I have been appointed to the Cambridgeshire County Council committee responsible for scrutiny of policing and crime related matters in the county.
The chairman of the committee, Cllr Steve Tierney, co-opted me onto the committee apparently as a result of the campaigning, lobbying, reporting and scrutiny which I have been doing on matters the committee has been, and is due to, be working on.
I have been informed, by the County Council’s democratic services staff, that the next meeting of the committee is planned for the 14th of December 2011 at 2.30pm. The meeting information has not yet been published on the committee’s webpage which currently states: “There are no scheduled meetings”. This is something which ought be rapidly rectified.
While no agenda for the December meeting has yet been published, at the committee’s previous meeting on Wednesday, 07 September 2011 they discussed a plan for the December meeting which indicates subjects to be covered will include:
- Operation Redesign (My views following the announcement)
- The Constabulary’s use of its Control and Communication Centre (My article on Police phone answering performance)
- Restorative Justice. (My article following a discussion with the police’s lead officer on this subject)
- Police & Crime Commissioners
- Integrated Offender Management
Over the past few years I have been closely observing the Police Authority, Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership, and Cambridge City Council committees dealing with police and crime related matters. I have also commented on the operation of Cambridge’s magistrate’s courts, and have participated in national debates on policing, particularly surrounding the use of force and the relationship between the police and the public.
Councillors have very broad responsibilities and committee members are rarely seen observing the operation of the various bodies whose performance they are charged with scrutinising. I was, for example, the only observer at the Interim Community Safety Countywide Board on the 24th of November despite this being the major strategic body operating in the area the scrutiny committee is constituted to monitor. I think co-opted members may be able to assist councillors who understandably find it difficult to find the time to specialise.
Hopefully I will be able to make a more effective contribution to the committee’s work as a member than I would be able to from the sidelines via using the public speaking slot and lobbying councillors.
One thing I would like to continue is obtaining greater openness from the police and criminal justice system. In order to have sensible and rational public debates on police and crime matters, which will hopefully occur in the run-up to elections of Police and Crime commissioners information on how the system is currently running needs to be much more accessible. One organisation particularly in urgent need of blowing open is Cambridgeshire’s Local Criminal Justice Board. I’d also like to see closer working with the courts, magistracy and judiciary who currently appear to me to operate in their own parallel universe.
It has not yet been announced who will be representing Cambridgeshire Police at the meeting; though I of course am hoping for a chance to put questions to the Chief Constable, Simon Parr. It would be good to see Mr Parr make a public appearance as he has been keeping a very low profile for a chief constable. The committee’s terms of reference suggest it can require the attendance of the Chief Constable (A Chief officer of the police is considered a “responsible authority”).
Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee
The formal name of the committee to which I have been co-opted is the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee. It as well as being the crime and policing scrutiny committee it has other responsibilities, recently it has been working on libraries for example. My understanding is that I’ve been brought in to focus on policing and crime, though I note there are policing and crime related aspects to many of the areas the committee is charged with overseeing, for example it looks at the work the council does safeguarding vulnerable adults and vulnerable people are disproportionally likely to be victims of crime and can be particularly adversely impacted by crimes against them.
What Are Overview and Scrutiny Committees?
Having been invited to join the committee I looked up the role of the council’s overview and scrutiny committees and found it to be:
“to ensure that the Council and its partners deliver services as effectively as possible for the residents of Cambridgeshire”
Source: p10 of the Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules
I also thought I ought review the arrangements for the specific committee:
Membership of the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee:
From section six of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules
- Up to 12 County Councillors, as appointed by Full Council in accordance with paragraph 2 of these Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules [in proportion to the number of seats held by each Group on the Council]
- Up to 3 non-voting co-optees
- 1 non-voting Police Authority member, nominated by the Police Authority, for ‘crime and disorder’ overview and scrutiny items only.
The police authority representative ought be clearly identified on agendas and the committee webpage. This does not currently happen.
Terms of Reference for the Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee
- To be the Council’s designated ‘crime and disorder committee’, as required by Sections 19 and 20 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, as amended by section 126 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. In accordance with the Crime and Disorder (Overview and Scrutiny) Regulations 2009, the Committee will consider crime and disorder issues at least once a year and when so doing, will be able to require information and attendance by the relevant responsible authority or co-operating authority. This Committee will also receive Councillor Calls for action relating to crime and disorder and community safety issues in accordance with the Police and Justice Act 2006.
