despite section 1.4 of the rules stating: “The Rules shall be reviewed annually at the Panel’s Annual meeting”. No review of the rules occurred at the 2013 annual meeting.