I used the public participation slot at Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel on the 5th of February 2014. I suggested that rather than allowing the Police and Crime Commissioner alone to decide which of his decisions are scrutinised by the panel, the panel ought be more proactive and work with the Commissioner to identify subjects to look into. I noted the commissioner had not voluntarily reported many decisions which I would have liked to have seen the panel scrutinise. Examples I gave included the commissioner’s decisions on non-emergency call handling performance, local police priority setting and publication of the commissioner’s official engagements.
One positive response came from Cambridge’s representative on the panel;
Cllr Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Leader of Cambridge City Council): I think it is difficult to respond to everything which Richard has raised but I do think there’s a strong case that we should move on as a panel to some more focused exercises in proper scrutiny.
And I think that when I read behind, I didn’t know actually, that the Commissioner had declined the opportunity for scrutiny in some respect at Cambridgeshire County Council, I don’t know anything about that, but it does point up that effectively we are the only place where this has to happen.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: [Nods indicating agreement]
Cllr Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Leader of Cambridge City Council): There are some serious changes, some serious decisions, and they bear deep examination and whether it is call handling, which suggests itself actually first, as it was one of the first declarations of change that was made, maybe we should contemplate: “What is our agenda?” and spend some time not going through the structured agenda like we have today but go through an issue based agenda where we sit down and decide who we want to talk to and questions we want to ask so we can go from beginning to end on the subject. For me that is what scrutiny ought to be about and I’m missing it so far.
Cllr Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Leader of Cambridge City Council): Chair, there was a bit of consensus in what people said about getting to more focused scrutiny exercises…
Acting Chairman Cllr Jason Ablewhite: Given an opportunity I will come on to that.
Cllr Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Leader of Cambridge City Council): Sorry.
Acting Chairman Cllr Jason Ablewhite: I think that there are some points in here, and there are some generic points, which are valid and I think they have been picked up around the room in terms of us becoming a more focused scrutiny panel. So we actually focus on decisions which are being made and how they impact on the general public, and actually as a politically accountable body that’s what a scrutiny panel does, and so I think that there is a strong feeling around the table that we should be doing more of that, what I think we’ve got to do is go back with officers and work out a process whereby we can pick up threads of emerging things like the scrutiny panel does or the scrutiny manager does within the council structure where emerging policies, emerging things that are happening they feel that they pluck out things they feel ought be on the agenda for further scrutiny, it also allows for where a decisions digest might be one way of doing it, I know we use one as a council where when a decision digest of the decisions which have been made, the policies which have been made, over a past specific month are presented to the panel and then they can decide which parts of those they can go into more depth again in that review you can have more detailed information than we sometimes get.
While these responses were positive; the panel didn’t actually resolve to add a future agenda item on identifying items for future scrutiny, or to ask their officers to come up with a proposed process for identifying items beyond those the reported by the commissioner.
The Police and Crime Panel is the only group with the power to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner to account; it costs us around £50,000 per year and to-date they appear to only be doing the statutory minimum.
My submission to the panel has come under criticism from, among others, member of the panel, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Martin Curtis among others. I am proud of my submission, I hope it will prompt our Police and Crime Panel to start holding our Police and Crime Commissioner to account.
That it informed one member of the panel about the commissioner’s refusal to co-operate with the Cambridgeshire County Council policing related scrutiny committee, and stressed to them the importance of the role of the panel as the only body with the power to hold the commissioner to account alone makes the submission worth making.