Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel – Josie Gowler Confirmation Hearing


Monday, December 15th, 2014. 10:47pm

On Monday the 15th of December 2014 I observed Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel who were holding a confirmation hearing for the appointment of Josie Gowler to the position of Chief Finance Officer (Director of Finance) and Deputy Chief Executive of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

The best question asked during the session was ruled out of order by the panel’s chairman Cllr Mac McGuire:

Cllr David Over (Peterborough City Council): You are an employee of the Commissioner so would he have an editing role or an opinion about what you would produce?
Candidate Josie Gowler: [Silence]
Dorothy Gregson, Chief Executive, Office of Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner: I think what I would say is that this is a matter of policy for the commissioner so that’s out of scope.
Chairman Cllr Mac McGuire: Yes. Are you happy to leave that for now?
Cllr Over: Yes. I understand.
Cllr McGuire: It’s better than what I was going to say anyway.

(See 31:20 on the video)

A key thing I want from the Chief Finance Officer is accurate and complete accounts. I think it’s reasonable to ask the candidate how they would react to a request from the Police and Crime Commissioner, or anyone else, asking them to “edit” the accounts.

The question was a broader version of a question I had suggested to a number of panel members for asking. I focused on an example of where someone, perhaps the Chief Constable, the Police and Crime Commissioner or the Home Secretary, asked for something to be omitted from the accounts on national security grounds, and suggested Josie Gowler could be asked how she would respond to such a request.

I chose my more specific example because we have recently seen Cambridgeshire Police refusing to release the size of a Home Office grant citing national security as the reason. Also when we had a Police Authority there were some police constables under the control of the Chief Constable who were funded directly, and secretly, by the Home Office rather than through the public Police Authority accounts.*

It is of course possible that the Police and Crime Commissioner might have another motivation for asking for an “edit” to be made to the accounts than so called national security grounds.

I was surprised to see the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Chief of Staff suggest that an edit to the accounts would be a policy decision the Police and Crime Commissioner could make.

If the Police and Crime Commissioner was to improperly direct the staff of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to make a change to the accounts I would expect them to challenge him and to report the attempt to the public, including perhaps via the Police and Crime Panel.

This exchange raises the question of who the staff of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office consider they work for. Is their allegiance to the current holder of the office of Police and Crime Commissioner or is it to the wider public?

Calling Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Staff to the Police and Crime Panel

Cllr Peter Reeve: Some of the officers, certainly the Chief Constable, sees his role as being scrutinised by the commissioner rather than by us. Should we want to question you and scrutinise you directly would you see that being done via the commissioner or would you welcome this panel inviting you to come forward and asking you questions directly?

Candidate Josie Gowler: Certainly in my role at Newnham College used to various committees holding my role to account. IT, the scrutiny committee, the audit committee and I give you my role as commissioner’s CFO should I be confirmed in post as being exactly the same. I relish the check and balance which this sort of panel or committee brings.


Cllr McGuire: May I just clarify that the important thing is that we hold the Commissioner to account, that’s our role. And who the commissioner requires to support him from his office is of course his decision. And we would look forward to having you if he chooses. I wouldn’t want you to do away with the impression that we might be calling you. We would not. We would invite the commissioner. Clearly I think that was what you were intending.

Cllr Peter Reeve: I was just exploring whether our request would be welcomed by the officer or not and I was pleased with the answer.

(See 25:00 on the video)

I think chairman Cllr Mac McGuire was badly wrong when he suggested the panel has no powers to call the staff of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to appear in-front of the panel. Section 29(1) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 states:

A police and crime panel may require the relevant police and crime commissioner, and members of that commissioner’s staff, to attend before the panel (at reasonable notice) to answer any question which appears to the panel to be necessary in order for it to carry out its functions.

Clearly the panel is empowered to call staff before it in their own right. The chairman was wrong to suggest that the only way staff can appear before the panel is if the Police and Crime Commissioner decides to bring them with him.

I think Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel chair Cllr McGuire made a mistake by promising Josie Gowler that if appointed she would not be required by the panel to attend before the panel. Cllr McGuire’s comments may though reflect a lack of interest and willingness from the panel to use its powers and opportunities.

Cllr Reeve’s question was perfectly reasonable and the chairman McGuire’s dismissive intervention was ill-informed.

Openness to the Public

I believe I was only able to observe part of the meeting. Panel chairman Cllr Mac McGuire appeared to find a novel way of side-stepping the law allowing the public to observe local government meetings by declaring the meeting “closed” part way through and then re-convening a previously unpublicised meeting of the panel.

