I observed a meeting of Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership on the 11th of March 2011. The group sets the city wide policing priorities and holds the police to account for their performance against the priorities set. At the partnership’s February meeting I complained that it had taken the key decision of selecting the priorities for 2011-14 in private, by email, between formal public meetings. At the March meeting I saw the group agree to set the plans for addressing each priority and the targets they would be setting for improving performance in each priority area again, in private, by email, between formal meetings.
There are only two elected members of the partnership, County Councillor Kevin Wilkins, and City Councillor Tim Bick. They are in a substantial minority. It appears the secrecy is arising because City Council officer Lynda Kilkelly, whose job title is “Safer Communities Manager” set the timetable for the production of the community safety plan without regard to transparency and openness and the dates of meetings of the Community Safety Partnership. The March meeting of the partnership was only the third openly held in public. While Cllrs Bick and Wilkins were scathing at the meeting about the failure of the Partnership to fulfil its key function at a formal meeting; it isn’t known if they raised their concerns when the officer first put her proposals to them as at that point the Community Safety Partnership, despite its significant public responsibilities, was an entirely secret group.
Cllr Wilkins was able to propose a motion that the plans and targets associated with the agreed priorities would be taken to the next meeting of the CSP (in May), so the body could endorse, or if required amend them, in public and with the members of the group discussing them in person around the table. The civil servants, who significantly outnumber the elected councillors, appeared not to be keen on this, and Cllr Wikins had to forcefully propose it twice before the chair eventually agreed to place the item on the agenda for the next meeting.
The chair of the Community Safety Partnership, Chief Inspector Dave Sargent, who from what he said appears to have a role within other Community Safety Partnerships within Cambridgeshire, argued that in fact Cambridge’s CSP was doing relatively well in terms of openness; as the others did not operate in public at all. In my view that others’ are doing worse is a terrible argument for justifying poor performance.
The partnership received a report on how it had spent the “Safer and Stronger Fund”; which as I understand it is a central government grant which comes to the partnership via the County Council. The partnership had budgeted £2,500 for 2010/11 to spend on its “Cycle Theft” priority; the March meeting was told that only £800 of that had been spent (on cycle theft prevention days) and £1,700 remained and was not going to be spent.
The partnership’s influence on how the bodies which make up the partnership spend their own funds is much more significant than the relatively small pots of of money the partnership controls. However this failure to use funds allocated for the reduction of cycle crime is a terrible inditement on the work of the partnership; it shows that it is not acting on its priorities. I suspect if the Cambridge Cycling Campaign had been asked for ideas there would have been no shortage of suggestions for how the money could be effectively put to use. A cycle crime hotspot map, signage in high cycle crime areas warning of the risks of leaving bikes there, and more pointers to the secure parking available under the Grand Arcade and at Park Street car park are all easy, cheap, suggestions which have been made to me when I’ve mentioned this underspend to Cambridge residents since the meeting.
Better collaboration between British Transport Police and Cambridgeshire Police in relation to cycle crime at the station would also appear to me to be a good idea. At the moment you can’t report cycle theft from the station area at Parkside Police station.
Spending The Rest of The Money
Like far to many public sector organisations and civil servants the Community Safety Partnership were trying to spend as much money as they could in the run up to the financial year end. I think this is an attitude we really need to tackle. They had £7857.87 left over from their grant; and decided to enable Cambridge Business Against Crime to lease seven walkie-talkies for a year; not for Cambridge Business Against Crime to use, but for them to distribute to the Street Pastors, Cambridge City Council’s CCTV and Active Communities teams, British Transport Police and Ambulance Service Paramedics.
Surely there are better ways for the Transport Police and Ambulance service to communicate with the City Council’s CCTV than giving them yet another bit of kit, another radio, to carry? It appears to me that civil servants, love creating work and getting money to follow tortuous routes to where it actually gets used.
