In advance of the Annual Meeting of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel, which is to be held at 14.00 on the 12th of June 2013 in the Civic Suite at Huntingdonshire District Council I’ve been taking a look at the panel’s recently published Rules of Procedure (PDF).
I observed the rules being debated at the February meeting of the panel, but they’ve now been published in final form, adding a section on filming following the panel’s request for such an addition.
The section on publishing agendas and reports in advance of the meeting is contained in an appendix to the rules, it states:
4.0 ACCESS TO AGENDA AND REPORTS BEFORE THE MEETING
4.1 The Secretariat will make copies of the agenda and reports open to the public available for inspection at the designated offices at least five clear days before the meeting. If an item is added to the agenda later, the Monitoring Officer of the Host Authority shall make each report available to the public as soon as the report is completed and sent to members, and will ensure that it will be open to inspection from the time the item was added to the supplementary agenda.
Quite why the rules don’t require the agenda and reports to be published online baffles me. These are rules drawn up in 2013. Nowhere in the rules does it even give the address of the “designated offices” at which the public will be able to inspect the papers.
In practice, agendas and meeting papers, have been posted on the Peterborough City Council website, which has a section for the Police and Crime Panel. It’s a pity though that the rules don’t require the publication of meeting papers online. The problem is that unless the rules require online publication the chances are that as soon as there’s something they don’t want to make easily accessible they’ll decide only to make it available for inspection at some unspecified office, even if routinely publication is online.
Ignoring Their Own Rules Already
As the annual meeting is due, it ought be possible to get the rules of procedure fixed, as rule 1.4 states:
The Rules shall be reviewed annually at the Panel’s Annual meeting.
However no such review of the rules is on the agenda for the 2013 Annual meeting.
Also omitted from the agenda is any mention of a section of the meeting for public participation, despite section 7 of the terms of reference stating:
Part of the order of business at the meetings shall be designated for community involvement. This time allowed for this section of the meeting shall be 15 minutes.
Hopefully such an agenda item will be added to future agendas; not least to draw attention to its presence. I was personally unaware that such a section had even been adopted until reading the approved minutes of the February meeting and discovering the panel members had approved minutes saying they’d approved the rules subject to the addition of a section on filming, when what I had observed was them asking for amendments to be made and a new draft to be put in-front of a future meeting. I’d understood from my personal observations of what actually happened (rather than the minuted version) that the panel was yet to adopt its own rules of procedure.
I note the public are only allowed to ask questions. I think this ought to be expanded to allow statements to be made too; otherwise people simply wishing to make a point before the panel in advance of a decision have to find ways of wording what they are saying as a question, artificially.
The minutes of the February 2013 meeting (PDF) state:
Following consideration of the report, the Panel
- 1. The Terms of Reference
- 2. The Rules of Procedure that would include a rule permitting public recording of the meetings
The new section on recording meetings, which was requested by Cllr Curtis, is positive. The new section, 7.22, states:
Members of the public are entitled to record the meetings of the Panel using audio and visual recording equipment. If the chairman feels that the recording is obstructing, disturbing or disrupting the proceedings of the meeting, the recording must cease.
There was though already a section covering recording hidden in section 7.3 of the rules’ appendix, under the irrelevant subheading of “background papers”. It states:
7.3 Use of media technology at Panel Meetings: At the discretion of the Chairman of the Panel recording of meetings and use of media technology will be permitted provided that it does not release information that the Secretariat has identified as being confidential under the Access to Information Regulations.
It is interesting that the panel didn’t feel that sufficiently covered audio and visual recording of the meetings. I do note that the panel now have two slightly different rules in different places in their document; one saying recording is at the discretion of the chairman and the other, more strongly, stating: “Members of the public are entitled to record the meetings”.
I have noticed that the list of members of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel has changed. Cllr Andrea Reiner, a Cambridge City Councillor has been added as a reserve. As far as I can see she has not been appointed by the panel; and I’ve not spotted her appointment by Cambridge City Council either.
The rules do not mention the role of a reserve member. It isn’t clear if she will only be able to substitute for Cambridge City Council’s usual member; or perhaps only for one of her party’s members or if she will be able to join the panel if any of the other members are absent.
Cllr Tim Bick, Cambridge City Council’s usual representative, is listed as being expected to attend the annual meeting.
It is interesting that the Police and Crime Panel have made clear, in their rules, that they expect the Police and Crime Commissioner to attend their meetings. Rule 12.1 states:
The presumption will be that the PCC will be required to attend all formal Police and Crime Panel meetings (ordinary and extraordinary) to answer questions which may be necessary to assist the Panel in discharging its functions, unless the Panel decides that this is not necessary and informs the PCC that they will not be required.
Consulting the Panel Before Asking Chief Constable to Resign
In Gwent recently information has leaked revealing the Police and Crime Commissioner asked the Chief Constable to resign. Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel’s rule 19.2 states:
The PCC must also notify the Panel in writing of his/her proposal to call upon the Chief Constable to retire or resign together with a copy of the reasons given to the Chief Constable in relation to that proposal.
It isn’t clear if the panel would have to tell the public; but the existence of the required private scrutiny committee to hear from both the Commissioner and Cheif Constable in such circumstances could well become known as the rules require the panel to post the fact it is holding a meeting online, and if a member of the public visited the “designed office” they could find out what was on the agenda.