Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Meeting in Secret

Sunday, September 16th, 2012. 5:01pm

Photo montage of Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Members

Police and Crime Panel Members

Key Points

  • 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

My Views

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:

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.

More Details

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.

See Also

21 comments/updates on “Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel Meeting in Secret

  1. Ed Hammond


    I have written, for the Local Government Association, three pieces of guidance for local authorities, covering between them the role and functions of the Panels. The first, on the role and composition of Panels, was published last year – the second, on confirmation hearings, was out in early August, and the third, on the “scrutiny” role of the Panel, should be out this week.

    That having been established I should make it clear that my comments below express views which may not be shared by the LGA. I should say that I make these comments to cover in general terms the issues that you raise in your post rather than to make specific comment about the establishment of a Panel in a particular Force area.

    Panels are not local government committees under the 1972 Local Government Act, but the Home Office do plan to introduce regulations to place Panels under a similar – and probably identical – set of obligations around the publication of agendas, reports and minutes. For the moment, however, no such requirements exist and Panels therefore have a right to meet in private about this. My view is that there is no overriding reason why Panels should meet in private, and that public input into the preparations for the new landscape of accountability in policing will be a positive thing, indicating that we are starting how we mean to go on. Of course, the law being as it is, how authorities choose to approach private meetings in advance of these regs is entirely a matter for them.

    Guidance published this week makes the role of the Panel very clear; this reiterates the position given in guidance last October. The Home Office, too, have been clear that the Panel exists to review and scrutinise, and to support, the Commissioner in his role, including making recommendations on services delivered or decisions made. The Policing Minister at the time, Nick Herbert MP, stated in a debate at Bill Committee in January 2011 that the Panel’s role was to “hold the Commissioner to account”.

    The Panel does have a veto – in fact, it has two. One relates to the decision on the precept (which compels the Commissioner to go away and prepare a different precept) and the other relates to the appointment of a new Chief Constable. The expectation is that these vetos will be used “in extremis” – they require a majority of two thirds on the Panel to be used.

    In the forthcoming guidance we make it clear that it will be difficult to properly transact the business of the Panel in just four meetings a year. This is the minimum prescribed for in legislation and I know that some in the sector are keen that no more meetings are held. However, in order to fulfil its key statutory responsibilities the Panel will need to hear evidence on a range of strategic policing issues. Members of the Panel will need to become comparative experts on strategic policing and the business of the PCC. They will find this difficult if they only convene four times a year. In particular, it will be difficult to scrutinise the precept at the Panel’s inaugural meeting. I expect in fact that the first few months of the Panel’s existence will be busy, as deputy commissioners are appointed (for which confirmation hearings will be necessary) and as the Commissioner develops the Police and Crime Plan. The Panel may be inclined to undertake these preparations at informal meetings, but given the possible/likely profile of the precept meeting, I expect that a number will find it more pragmatic to conduct such preparations in public, to gauge possible response and to hear – in a proportionate manner – from a range of different people. I would suggest that this is the best way that the Panel can carry out a supportive role to that of the Commissioner – but bringing a different perspective and an expert eye to strategic policing matters, informed by robust evidence and public discussion, complemented by the wider consultation that the Commissioner will doubtless be carrying out.

    Monitoring Officers in lead authorities, and colleagues in police authorities, are working hard to ensure that new Panel members have a clear idea of what their duties and responsibilities will be, and the guidance aims to assist in this process. I’m sure that as November gets closer, that clarity of purpose will become more apparent. A lot, however, does rest on the personal approach taken by the Commissioner, once elected, and the way that they wish to engage with the Panel. Where preparations are being made, it may be that they hinge on this politically delicate issue of Commissioner co-operation. We have suggested the drafting of local protocols between PCC, PCP and others to clarify “rules of engagement” and to ensure that the process is as open and transparent as it can be.