I was assured by one of the panel’s officers that the re-convinced meeting considered (and apparently passed) a resolution to exclude the public (See 37:02 on the video). I doubt this actually happened and I expect the officers were as confused and surprised by chairman McGuire’s decisions and rulings.

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel’s rules of procedure which have been considered many times by the full panel which simply state:

17.4 The confirmation hearings will be held in public and the candidates will be questioned in relation to their appointment. Candidates must attend, either in person or by video link

There is no mention there of any private, secret sessions or unpublicised panel meetings.

When compared to the way the previous confirmation hearing was handled this time there was a little more clarity, but it was still farcical.

I would have rather seen a clear resolution by the panel if they wanted to enter private session, making clear what was happening, and why, and in this case that would have probably involved explaining what additional information would be revealed in the part of the meeting to be held in private when compared with that held in public.

Public Speaking Slot

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel’s rules of procedure provide, in section seven, for questions from the public. Chairman McGuire ruled there would be no such agenda slot at the meeting – this went against the repeatedly expressed views of the panel as a whole who have considered and supported the rules on a number of occasions.

The public question slot was also inexplicably absent from the 12 June 2013 meeting; then officers stated it was as the meeting was the “annual general meeting”; despite the rules of procedure having no exemption for that meeting either.

Cllr McGuire said:

Although this meeting is held in public, and you are probably aware we do allow people to film and record at our meetings, it is not a normal meeting of the Police and Crime Panel it is a hearing to agree your appointment and to that extent we do not have… It is a single item agenda. We do not have public questions at this meeting. OK? Now I know there is often some controversy over the interpretation of the rules but that’s how we’re interpreting it at the moment.

Anyone who wants to challenge that and get clearance on it can do that through the officers. But as far as we’re concerned at the moment. No public question time.

I think Cllr McGuire is wrong to suggest his rulings can only be challenged via officers. Any member of the panel could raise a point of order and make an argument to Cllr McGuire urging him to reconsider a ruling. Cambridgeshire County Councillors can also use the question slot at full council meetings to question Cllr McGuire on his role on the Police and Crime Panel. Members of the public can use the public question slot at meetings, where he permits one, to challenge him as well.

I asked a panel’s officer about the mechanism to challenge the chair’s rulings and he offered to send me Cllr McGuire’s phone number.

Cllr Sinnott’s Contribution on Behalf of Cambridge

Cllr Sinnott, representing Cambridge, asked a question which had already been asked, and well answered, three times. She asked what the candidate what she thought the major challenges arising in the near future, the next three years would be.

I was impressed that when answering this question Josie Gowler noted the potential for civil unrest and a strain on policing should Ebola arise in Cambridgeshire.

Absences

Six of the thirteen members of the Police and Crime Panel had sent apologies: Cllr Oliver, Cllr Palmer, Cllr Herbert (substituted by Cllr Sinnott), Cllr Shellens, Cllr Davidson and Christine Graham.

I’ve written previously about High Level of Turnover and Absence on Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel.

Police and Crime Commissioner’s Absence

I think the Police and Crime Commissioner should have attended the meeting. He attended the confirmation hearing for his friend Brian when he was seeking to appoint him Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner.

My Further Views

I was encouraged by the candidate’s repeated commitment to transparency and look forward to more detailed accounts and budgets being published. Given the response to the panel I hope that as well as spending over £500 being published we will soon see total spending for each cost centre / area of business.

I have previously suggested exploring seeking the services of a firm of accountants to service the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office. This could be a cheaper approach.

There’s a question of if the Police and Police and Crime Commissioner both need highly paid Chief Financial Officers, especially given the Police and Crime Commissioner’s arrangements which do not involve operating his office and the police force as two completely separate entities.

I think a number of quite different roles are being combined here, from accountant, to senior strategic advisor to potentially even an acting Police and Crime Commissioner. The Deputy Chief Executive role could routinely be significant given the Chief Executive only works part time. I would have expected more adjustment of the role to fit the available candidates and their skills and desires.

Meeting Papers

* I would love to be able to provide a reference for this but can’t quickly find one. I recall the issue being raised at the Police Authority on a number of occasions, and on one occasion the number of constables was quoted as X funded by the Police Authority plus X others. I think it might have been me asking what was going on that stopped that practice.

