I have submitted the following question to the Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel meeting on the 17th of June 2015:
Why is there no mention within the agenda and papers for the 17
June 2015 Police and Crime Panel meeting of the apparent resignations
of panel members Peterborough City Councillor Julia Davidson and
Independent Panel Member Christine Graham?
I note Cllr Davidson announced her intention to resign from the panel
after being a member of the panel for a year and attending no
The panel has now had two members from Peterborough who’ve been absent
for over a year citing difficulties getting to meetings in other parts
of the force area.
Previously the panel has considered, and agreed, arrangements for
recruiting independent members as an agenda item at a public meeting.
Panel member Edward Leigh has stated there was not enough space on the agenda to discuss these matters in a public meeting so they have been moved to a “pre-meeting”.
@RTaylorUK I'm told agenda was too full to add discussion of vacancies; will be discussed at pre-meeting (which I know you disapprove of)
— Edward Leigh (@EdwardALeigh) June 10, 2015
Pre-meetings are un-advertised, secret (while we now know one is planned before the June 2015 meeting we don’t know where and when), held in private, and illegal.
Under Schedule 6, part 2, section 4(5)(b) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 the Police and Crime Panel is a joint committee of the relevant local authorities.
The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 amends the Local Government Act 1972 and introduces sections 100A – 100E. Section 100E(3)(b) applies the provisions of section 100A to joint committees. Section 100A requires meetings to be open to the public except where confidential information would be disclosed or the body resolves to exclude the public on the grounds “exempt” material (defined in a schedule to the act) would be disclosed.
There has previously been a discussion over if an informal chat over sandwiches counts as a meeting. In this case though, with agenda items being shifted from the public, to the illegal, secret, private, meeting there is no doubt that the planned pre-meeting is subject to the provisions of Local Government Act 1972 requiring the meeting be open to the public.
The same law which requires full council meetings to be open to the public (with limited exceptions) applies to Police and Crime Panels.
Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel has a history of holding illegal, secret, private meetings:
- The first meeting between the Police and Crime Commissioner and the [shadow] Police and Crime Panel took place behind closed doors
- In June 2014 I spotted a secret, private, meeting of the panel taking place and took a photo:
— Richard Taylor (@RTaylorUK) June 19, 2014
- The invitation to the meeting from the secretariat on the 19th of June did not mention the pre-meeting – it would be interesting to know who booked the rooms and on what basis. Screens at Cambridgeshire County Council on December 15th, 2014 showed rooms booked for Police and Crime Panel pre-meetings.
- Core elements of the panel’s role have taken place within a private working-group meeting.
- When I was interviewed after I volunteered to become an independent member of the panel two members of the interview panel admitted secret pre-meetings took place but panel chair Cllr McGuire denied their existence
- Private sessions were held without resolution or explanation before and after the meeting on the 15th of December 2014 – in this case the existence of the private panel meetings were noted on screens in the venue and referred to during the public meeting.
Some councillors ridicule my campaigning for them to obey the law on holding meetings in public. I am not calling for any meeting of people who happen to be councillors to be publicised, minuted, and the public allowed to observe – though this is how my position is often mis-characterised in an effort to put up an easier position to argue against . What I want is for public access to council meetings, or in this case the joint committee of councils which is the Police and Crime Panel. It is clear that what is planned is a formal meeting of the Police and Crime Panel which will be considering matters which, if it were not for a lack of time, would be considered at the publicised public meeting of the panel. I suspect the Police and Crime Panel has a full agenda as it hasn’t met for three months.
One of the big differences between me and Independent member of the Panel Edward Leigh is that he supports the secret, private, pre-meetings whereas I do not. Mr Leigh is though continuing to seek “a definitive legal statement on this”.
I’m concerned that the panel reacted slowly to the year long absences of members Cllr Davidson and Raja Ali.
I would have liked to see the panel consider if they could have adapted the way they work to make it easier for those with difficulty travelling to take part. For example they could have conducted some of their work using video-conferencing, Skype, or conducted some deliberations, in public, using collaboration and communications tools such as Google Groups, Google Docs or MediaWiki software.
Adoption of such approaches in relation to aspects of the panel’s work could help all members, speed things up, and give greater transparency to matters currently presumably dealt with via email between meetings.
Seeking a New Independent Member
I think the panel should announce in public that their independent member has resigned, and share any, non-personal, information in the resignation letter which sets out the reasons for the resignation.
The panel just published an advert for a new independent member without explaining how the vacancy arose.
If the resignation is because the independent member, for example, found the panel’s work too frustrating and fruitless we should know that and the panel should consider how to respond and improve.
One round of recruitment has taken place which reportedly did not result in any applications being made. Even despite this failure there is no report back to the public meeting of the panel on the agenda.
In the past the panel approved the proposed of the recruitment process in public. (See item 15 of the July 2014 agenda).
The panel should consider, and set out, what skills and knowledge they are seeking in a replacement independent member.
I would also like them to review the selection process. I have published lots of material on my experiences of the process which should assist them.
In particular I would like them to consider:
- How the vacancy is advertised.
- Publishing the application pack online rather than requiring people request it.
- If the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is being used appropriately; and to ensure it isn’t being used to obtain additional information to inform a selection decision.
- To ensure that excessive information isn’t being collected to complete the DBS check (eg. a full address history for those who’ve not lived in their current home for more than a certain period); and the requirements are not unduly onerous on certain groups within the population.
- To ensure the application form makes clear which information is being collected for the purposes of a DBS check
- To ensure an easy to complete version of the application form is provided. (Despite me providing feedback on this point in 2012, the issue recurred in 2014).
- Applicants should be told how the selection is to be made. I only found out afterwards that the decision was made solely on the basis of the interview, and not the submitted application. I think this approach may be reasonable but it ought be communicated in advance.
- I would encourage greater transparency, and perhaps suggesting any recruitment sub-committee offer a choice of candidates to the panel
- Ensuring those involved in the process are aware they are not seeking someone to improve the representation of under-represented demographic groups on the panel; or indeed a representative of any kind.
I submitted the question prior to the deadline on Wednesday the 10th of June.