    Ed Hammond

  2. Paul Lythgoe

    One could be forgiven for thinking that the panel will represent a political stitch up. 8 Conservatives, 2 Lib Dems and 1 labour representative.
    Given the party make-up of this body its decision to meet in secret and to not publish its minutes would seem to ride roughshod over the intent of the P&CC elections which is supposed to make the oversight of the police democratically accountable. Clearly these councillors led by Macguire have nothing but disdain for democracy. As the lead councillor responsible for appointments to the Police Authority Macquire wishes to keep hold of this fiefdom regardless of the electoral process.
    Maybe the P&CC candidates would like to comment on the perceived need for secrecy of this oversight body as part of their electioneering.
    It cannot be in anyones interest other than Graham Brights for this body to continue to operate as it has set out today.
    Wilkins, Khan and Bick might consider that making their positions public would be in the democratic interest.

  3. stephen ginns

    Now that we are getting an elected Police Commissioner, do we really need the Police Panel and all the other supervisory and accounting committees? And does the incoming Commissioner need a staff and a £1m budget? Give him an office in police HQ with a clerk to assist.

    It’s OUR money they’re all spending!

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Police Authority and its committees are being abolished. The Police and Crime Panel has a very different role, but could if the public select a commissioner who wants to take this approach, do some of the performance monitoring work the authority used to do.

    My view is a Commissioner will not need a £1m/year office. I also think there is a risk of them “going native” and becoming too police focused (the job is a much broader one than just relating to policing) if based in Police HQ, so they should based themselves elsewhere.

  5. Rex_Imperator

    For the panel to meet in privacy is the antithesis of what was intended by the abolition of Police Authorities. It was felt (wrongly in my view) that PAs were too secretive. In fact in Cambridgeshire all panels and committees meet in public (but were extremely poorly attended by the public or journalists).
    I will certainly be asking for FOI release of papers and preparatory documents.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    My FOI request to Cambridgeshire County Council for a copy of the meeting papers was refused, they claimed not to hold the information. I have requested an internal review.

    Member of the panel Cllr Curtis has tweeted to say:

    @rtayloruk You need to stop obsessing. All we are doing is preparing and making sure we are geared up for post November.

    I have noted above some of the important decisions which they have made in secret, including deciding not to meet formally until January 2013. They are also deciding how to appoint co-opted members behind closed doors.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve submitted the following public question to Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Committee on the 15th of October:

    What happened at the secret meeting(s) of the Cambridgeshire Shadow Police and Crime Panel which have been held behind closed doors?

    What did Cllr Bick say on behalf of the people of Cambridge in relation to matters on which decisions were reportedly made in relation to:

    1. Not meeting formally until January 2013.
    2. The recruitment of non councillor members.
    3. Continuing to meet in secret, and in private, and not to pro-actively publish meeting papers.

    Will Cllr Bick make the copy of the panel papers he holds on behalf of the council and the people of Cambridge available on the City Council website?

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    The [shadow] Police and Crime Panel have slipped out an advert for the two non-councillor positions on the committee:

    Notably the “full details and a copy of the application pack” have not been proactively published (I’ve searched and can’t find the advert anywhere else), so I have made a Freedom of Information request for them, in public, using mySociety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow which will automatically publish them online if they are provided.

    As the material is presumably ready to be promptly sent to prospective candidates it ought, I would have thought, be supplied promptly in response to my FOI request.

    Very little is said about who they are trying to recruit in the advert, which says:

    The Panel is looking for two independent members to join who may have knowledge and skills in issues associated with policing and crime reduction, preventing crime and ASB, and working in partnership to tackle complex issues.

    It appears the advert is being emailed to selected groups; I was forwarded a copy.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridgeshire’s Shadow Police and Crime Panel have been told that the law says they do not, and cannot, come into existence as Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel until January 2013. Councillors who currently make up the shadow panel have been told they have no say in that.

    This leads me to wonder who is pulling the strings; who is advising the Police and Crime Panel in this way. In my view the law (Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011) only makes sense if Commissioners and Police and Crime Panels come into being at the same time; not least because otherwise a huge gap is left unfilled if the panel was to be called upon to fulfill a statutory duty between November and January.

