- Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel met for the first time, in shadow form, in secret, behind closed doors, on the 12th of September 2012. The panel is called a shadow panel until it formally becomes the Police and Crime Panel following election of Police and Crime Commissioners.
- The shadow panel has decided the Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel will not meet until the 13th of January 2013 (a Sunday!), when it will scrutinise the commissioner’s precept.
- The shadow panel is making key decisions, including setting up a timetable for its own, and the Police and Crime Panel’s meetings for the forthcoming year, and setting up a process for the appointment of independent members of the panel.
- At its first meeting the shadow panel considered a motion from member Cllr Wilkins (Liberal Democrat), that it should meet in public, and it should pro-actively publish its meeting papers. The panel voted against Cllr Wilkins’ proposal and decided to continue in secret.
- Conservative Cllr McGuire, who sounds as if he might be the panel’s chair, defended the panel’s decision saying the secrecy was “pragmatic” and “it’s got work to do”.
- Cllr Wilkins asked Cambridgeshire County Council’s Police and Crime Scrutiny meeting on the 13th of September to call for the shadow panel to hold its meetings in public and to publish its papers. No other members of scrutiny committee supported Cllr Wilkins, instead a weaker proposal, asking simply for the status of the meetings and their papers to be clarified, was passed by the scrutiny committee.
- Cllr West, the chair of the Scrutiny Committee committee, and member of the Police and Crime Panel brandished the documents for the Shadow Police and Crime Panel during the scrutiny committee on the 13th of September, he noted they were headed “Public Document Pack”; this raised confusion.
- Cllr McGuire has announced the panel could investigate the over-staffing of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, which is expected to occur due to the Police Authority failing to wind down before being disbanded and handing over all its staff to the commissioner
Cambridgeshire’s Shadow Police and Crime Panel is currently a committee of councillors and it is taking important decisions, it should be meeting in public and its meeting time and location should be pro-actively published along with the agenda and papers.
I think the Police and Crime Panel should meet soon after the election of the commissioner on the 15th of November. The Commissioner ought be given a chance to tell his panel how he wants it to operate in support of is role; and the panel ought let its commissioner know they’ll be keeping a close eye on what he gets up to.
I find it astonishing that the panel are not planning to meet formally until January 2013.
I would like to be able to see what the Police and Crime panel is planning to do; for example if it is reaching out to the independent custody visitors to ensure they inform their activities, and if they are putting arrangements in place with the police to ensure that performance monitoring data is routinely provided to the panel once it is fully in operation.
Cllr McGuire’s argument that secrecy is pragmatic or that a committee with work to do cannot operate in public is nonsense. Without openness and transparency the public are unable to lobby their elected representatives in relation to their roles on the panel, and the panel does not have the benefit of many-eyes looking over their papers and drawing matters to members’ attention. The secrecy prevents those bodies which have sent representatives to sit on the panel from monitoring their representatives’ performance.
In Cambridge the Liberal Democrats considered not letting their representative, Cllr Bick, participate in the private sessions, but eventually decided to let him take part in them.
Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Membership
According to a police authority document dated August 2012 the membership of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel is:
- Cllr Mac McGuire (Cambridgeshire County Council)
- Cllr Richard West (Cambridgeshire County Council)
- Cllr Kevin Wilkins (Cambridgeshire County Council)
- Cllr Gavin Elsey (Peterborough City Council) (Twitter: @GavinElsey)
- Cllr Nazim Khan (Peterborough City Council)
- Cllr Irene Walsh (Peterborough City Council)
- Cllr Jason Ablewhite (Huntingdonshire District Council)
- Cllr Tim Bick (Cambridge City Council) (Twitter: @TimBick)
- Cllr Martin Curtis (Fenland District Council) (Twitter: @CllrMCurtis)
- Cllr James Palmer (East Cambridgeshire District Council) (Twitter @clipsall)
- Cllr Ben Shelton (South Cambridgeshire District Council)
I have started a database for this panel on mySociety’s alpha “PopIt” service, which could be used to try and keep track of these individuals’ various positions.
It was during Cambridgeshire County Council’s Police and Crime Scrutiny meeting on the 13th of September it was formally revealed in public that Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel met in secret on the 12th of September (although I had tweeted about it the day before).
Cllr McGuire, who I suspect may be the panel’s chair, discussed the frequency of panel meetings with the scrutiny committee. Cllr McGuire appeared to want rare meetings of the panel, with it doing a minimal amount of work, councillors on the scrutiny committee appeared concerned by this, expecting them to do more.
Cllr McGuire said that during the first, secret, meeting of the members of the Police and Crime Panel the panel had found it hard to grasp what it was they were being asked to do, he noted the legislation used the word “veto” but in reality he said the legislation didn’t really give the panel a veto it just used the word. Cllr McGuire called on MPs to clarify what they expected the panel to do. My view is that it may well be commissioners who fill this gap and provide the leadership that McGuire is seeking.
The scrutiny committee was told two more secret meetings of the shadow panel are already scheduled; at least one sub-panel has been spun out, it too is meeting in secret (to work on the recruitment of the unelected appointees). By secret here I mean the dates are secret, the papers are secret, and the meetings are taking place behind closed doors and there is no access for the public/press.
Both Sections 12 and 28 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 require Police and Crime Panels to hold some public meetings but it appears the panel is also able to meet in secret.
In other parts of the country (eg. Wiltshire) Police and Crime Panels will start meeting, in public, in November.
- Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel – My December 2011 article on the panel.