The partnership agreed to put the remainder of its funds towards it’s “support officer”, and “running costs”. It appeared that this allocation avoided the appearance of underspending on the partnership’s grant even though the funds would not actually be spent within the year. Personally I question the value of the support officer, though he does claim that it is Cambridge City Council, and not him, who are preventing the publication of the partnership’s information online in a reasonable and accessible manner. It’s one thing to have an officer supporting a committee made up of elected councillors, but having a civil servant specifically to service a meeting of civil servants, many of whom will have legions of underlings, appears less clearly justifiable to me.
The meeting was very poorly attended with senior Cambridge City Council officer Lis Bisset and Inspector Kerridge, a key police representative among those absent. The chair stated that about 50% of the CSP board had not turned up. Apologies but no reasons for the absences, were given.
Integrated Offender Management
The first item on the agenda was the presentation of a report on Integrated Offender Management. I have linked to a PDF version of the report which I made from a version available via County Council website as I was unable to extract the copy embedded into the word document containing the agenda which was posted on the CSP’s web page.
Cllr Wilkins presented the report. It was a member-led review of the situation in Cambridgeshire, apparently by Cambridgeshire County Councillors, though no councillors had actually put their names to the document. The two main issues Cllr Wilkins highlighted were housing and mental health. The meeting was told that 50% of offenders in Cambridgeshire have mental health problems, the suggestion being made was that mental health professionals need to be closely involved in offender management; co-located workers and representation at “Integrated Offender Management” meetings were called for. The report also calls for mental health “access and provision” at the point of arrest.
On housing, Cambridgeshire County Council’s “youth justice officer” is reported as saying that “offenders, particularly young offenders, are almost inevitably going to reoffend if they do not have shelter and occupation within 48 hours”. And a member of the Drugs and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) is quoted in the report as saying: “if offenders are not housed, they will seek accommodation from those they knew before, which is most likely a crack house”.
Cllr Wilkins chose to highlight the Broad Market Rental Area as something which made it very difficult for ex-offenders leaving prison to find accommodation to find accommodation in Cambridge itsself. On hearing this my first thought was that lots of people find it hard, or even impossible, to find suitable accommodation in Cambridge itsself, this is far from a problem restricted to ex-prisioners. I think we already have far to much, so-called affordable housing in the city, the effect of which is to push the underlying market price up as it restricts supply of housing on the open market. I certainly wouldn’t want to see ex-prisoners given priority access to tax-payer funded or supported housing in Cambridge simply because they expressed a desire to live here. For those with a strong link to the city, such as strong family ties or a recent history of living here then we should help them with accommodation in the city while helping them become self-supporting.
An account from an offender reveals there is a drug problem at the hostel at 222 Victoria Road and ex-prisoners housed there may, if they lack the will-power of the featured individual, find themselves tempted into drugs and crime again.
Cllr Wilkins chose not to draw attention to the recommendation made in the report that district councils should be encouraged to swop offenders wishing to make a new start in a different area with each other. The idea being they can be resettled away from “existing, unhelpful friends”.
The whole report makes reveals many insights into problems with the way we currently deal with those leaving prison, and needing support to ensure they do not re-offend.
- Prisons often release people without much notice; for example as a result of re-calculating sentences at the last minute to account for time spent in police custody. The obvious and common sense suggestion that such calculations be made at the start of the sentence, not near the end, is made.
- As a result of the last minute calculations, and due to the fact people have to be released on a Friday, if they can’t legally be held all weekend, people are often released on a Friday afternoon. This is when the organisations which might be able to help them are least able to do so.
- Housing lots of ex-offenders in the same place means we put them in places where they are surrounded by crime and drug problems.
- Prisioners are not able to start the process of applying for benefits such as Job Seekers allowance, or Employment Support Allowance, while in prison. They are released with just £46 given to them.