    If Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel considers itsself to be still in “shadow” form between November and January that means that meetings held in that time will be held in secret, behind closed doors, and without published papers, just as they have been to-date. I think this would be even more unjustifiable once the commissioner is in-post and the panel has formal responsibilities.

    The above emerged as I attended Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 15th of October 2012 and asked the question quoted above to Cambridge City Council leader Tim Bick.

    If councillors are going to hold secret meetings; I can still go to their public meetings and use the public speaking slots there to ask them what happened in the secret meetings, so that’s what I did. One problem with secret meetings is that they don’t benefit from many-eyes reviewing what’s going on; the councillors on the Shadow Police and Crime are taking it upon themselves to critically and skeptically assess the validity of what their officers are telling them, and they appear to not be up to that task.

    On subjects other than not formally meeting, and even not formally accepting they’ve come into existance, until January 2013 Cllr Bick said

    Cllr Bick said that on the subject of non-councillor members of the panel during the secret panel meeting held behind closed doors he said he wanted someone with experience working with young people.

    Cllr Bick refused to publish his copy of the meeting papers saying he thought it appropriate to go with the majority decision on the shadow panel to keep them secret even though he personally disagrees with that stance.

    Cllr Bick said the question of proactively publishing their papers is to be considered by Cambridgeshire’s Shadow Police and Crime Panel when they meet again later this month.

    I have made the full exchange available on YouTube:

    Cllr Bick said:

    The Police and Crime Panel only comes into existence from January so it has no powers to exercise until then


    It is a matter of fact as far as I’m concerned that the local members of the panel cannot change that it doesn’t come into formal existence until then.

    The camera does not pan to show me as I was speaking and could not operate the camera and speak at the same time (I did tweet seeking help).

  10. Ed Hammond

    The Panel can start meeting and exercising its statutory functions as soon as the PCC takes on his/her formal role – that is, from 22 November. The legislative provisions to which the Panel will be subject (ie open meetings, publication of agendas) is expected to come out of the Home Office imminently and in any case will be in force from November, meaning that

    A number of PCPs are planning to meet in the week of 22 November to have an initial discussion with the PCC and to set a provisional work programme to take them through until March. Panels in other Force areas have taken the judgment that in some instances, meetings in late November/early December will be necessary to conduct confirmation hearings where a newly elected PCC immediately seeks to appoint a deputy/deputies.

    I am not sure where this idea that the Panel only formally exists from January comes from. It may be erroneously based on the 31 January deadline for the submission by the PCC to the PCP of the planned policing precept.

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council leader Tim Bick has contacted me to say the meeting papers are to be published “shortly” on the Peterborough City Council website.

    1. Paul Lythgoe

      So this panel which is supposed to act on behalf of Cambridgeshire publishes its secret meeting minutes only on the Peterborough City Council site. This panel chaired by Councillor Macquire behaves and acts as a cabal with a totally arrogant disregard for democratic accountability. The panel representation came from a Macguire proposal. iI has effectively disenfranchised Labour representation from Cambridge City with only Councillor Bick (Liberal Democrat) representing the city. It has 3 city councillors from Peterborough and out of 11 members 8 are Conservative. This scrutiny committee will hardly be a challenge to Sir Graham Bright when he is elected as he believes he will be.

  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    The panel now has webpages on the Peterborough City Council website on which it has published its meeting papers:

    We can now find out what the panel have been up to:

