Cambs Police and Crime Panel To Discuss Member Recruitment at Illegal Secret Private Meeting


Monday, June 15th, 2015. 12:05am


Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Logo

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Logo

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
meetings. https://twitter.com/JuliaDa2014/status/586491013717438464

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”.

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:

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”.

Reasonable Adaptations

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.

11 comments/updates on “Cambs Police and Crime Panel To Discuss Member Recruitment at Illegal Secret Private Meeting

  1. Edward Leigh

    Richard,

    Speaking for myself (and not on behalf of the Police and Crime Panel), I think you’re barking up the wrong trees here. There really are far more significant issues to shine your investigative light on. But still, let me address the three main points you make:

    Pre-meetings
    You contend that pre-meetings are illegal. The weight of established practice is against you on this, and the law is silent on the matter. There is simply no definition in any of the Local Government Acts and amendments of what a ‘meeting’ is. You take it to mean any gathering of council/committee/panel members, but that is not the meaning established in practice. I have requested that the Secretariat obtain a statement from their council’s legal team to try to resolve what, on the face of it, looks like a matter of opinion.

    Some of our work is necessarily done out of the public eye: attending briefings, background research, private meetings and conversations, etc. That work ensures that we come to public meetings informed and prepared, and hence able to execute our statutory responsibilities effectively and efficiently. Pre-meetings are a rare opportunity for Panel members to meet informally, share ideas, seek legal clarifications, plan strategy, identify priorities, choose suitable working methods, timetable, etc.

    I share your general concern about decisions being made behind closed doors, especially in the case of planning applications, but the P&C Panel is a scrutiny panel: what powers do you imagine we have that we could abuse behind closed doors?

    Recruitment
    You contend that the recruitment of a co-opted panel member should have been discussed at the public meeting. I agree, but only because it would have been a good advertising opportunity. It is not a statutory function of the Panel; in fact it’s an HR matter for Peterborough City Council. The Panel is only involved in the interview process – and who conducts the interviews will be determined by who is willing, able and available at the time.

    From the Panel’s perspective, it’s an admin matter, and therefore can perfectly well be covered in a private meeting, an e-mail or a phone conversation. If you have suggestions for how Peterborough Council can advertise the vacancy more effectively, please send them to Ian Phillips (Ian.Phillips(at)peterborough.gov.uk).

    Attendance
    Your concern about prolonged absences of panel members is right, and hopefully that is being addressed by party groups nominating more appropriate councillors. I agree in principle that IT could facilitate more efficient working practices, and less need to travel, but in practice I think most councillors are more (and in some cases, only) comfortable with meetings and phone conversations.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I think it is excellent that independent member Edward Leigh has replied here.

      I don’t think it’s right to say I consider “any gathering of council/committee/panel members” to be a meeting which ought be held in public. What matters is what is being discussed and decided and if the meeting is in fact, in this case, a “meeting of the Police and Crime Panel”.

      On the 17th of June I had been told that agenda items considered for the “public” meeting were to be considered in private. That to me makes it very clear that business of the panel was to be conducted at the meeting I was not permitted to attend.

      After an appearance at an advertised public meeting on the 17th of June the panel retired to a further private meeting to consider their future agenda plan. Deciding what to scrutinise is an important part of the panel’s role and again I think that deliberation ought to have taken place in public as the meeting was carrying out the business of the Police and Crime Panel.

      Extensive “pre-meetings” result in public meetings, or elements of them, being a charade. I think the public ought be able to see the real decision making and the real debate not just a choreographed charade.

      I think panel members getting together to decide on lines of questioning, and who is going to ask what would be a good idea. Perhaps the law could be changed to enable the Police and Crime Panel to meet for this purpose alone for a short period before those appearing before it are allowed to enter the room? I’m not sure the privacy is necessary though.

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      I think it is important to get this fixed. There will be many eyes on the panel as it conducts its confirmation hearing for a new Chief Constable. The public will be astounded if the panel acts then as it has done at previous confirmation hearings and just walks out to a “secure area” after questioning the candidate. I expect to see much of the deliberation, followed if required, by a resolution to hold a private session if the panel thinks it needs to consider any exempt material it doesn’t think it’s reasonable to discuss in public.

      I would like to see the panel consider their recommendation to the Police and Crime Commissioner in relation to the Chief Constable appointment in public. I think that’s very important. Following the confirmation hearing for the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner the results of the vote have only come out because individual members reported on what happened behind closed doors. That would be a farce if it was repeated following a confirmation hearing for a Chief Constable candidate.

      I understand things might not be straight-forward and the panel might not reach a conclusion rapidly, and might want to defer the decision to a later day. In such a case the panel should, in public session, resolve to adjourn their meeting and re-convene in public on the announced day.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I came across another secret, private, meeting of the Police and Crime Panel on the 16th of September 2015:

      The Police and Crime Panel’s officer stated:

      “This is not a meeting of the Police and Crime Panel”

      I asked who the people were in the room and he said:

      “The members of the Police and Crime Panel”

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    The panel’s reply to my question has been published in the draft minutes of the meeting:

    Councillors are appointed to the Panel for a period of one year by their council. Following Local Elections, the Panel has a duty to ensure that its membership is reflective of the political balance across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Each Local Authority then nominates a representative(s) annually to serve on the Panel. As a result Cllr Davidson has not resigned, but has been replaced by another Councillor as nominated by the Liberal Democrats Group in Peterborough City Council. With regards to the vacancy for the independent member, the recruitment process is underway and a report will be made to the next Panel confirming the outcome and hopefully recommending an appointment

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    On the 17th of June 2015 Cllr Ablewhite who was chairing the Police and Crime Panel closed the meeting saying:

    That being concluding the meeting. I declare it closed and remind you that we have an agenda setting meeting in private shortly.

    The meeting’s agenda included “Meeting Dates and Agenda Plan 2015/2016″ as a substantive item. IT appears Cllr Ablewhite closed the meeting and re-opened it in private to deal with the agenda item.

    I think this is a particularly clear admission of the occurrence of illegal, private meetings of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel. Direct link to video of the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPr6DNl9tDg&t=111m16s

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    In September 2016 Police and Crime Panel meeting members admitted holding two secret, private, meetings:

    One member admitted being in the pre-meeting but claimed not to have realised it hadn’t been publicised.

    The Vice-Chair of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel has admitted taking part in unpublicised, private, secret, meetings of Cambs’ Police & Crime Panel:

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Andy Coles, who is now Cambridgeshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, spoke on Huntingdon Community Radio on the 11th of September 2016 about his experience of secret private meetings when he was a member of the Police and Crime Panel:

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