- To perform the overview and scrutiny role in relation to
- a) Functions that are the responsibility of the following officers:
- Executive Director: Community and Adult Services [as responsible for the two Service Directors listed below] :
- Service Director: Community Engagement (Fenland)
- Service Director: Libraries, Learning and Culture.
- b) Partnerships and joint working directly linked to services that are the responsibility of the above officers.
- a) Functions that are the responsibility of the following officers:
I would like to know if a canvass for councillor calls for action been made? All all councillors aware of the role of the committee?
S.19 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 requires the crime and disorder committee to review and scrutinise decisions and actions taken by the authorities responsible for crime and disorder strategies in the council’s area, these are defined in S5 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as the district councils and the police force.
Section 6.06 within Article six of the Cambridgeshire County Council Constitution states:
An Overview and Scrutiny Committee may appoint up to three people at any one time as non-voting co-opted members, provided the appointments are made in accordance with paragraph 3 of the Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules set out in Part 4 of this Constitution.
The Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules on co-options state:
Each Overview and Scrutiny Committee shall be entitled to appoint up to 3 people at any one time as non-voting co-opted members of the Committee. The Committee shall determine whether the co-options shall be effective for a specified period, for specific meetings or for specific items.
A Committee may not co-opt any person who is an active member of any political party. An active member is defined as any person who engages in political activities which would not be permissible if that person was an officer holding a Politically Restricted Post within the Council.
Co-options may only be made if the person co-opted has particular knowledge or expertise in the functions for which that Overview and Scrutiny Committee is responsible
Section 7.1 of the council’s Members’ Allowances Scheme states: “Co-opted members serving on the following Committees [including strategy and oversight committees] shall be eligible to claim a £50.00 flat fee per meeting attended in addition to travel and subsistence allowances:”
Rule 9 of the Overview and Scrutiny Procedure Rules suggests that only councillors, not co-optees, are able to get items on the agendas
Rule 13 states : “Members of Overview and Scrutiny Committees have the additional right to documents, and to notice of meetings as set out in the Access to Information Procedure Rules in Part 4 of this Constitution.” The key section appears to be 21.1 which says “an Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be entitled to copies of any document which is in the possession or control of the Cabinet and which contains material relating to:
- (a) any business transacted at a public or private meeting of the Cabinet; or
- (b) any decision taken by an individual member of the Cabinet.
This is subject to exemptions for drafts and some confidential information (but not confidential information relevant to a decision).
Rule 15 reads: “Members of the public will be allowed to speak on items included on the agenda for meetings of Overview and Scrutiny Committees in accordance with a public speaking scheme agreed by the Overview and Scrutiny Management Group.” I have made a Freedom of Information request for the public speaking rules which apply to the committee they should of course be proactively published.
The committee, in its current form, has met three times, in May, July and September 2011.
Below are excerpts from the minutes relating to policing and crime matters:
Planning for the December 2011 Meeting
The forward work programme discussed at this meeting indicated a number of policing and crime related matters which would be raised at the committee’s December meeting:
The Scrutiny & Improvement Officer informed the Committee that a member of Cambridgeshire Constabulary would attend in December to discuss Operation Redesign. Members expressed an interest in scrutinising the Constabulary’s use of its Control and Communication Centre at the same meeting.
The Chairman commented that he had received a suggestion from a member of the public that the Committee consider the Constabulary’s use of restorative justice. The Constabulary’s report on the subject would be circulated to the Committee.
The Service Director: Community Engagement, Mike Davey offered to provide a briefing on the appointment of Police & Crime Commissioners at the December meeting.
There would also be an update on Integrated Offender Management at the December meeting.
Member Led Review on Domestic Abuse
An update on the Member Led Review on Domestic Abuse (led by Cllr Hoy) was presented; this section was minuted:
Councillor Hoy updated the Committee on progress with the Member Led Review on Domestic Abuse. She stated that she had learned that domestic violence was prevalent across all ages, classes and ethnic boundaries. All the Serious Case Reviews the County Council had considered in the recent past contained a domestic abuse element within them. In addition 75% of looked after children had come from a background of domestic abuse. The cost to agencies was profound with workers only able to intervene at a late stage. The County Council’s 2.5FTE staff capacity, which covered this area were overstretched.