6 comments/updates on “Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel – Josie Gowler Confirmation Hearing

  1. Edward Leigh

    As ever Richard you make some relevant and interesting criticisms of the workings of the Police and Crime Panel. However, I think in this instance the issues are more technical than substantial:

    Calling Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Staff to the Police and Crime Panel

    You are absolutely right that the Panel has the power to call in any of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s staff. To be honest I could not recall off the top of my head whether the wording was ‘request’ or ‘require’ so I didn’t speak up when Cllr McGuire said that we would not call the Chief Financial Officer to appear at a panel meeting. However, I also recognised that, in the context, it was not relevant to our assessment of the candidate’s suitability as she had already stated a willingness to appear before the panel.

    Openness to the Public

    You are correct that the meeting was not ‘closed’ at the time that you left the room: it moved into closed session. It was unfortunate that the correct wording wasn’t used, but it was not an abuse of process.
    You are also correct that the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel’s rules of procedure do not go into detail about how hearings should be conducted. As I mentioned in my tweets, the guidance we follow is that published by the Local Government Association: Police and crime panels – Guidance on confirmation hearings. Page 16 of this states:

    Immediately following the confirmation hearing, the panel should go into closed session to decide on its recommendations. Whilst the Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 12A would normally apply to the panel’s operation at this point, the Home Office suggests that panels are joint committees under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act rather than the Local Government Act 1972. The Home Office will shortly issue Regulations to clarify how parts of the 1972 Act will apply to panels. The monitoring officer and a senior HR professional should be present to provide advice to the panel on its deliberations.

    The decision of the panel is not published immediately (and hence the panel does not return to public session after its deliberation) to allow time for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to respond to the decision. Where the panel recommends refusal to appoint, the PCC and the candidate need time to consider how to proceed. So that the panel does not inadvertently signal its decision prematurely, the panel delays publication of its decision, whatever it is. In greater detail, this is what page 18 of the above guidance document states:

    It is important to appreciate that any negative determination by the panel could have an undesirable effect on the candidate’s career options. It is suggested therefore that the affected candidate should ideally have at least a few days to consider their position and ask any further questions they may have about the process before information is released to the press and general public.
    To achieve this, 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.
    An understanding about this arrangement would need to be discussed and agreed with the PCC and their staff who might otherwise release information about appointments separately from the panel.
    Delaying any announcement about favourable panel recommendations and associated appointment announcements would be necessary to avoid unfavourable recommendations becoming automatically associated with a delay. This would in effect create the same outcome for unfavourable recommendations as if the information had been released straight away.
    Although the five day period is suggested in order to ensure fairness to the candidate, it is recognised that there may be some circumstances where their best interest would be served by a quicker release of information. In all cases, a consistent approach to the release of information would need to be discussed and agreed with the PCC and their staff.

    Public Speaking Slot

    I share your frustration about the lack of clarity as to how and when the public may put questions to the panel. As far as I understand, a hearing is treated as an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGMs), and hence governed by clause 4.8 of the Rules of procedure:

    The only business to be conducted at an Extraordinary Meeting of the Panel will be to choose a person to preside if the Chairman and Vice-Chairman are absent or otherwise unable to preside and to consider the matter specified in the request to call an Extraordinary Meeting. No other business may be conducted at the meeting unless the Panel otherwise resolve.

    That means that there is no agenda item “to receive any questions or petitions from members of the public in accordance with paragraph 7;” This in turn means that clause 7.2 needs to be clarified as referring only to Ordinary Meetings. I’m not convinced that there is good reason to exclude public questions from EGMs, but it is something I will raise with the other panel members, and seek an amendment to the rules to reflect whatever is agreed.
    I will also discuss amending the notice period for the public to submit questions. I agree with you that the public must be permitted to submit questions on agenda items, even if the agenda is published at short notice. I have asked whether a draft agenda might be published where the final agenda may not be published until five days before the meeting, but that would place an additional burden on admin and legal staff. Therefore the amendment I shall propose is that the deadline for submitting questions should be five working days before the meeting or three working days after the agenda is published, whichever falls later.

    Transparency of financial reporting

    I agree with you that there was confusion over the handling of Cllr David Over’s question about ‘editing’ of financial reports. I think on balance, it was right to overrule the question because it was too broad and hypothetical. It might have been better phrased as, “If the PCC asked you to redact or otherwise obfuscate an element of a financial report, would you comply?” I believe the issue was satisfactorily covered by the candidate’s answer to the question by Cllr McGuire about the obligations of a Section 151 Office and the CIPFA Code of Conduct.

    Edward Leigh
    Independent member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel
    pcp@edwardleigh.co.uk

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I think it’s excellent we’ve got a member of the Police and Crime Panel who is prepared to communicate and explain their actions.