    • The panel has got itsself a logo.
    • Dorothy Gregson, who is expected to become the Commissioner’s Chief of Staff has been advising the panel. This is astonishing. The person who will almost certainly become the Commissioner’s most senior member of staff has been advising the group responsible for scrutinising the commissioner on their role. The conflict of interest here is astronomical in its proportions. While the commissioner will take responsibility for his staff, the panel will be scrutinising the operation of the commissioner’s office. This would have remained secret had the meeting papers not been published. There is no sign of this conflict of interest being declared, or otherwise drawn to the attention of, the panel for them to decide on the appropriateness of Dorothy Gregson advising them.
    • The minutes of the panel’s first meeting record: “The Panel considered that it would continue to meet in private while it was still a Shadow Panel”, however there is no record of any vote, and no listing of which members were pro, and which anti, openness.
    • One of the first things members of the new panel did was discuss their expenses and allowances. Astonishingly the panel members got straight down to asking where they should be sending their expenses claims!
    • Councillor McGuire was “elected” the panel’s chairman, unopposed and Cllr Walsh “elected” vice-chairman unopposed.
    • Kim Sawyer, Peterborough City Council’s head of legal, and Dorothy Gregson, the current Chief Executive of the Police Authority who is expecting to become the Commissioner’s Chief of Staff, advised the panel on it’s role and powers; it is therefore presumably one of these officers who advised the panel they could not formally meet until January 2013.
    • Officer Kim Sawyer prepared a report saying:
      It is presumed that no public participation will be permitted when the Committee may be confirming senior appointments, however this is for the Panel to consider.

      No explanation is given for this presumption; and the minutes do not record any debate or decision on this. These are the key hearings on appointing and dismissing the Chief Constable, and their assistants / deputies; and perhaps also meetings scrutinising the appointment of the commissioner’s deputies and key staff.

    • The shadow panel has decided to allow
      Public participation section for each public meeting including questions and
      answers (including provision for supplementary questions).

    • Perhaps in response to none of the candidates in Cambridgeshire having substantive manifestos to turn into a Police and Crime Plan, it was noted “a draft plan would be prepared to aid the Commissioner upon appointment”.
    • An update on the appointment of independent co-opted members of the panel, including the “application pack” as an appendix, has been published as part of the papers for a meeting of the Shadow Police and Crime Panel held on 18 October 2012. This document includes the application form.
    • The existence of another shadowy and secretive group the “Police and Crime Partnership Transition Working Group” is revealed. They produced the application pack for the co-opted independent members.
  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve asked Peterborough City Council:

    Why are you asking for 5 years worth of address history & details of all names used on Police/Crime Panel app form?

    There is no mention of any security clearance requirement; which is what questions like these are sometimes found in relation to.

  14. Richard Taylor Article author

    A meeting of members of the panel is planned to be held in private on the 21st of November 2012.

    As of the 22nd of November Schedule 1 paragraph 1 of The Police and Crime Panels (Application of Local Authority Enactments) Regulations 2012 come into force which refers to the amendment of the Local Government Act 1972 in the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 which requires meetings to be open to the public unless the public are excluded due to the potential for disclosure of confidential information.

    Police and Crime Panels are Joint Committees of their constituent local councils according to Schedule 6 Part 1 section (4)(b) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Even without this specific legislation though they would be a joint committee under Section 100J2 of the Local Government Act 1972, and that section also refers to the section of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended which states meetings shall be open to the public unless the public are excluded due to the potential for disclosure of confidential information.

    It is my view that Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel cannot meet, in private, on the 21st of November, it is a joint committee subject to Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972.

    The question is what can I do about this? I can turn up and simply try and observe the meeting; in the past I’ve done that and pushed a similar joint meeting to decide to formally meet in public but doing that required standing up to a council officer who asked me to leave (he later apologised to me).

    I would like others’ views on my proposed course of action:

    To attend the location of the meeting, the Civic Suite at Huntingdonshire District Council, and ask to observe, and film, the meeting.

    To try and film councillors on their way in and ask them any pertinent questions about their (yet to be published) agenda, and how they justify holding the meeting in private.

    If refused access, or asked to leave, ask to be allowed into the meeting until the chair makes a ruling requiring me to leave and citing the relevant law.

    To ask any officers asking me to leave under what powers they are acting, and how that power has been delegated from elected representatives.

    I would like any views on if and how I should film my encounter with the reception desk, as I expect it is there I will be refused access.

    If the agenda is published and it shows the panel plans to exercise / discharge functions my argument it ought be considered a joint committee and therefore public is strengthened.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The view expressed above is agreed with by the Centre for Public Scrutiny who, in response to my turning up and asking to observe the meeting, tweeted:

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