Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Annual Meeting 12 June 2013


Wednesday, June 12th, 2013. 11:24pm

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.

Open Discussion

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

Informal Q&A

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.

Attendance

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).

Access

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.

Public Speaking

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.

15 comments/updates on “Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Annual Meeting 12 June 2013

  1. Ed Hammond

    Richard – perhaps not possible this time, but in future could you give minute/second references in the video for each substantive point you make in your post – it just means that those of us who are interested don’t have to watch the whole thing if we don’t want to!!

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      It’s kind of the whole thing; it’s their only substantive item of business.

      They ask the commissioner to introduce his decisions; but he just gabbles on about all sorts of things he’s done and is planning to do and the questioning isn’t on the decisions but on all sorts of items. A few references are made to decisions the commissioner has highlighted for scrutiny, eg one member congratulates the commissioner on extending the Chief Constable’s contract, and Cllr Bullen asks about ownership of St Ives Police Station but generally the panel meeting, as its members admit, goes completely off the rails of its agenda and degenerates into an unstructured session.

  2. Rex_Imperator

    The excellent blog by Bernard Rix raises the issue of “what is a decision” and it is noteworthy that Cambridgeshire’s PCC is one of the least transparent, with a small number of publicly declared decisions, limited interaction through social media etc.
    The government centrally really needs to tighten up on definitions of “decisions” if they aspire to increase public involvement.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The article referred to by Rex_Imperator appears to be that at:

      http://bernardrix.com/2013/04/28/who-is-the-busiest-pcc-and-the-least-busy/

      Mr Rix’s article notes Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner had, as of the end of April, published 8 decisions, whereas the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent had published 85.

      As I noted above Cambridgeshire’s commissioner says on his “decisions” webpage he is only publishing:

      decisions of significant public interest

      There is a problem with lack of transparency over those decisions the commissioner does not deem to be “of significant public interest”; and a significant problem of lack of scrutiny and oversight if the Police and Crime Panel don’t decide for themselves which decisions to scrutinise. In my view the panel was misled when, having been presented with those decisions on the Commissioner’s website, the Commissioner assured them they had been informed of all the decisions he has taken.

      Seven decisions were reported to the Police and Crime Panel, and eleven are currently listed on the Commissioner’s website. Three of those missing are the appointment of the Deputy Commissioner, and the Commissioner’s budget and Capital Programme, which the Panel has scrutinised separately, the other decision which the commissioner considered of significant public interest but not for the panel to scrutinise was the adoption of his:

      This had been presented to the panel’s March 2013 meeting

      Notably the 8 February 2013 decision: ” To not proceed with further work exploring the Lincolnshire Police outsourcing framework, with G4S as the supplier.” which was also put before the March 2013 meeting is not listed on the “decisions” page of the Commissioner’s website. Perhaps he considered it not of public interest?

      As I note in the article above, there are many further decisions which the commissioner has decided are neither of significant public interest so noted on his website, nor decisions he thinks ought be scrutinised by the Police and Crime Panel.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    Another rather important decision the commissioner has made has been to hold his key “business co-ordination board” meeting behind closed doors and not to publish the agenda and papers in advance (he appears to be publishing long after the meetings, and sometimes only when prompted to publish by FOI requests). He has established similar, less than open and transparent, arrangements for his other key meetings.

    The commissioner’s spending decisions could also be reviewed; such as his spending on advertorials, and car park signs for himself and his Chief Executive.

  4. Ed Hammond

    If there’s to be a tightening up of what is or isn’t a “decision”, in an enforceable way, by Government, the only way to do this would be through secondary legislation. It would take time and while I can’t speak for them, I’m not convinced that the Home Office would want to do this.

    It may be that the Association of PCCs can be prevailed upon to issue some – non-binding – guidance to Commissioners about this issue. Hardly ideal, but better than nothing.

    I will however drop the Home Office a line to see what they think of the idea, as I have spoken to others who have mentioned it as an issue in other parts of the country.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      My own inclination is to try and lobby my Police & Crime Panel to be a bit more proactive in investigating to find the decisions (and failures to act) which they ought be looking into; and being more skeptical when the Commissioner turns up and tells them a sparse list he’s provided, with obvious omissions, is a complete list of decisions. If Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel had been monitoring the local press, the Commissioner’s website, and the Commissioner’s FOI responses on WhatDoTheyKnow, they would have found out about many of the things the Commissioner has been up to which he didn’t proactively draw to their attention.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve just noticed that at 41:54 Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright appears to express astonishment at the way the meeting is going, and the panel’s failure to robustly hold him to account, exclaiming to the chairman:

    You’ll have to be tougher with this you know.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    At 42:33 Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright gave an update on collaboration with Hertfordshire:

    What happened in Hertfordshire, and I actually was chairing that meeting where they decided they didn’t want to sort of go any further forward. They want to, as I understand, put their back office operation elsewhere.

    But we ringfenced the agreement, so that stays, absolutely there in terms of dealing with the operational side of things and what is more the door is open to go further. The point they made they didn’t want to collaborate any more on back office operations.

    But we on behalf of ourselves and in Bedfordshire want to make sure that what we had was doing well, it saved us money, and you know better the operation, so it’s still there.

    I understand Hertfordshire have decided not to join Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in merging their back office functions, and that the collaboration between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire is continuing; but that’s the only meaning I can extract from the Commissioner’s statement. I’m not sure if his other words can be parsed and any information extracted?

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    At 49:44 Cllr Irene Walsh appears to try and justify her failure to look at the decision notices and supporting information on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s website saying:

    Sorry but it just gets a little bit you know much for us when you get lots of paperwork,

  8. Confused of cambs

    Richard – I understand that the deputy, chief exec and chief finance officer get paid via companies and not PAYE which I find absolutely disgusting. I work in the “system” – can you find out if this is true using an FOI please
    The man is clearly bumbling his way through and us Cambridgeshire residents deserve better.
    He is not challenged as the panel is mainly his cronies.
    It sucks.

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