- Prisons are resisting efforts by groups who want to help prisoners on release from contacting them before they are released
It appears to me that without a clear, firm, release date known in well in advance prisoners have no hope of securing accommodation, benefits or work in advance of their release. This is utterly bonkers, we really are giving these people little option but to return, if not to crime, to their criminal friends, for help.
The report makes further recommendations, including expanding the “cohort” of offenders who are “managed”; ie. who the state continues to monitor / help. At the moment only the most prolific, and most serious offenders are dealt with by existing offender management systems. The vast majority of those leaving prison are not formally monitored. (At North Area Committee meetings Sgt. Wragg often reports that he visits people who’ve been released from prison, making them aware his team are aware they’re back out; it appears this is one police officer pursuing a common sense idea off on his own initiative rather than something supported by the wider state infrastructure).
While the report states that those who have received a sentence of less than a year in prison do not get any “offender management”; it appears to me that some of the same kind of monitoring / supervision is imposed, as part of offenders’ sentences, by magistrates for lower level offences, where suspended sentences are handed down. There is a lack of a continuum, a lack of consistency and it is those serving short, actual prison sentences, but are not high volume offenders who are being missed.
Access to education programmes was also mentioned by the report; a problem being a long wait for those released from prison before a place on a course comes up. The suggestion that “drop-in” education ought be available, before an organised, tailored course can be arranged is suggested. (The reasons for immense delays involved in all of the probation service’s activities is something I would like to know).
Unfortunately, given the quality of the report, Mr Wilikins had an uphill struggle trying to get any of the lethargic civil servants making up the body of the Community Safety Partnership to take any interest in it. They wanted to simply note the report and move on. Mr Wilkins was able to push them into committing to write a letter to the most appropriate minister, urging that the issue of housing for offenders leaving prison be addressed. Mr Wilkins wasn’t even able to get the partnership to agree to copy that letter to Cambridge’s MPs though he made that suggestion quite strongly.
Watching this lethargic response made me thing a Police and Crime Commissioner might well be able to bang the necessary heads together in the various separate bodies (or simply reform the currently fragmented system), something the jobsworth civil servants who are adverse to change and keen on building, and maintaining individual fiefdoms, appear adverse to doing.
Confidence in the Police and Local Authority
The number of people in Cambridge saying they feel confident with the police and local authority has reduced. The CSP’s statistical officer, Mr Soper, was asked to look into any reasons for this. He reported that the academic literature suggests such confidence is dependent on the quality of the local environment, what people read about in the media, and how vulnerable people feel personally. The latter being closely related to age and fitness. Mr Soper said he was unable to pinpoint and specific local reasons for the drop in confidence.
The CSP’s chair asked about the influence of Houses of Multiple Occupancy. Mr Soper asked if he was asking if their presence decreased people’s confidence, or if those living in them expressed different confidence levels than others. The chair said he would be interested in either. Mr Soper reported that the presence or not of HMOs was unrelated to people’s expressions of confidence in the police.
Community Safety Plan
City Council officer Lynda Kilkelly told the committee that she was on the 2nd draft of the Community Safety Plan. (The version circulated with the agenda was marked the 4th draft, so she didn’t get off to a very confidence inspiring start!).
She reported that the targets for each of the priorities were an “outstanding issue”.
She explained that due to a deadline of the 31st of March the targets – ie. what the CSP intends to ask the police (and to a lesser extent the council and other bodies) to do in the priority areas would have to be set, by email, outside of the formal public meetings and without members of the partnership meeting face to face.
The CSP was told that a draft of the plan had been published as part of the papers for the City Council’s Community Services scrutiny committee to be held on the 17th of March. The document is item 19, at the end of a very long agenda.
Cllr Tim Bick suggested the plan would also go before “the council”, the report to the scrutiny committee states this will happen on at the full Council meeting on 7 April 2011, but doesn’t make clear if the current draft will be presented, or the final plan, as produced for the 31st March deadline.