      I suspected that some of panel members’ unwillingness to challenge the chairman during the meeting might have arisen as they wanted to focus on the core business in-front of them and didn’t want the panel to look too chaotic in-front of the candidate.

      I can see an argument that it wasn’t crucial to correct the chair’s misinterpretation of the panel’s powers in relation to calling members of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s staff straight-away as it wasn’t impacting the progress of the confirmation hearing. However it did leave me with the impression that neither the chair, the members other than Cllr Reeve, or the legions of highly paid professional advisers were aware of the panel’s powers. I hope the chair will clarify his position at the next meeting of the panel.

      Any member of the panel could have raised a point of order requesting advice from officers on the powers of the panel. I suspect it would have been rapidly dealt with.

      As for if the problem with the manner in which the meeting was closed to the public was a technicality or not – my view is it was not made clear why a private session was desired, or justified. As no reason was given I can’t judge if the reasons were legally acceptable or not. If the deliberation was based on the information already made public then there was no reason not to hold the deliberation in public.

      If it was possible to reach a decision without the disclosure of confidential information then I can’t see how the panel could exclude the public from the meeting at the point that decision was taken.

      The panel have come up with a very odd way of releasing information of what happens in its private sessions. Under section 6.1(b) of the rules of procedure it offers hard copies of :

      a summary of any proceedings not open to the public
      where the minutes open to inspection would not provide a reasonably fair and coherent record;

      This means the material is probably not available under Freedom of Information law (it is exempt as “otherwise accessible”); and nor is it pro-actively published. The panel doesn’t even make public the existence of all its unpublicised private meetings.

      I would like to see a summary of the proceedings in private made public via the papers of the next meeting.

      As for relaxing public questions deadline – this is something I raised at the March 2014 meeting of the panel but the panel decided to keep their rules which make effectively using the public speaking slot very difficult.

      I don’t see the need for any notice for questions on agenda items. Cambridge City Council works with no notice for such questions (questioners just have to let officers know they want to raise a question before the meeting starts). I would like to see a way to submit questions in writing, in public, in advance, with a view to obtaining a more considered response, perhaps using the existing publicly funded ShapeYourPlace website, and/or Facebook perhaps.

      I note while the March meeting agreed to open up the public speaking slot to permit its use for suggesting items for scrutiny what has happened is the creation of a separate process for such submissions which does not give a right to address the panel and make a case for considering the item. Cllr McGuire stated in July 2014 the new wording would simply clarify that the public speaking slot could be used to suggest an item for scrutiny but something quite different eventually ended up in the rules of procedure..

  2. paul Lythgoe

    Dear Mr Leigh,
    I must congratulate you on responding on Richard’s blog. It is rather a novelty to see any evidence that a member of this PCP has any knowledge of their role, of any evidence that they have taken any time to read any of the documents produced by the PCC including the budget, take any effort to question any of the activities, or ask any question relating to the activities of the PCC, and in particularly decision making that hasn’t been led by the PCC. It would be useful to ask the PCC why he left John Hummersone in post for so long given his contractual status, why when he left in November the accounts were done by the Cambridge forces CFO deemed inapropriate by an earlier HMIC audit, and why it has taken over 12 months since the announcement of the vacancy for it to be filled.
    Paul Lythgoe

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    As far as I can see the panel’s recommendation (or the result of the series of meetings and any subsequent discussion) has not yet been published on the panel’s webpages

    http://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx?CommitteeId=543

    The Police and Crime Commissioner has not published any recommendation he has received from the panel and there are no decisions relating to the appointment of the new finance officer listed yet at:

    http://www.cambridgeshire-pcc.gov.uk/work/decisions/

    Imagine if this was the appointment of an acting Police and Crime Commissioner or a new Chief Constable. It’s important to get the system working transparently now.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Draft minutes of the meeting have been published at:

    http://democracy.peterborough.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=543&MId=3394&Ver=4

    The minutes do not cover what is being called the “private session”, and don’t cover much at all.

    The substantive element, describing what took place at public meeting, states just:

    The Chair welcomed Josie Gower the proposed candidate for the position of Chief Finance Officer of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire. Panel Members questioned the candidate in relation to her proposed appointment to consider her suitability for the role. At the conclusion of their questions the Panel thanked her for attending the hearing

    The minutes do not record any decision taken by the panel.

    Meeting papers do record a decision made by the Police and Crime Commissioner on the 8th
    of January 2015 “To appoint Josie Gowler to the post of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Director of Finance”.

    The only record of the Panel’s decision to recommend the appointment is contained in a letter from the commissioner to the panel in which he notifies the panel he has accepted their recommendation and made the appointment.

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