It was agreed that the interim report would be circulated to the Committee for comment and presented to 27 September Cabinet, recommending that funding be earmarked in the Integrated Plan towards tackling domestic abuse.
A number of Members stated that they would be meeting with staff from New Directions, a local agency working in this field, and would report back to the next meeting.
The Service Director: Community Engagement also recommended that Members receive a briefing from the Domestic Abuse Partnership Manager, Simon Kerss.
The committee received a report on Rural crime on the Council’s County Farms Estate and the Council’s response
The committee’s previous meeting had heard from the police about rural crime, the committee wanted to hear what the county council could be doing to help in relation to its own farms (the county owns and rents out a farms). The key thrust of the, one page, report was that the council views it as a tenants’ responsibility to take crime prevention steps and to deal with the consequences of crime. In terms of what the council had done, it reported it had:
encouraged tenants to join Countryside Watch, and many do, and have run on farm security workshops and included articles on dealing with rural crime in bi-annual newsletters.”
Future action proposed was:
This autumn tenants will be encouraged again to join Countryside Watch. Countryside Watch are running three Rural Crime Roadshows at Ely, Newmarket and Sawston in the autumn, to which tenants will be invited. An article promoting Countryside Watch will be included in the October tenant newsletter. In addition it is proposed to run an on farm workshop in the north of the County in October/November.
Community Safety Peer Review
The purpose of this item was described as being:
To inform the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of recommendations made by Local Government Improvement & Development (LGID) Peer Review Team to Cambridgeshire Community Safety Partnership and advise of actions to be taken as a result
The Cambridgeshire Community Safety Partnership was the Safer & Stronger Strategic Board and five local Community Safety Partnerships (one in each district). (The Safer & Stronger Strategic Board has now been replaced with the Interim Community Safety Countywide Board).
The report notes public confidence in how the council and police deal with crime and anti-social behaviour is lower in Cambridgeshire than any of the councils in its comparator group.
Another line I pulled out as notable was: “Quarterly updates of neighbourhood profiles appear to be a significant demand on time and resources and represent a cost of between £2,000 and £4,700 annually” that actually looks like a bargain to me; if those are county wide annual figures. If though they cost per ward then clearly that’s astronomical. It would be interesting to have some clarification.
The lack of consistently between what senior staff from crime and policing organisations say at strategic meetings and what those working on the front line say was noted – I agree from my observations that this is a real problem.
I have noted previously that there appears to be an opportunity for the police and county council crime statistics teams to work together rather than separately.
Integrated Offender Management
Report on responses to a review of Integrated Offender Management from central government and CSPs were reviewed.
Rural Crime Action Team
Committee members questioned the rural crime action team who explained their role, as a seven strong team, in training other officers. Members queried the effectiveness of short sentences as deterrents to crime. Members urged the police to tell the public about the outcomes of investigations.
This appeared to be a vague discussion on the Chief Constable’s reforms, the committee agreed to re-visit it in 6-9 months. ie. perhaps in the December 2011 meeting.
On the reorganisation one item which I’d like to ask arises from the following section of the minutes of the police’s Force Executive Board meeting in June 2011:
The process for selecting senior staff for the six areas of operational command was discussed and the Chief Constable indicated that a representative from local councils would be on the selection panel.
I’m wondering if that has happened; and to what extent the realignment of the force’s operational areas with the district council areas is improving local democratic influence and accountability.
As far as I can see there is no policy on filming Overview and Scrutiny Committees.
I suspect I will have more than enough to do on the day of the meeting without trying to film the meeting as well as participate and probably #live tweet too, but if anyone is prepared to operate it I have a camcorder and tripod which could be used to record the proceedings. Many county council committee meetings are held without microphones though, so it may be very difficult to get a good quality recording.
If anyone wants to suggest any lines of questioning; or share views on if I should accept the £50 on offer for attending the committee, do let me know, preferably in the comments below.