It would be a complete farce if there was a plan adopted by the Community Safety Partnership on the 31st of March, but the full council, a week later was asked to approve a draft of the plan which by that time would be almost a month out of date, and not include key elements such as the action plans, the targets, or even the lead agencies.
Council officer Lynda Kilkelly made a shocking admission to the CSP, she said she had taken the names of the lead officers (and therefore identities of lead bodies) out of the draft plan which was to be put to councillors. She explained, perhaps forgetting that this was a public meeting, this was to hide the fact there was disagreement between the police and city council over who ought to “lead” on the antisocial behaviour priority. She reported the police didn’t want to lead on all the priority areas as they didn’t want the partnership’s priorities to be seen as police priorities. (The partnership’s priorities are referred as the city wide policing priorities by all police Sergeants and Inspectors presenting policing reports to area committees, and as a consequence also referred to in this way by councillors and the public). Ex. Cllr Chris Howell, a Conservative, obtained the agreement of the full Cambridge City Council to stop using silly, unclear terms, like “safer neighbourhoods” when really what is being discussed are police priorities. The police and public servants however, despite this clear democratically set policy, appear very keen to obfuscate the processes for setting police priorities and holding the police to account; again something an elected Police and Crime Commissioner ought be able to solve at a stroke.
The plans for addressing each of the priorities, and the targets, are to be drafted at secret “task group” meetings. A member of the partnership asked that a full list of members of the partnership, and the task groups they are on, be published, and updated at each meeting of the partnership. Current meeting papers don’t list all members adding to the murky secrecy surrounding the process. Cllrs Bick and Wilkins, to their credit raised this, and asked that the task group’s recommendations all be written down, and made public so that the public could at least see what the partnership was considering during their “email meetings”.
In terms of the plan itsself; I have previously made clear I think dropping burglary and robbery as priorities was the wrong decision. The reasons include excessive reliance on a small, anti-social behaviour focused, survey of around 400 people and perhaps that the partnership has failed to meet its targets with respect to burglary for its existing plan. The fact it has failed to meet its burglary target was mentioned often at the meeting, and it appears the public servants on the partnership are keen to take on something easier.
Cllr Bick appeared aware of this and called for the targets to be set with the full partnership in attendance in person, in public, by a process of “mutual challenge”.
Cllr Bick also commented on the “How we will do this” element of the plans; he complained the statements currently present were “at a very general level” and amounted to little more than “what we would we doing anyway”. He asked how the plans would be “converted to real action”. Cllr Bick claimed the consultation process had drawn in quite a lot of investment and involvement and people would be expecting something out of it. He also made clear that he would be face questioning of the CSP at the forthcoming council meetings. He described the lack of targets in the plan being put to the council as “odd”. It will be interesting to see if he defends the CSP’s output, and processes when he appears in-front of the scrutiny committee and full council or if he continues to be critical.
Only a few comments on the plan were made by unelected members of the partnership, Cambridgeshire County Council officer Sarah Ferguson asked that the “anti-social behaviour” priority include a focus on prevention and proposed a target of reducing first time entry to the criminal justice system. She also made a suggestion in relation to the priority of reducing re-offending of focusing on younger people, who were not going to be caught by the new “Integrated Offender Management” system. (This appeared to be an argument for the CSP continuing to work in the area of reducing offending, in relation to young offenders, beyond the one year period proposed).
The chair of the CSP, Inspector Dave Sargent, said that he knew the proposed targets for all but the ASB priority. This was an amazing revelation, because they had not been shared with the other members of the partnership. Cllrs Bick and Wilkins were among those being kept in the dark. Inspector Sargent stated that there needed to be “some structure created under the ASB priority” as there had been with the others.
An officer called “Helen”, not identified in the meeting papers, spoke about future funding of the CSP. She said that the Community Safety Partnership would compete with others for funding held by the Police and Crime Commissioner. “Helen” stated that the Police and Crime Commissioner would be given funds ring-fenced for spending on anti-social behaviour.
Public Speaking Rules
Following confusion at the last meeting, the partnership formally adopted, what was described as Cambridge City Council’s public speaking rules.
They asked for them to be re-drafted and softened, for example so that instead of the CSP chair simply being able to refuse to answer questions submitted by the public, they would have to give reasons, and where appropriate refer the questioner to somewhere else.
Appointment of Chair and Vice-Chair of The Community Safety Partnership
Astonishingly, given the lack of a grasp of the priority setting process shown at the previous meeting; and her absence from the 11th of March meeting, the partnership appointed city council officer Liz Bissett as their chair, and chose to keep the fire officer who had been serving as vice-chair (who I don’t think I’ve heard make a substantive contribution) in his role.
Cllr Bick To be Given Greater Role On CSP
The partnership then went on to propose an arrangement where Cllr Bick and officer Liz Bissett could share the city council’s vote; and appointing Cllr Bick (or the holder of his post) to the board of the CSP. It wasn’t clear what post they were referring to, as Cllr Bick’s policing role, was given to him by the full council while they appointed the executive councillors, but doesn’t really come under his portfolio as an executive councillor. Prior to the latest city council reshuffle most policing relating matters were dealt with by the council leader.
A number of civil servants objected to giving Cllr Bick, as an elected councillor, a greater role. One expressed concern about politicising the CSP’s board; and showed typical civil servant behaviour as she asked if any other CSP’s had elected members on their boards – suggesting that as long as Cambridge wasn’t being innovative that was fine by her and her mindset.
Those at the meeting decided that as 50% or so of the CSP board was absent, despite no formal quorum arrangements being in place, they really shouldn’t appoint a city councillor to the board, especially as the suggestion had not been included in the meeting papers and the other board members had not had a chance to comment on it.
Grooming Cllr Tim Bick to Stand as Lib Dem Police Commissioner Candidate?
Cllr Tim Bick has been given all the city council’s policing related responsibilities; this coupled with his appointment to the board of the Community Safety Partnership gives him immense responsibility and influence over the city’s policing to many intents and purposes he is already the elected police commissioner for Cambridge. It is possible that by giving Cllr Bick these roles they are preparing him as their candidate for Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner. The Liberal Democrat first announced as a candidate for the role, Cllr Heathcock, apparently no-longer likely to stand (though he’s still writing many policing related letters in the Cambridge-News).
One of the officers had been on a day (or two or four?) out with members of other CSPs talking to them about how they did things differently. She was reluctant to give any report on what had happened, suggesting Cllr Bick ought do so as he had been there too. Cllr Bick denied having attended the exercise, so, flustered, she was forced to continue. She said the event had been led by a CSP manager from Derbyshire and reported that local CSPs were all doing different things which reflected the specific problems in their areas. It didn’t sound like a substantive and useful output from what was no-doubt an expensive, taxpayer funded, exercise.
Inspector Sargent noted that a PowerPoint Presentation of the peer review’s findings (Google Docs) had made to other CSPs and suggested it could also be made to the Cambridge CSP at a future meeting.
The presentation notes that Cambridge is a crime hotspot, and that there have been increases in violent crime and cycle crime (both areas Cambridge CSP is proposing to de-prioritise).
The CSP were told that the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire police is carrying out a major strategic restructuring of the force. As only a man in uniform could, he was reported to have given the process the title: “Operation Redesign”. Chief Inspector Dave Sargent told the CSP he had heard the chief’s plans directly from him, and with the exception of Peterborough, he is intending to the policing areas with the CSP areas. So that while Cambridge is now policed in an area which includes the City, along with the South and East of the County, in the future the City will be its own policing unit.
The CSP then went into a completely secret session, with both me, and the committee manager being told to leave, while they discussed staffing related matters.
There is a full ban on audio and visual recording at meetings of the partnership; and using a laptop (but not a smart phone or iPad) requires special permission from the chair on a meeting by meeting basis.