During the public participation slot at Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel on the 5th of February 2014 I sought to raise my concern that the panel were allowing the Police and Crime Commissioner to decide which of his decisions he was putting to the panel for scrutiny. I suggested this wasn’t a desirable state of affairs and noted a series of decisions which I thought the panel ought have considered for scrutiny but the commissioner had not volunteered to tell the panel about. These included the commissioner’s decisions relating to non-emergency call handling performance and local police priority setting.
Cllr Martin Curtis, a Conservative who is a Fenland District Councillor for Kingsmoor Ward, Whittlesey and Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Whittlesey North and also the leader of Cambridgeshire County Council appeared to object to my contribution.
Just five or so minutes into the fifteen minutes set aside for the public contribution slot Cllr Curtis interjected with a point of order which brought the public question item to a close:
Cllr Martin Curtis: Point of order there are no questions.
Richard Taylor: I completely agree with you.
Cllr Martin Curtis: I think you should rule it out of order. There are no questions in this at all.
Richard Taylor: What I was going to do Cllr Curtis is at the end ask you if you share any of my concerns and if you would be prepared to act on them. I completely agree have phrased my submission in such a way….
[I was going to go on to note the strict rules the panel have set for the public contribution item prevent statements being made, or suggestions for areas of scrutiny being presented, so I had sought to artificially form my submission into the format of two questions to comply with the rules. (I'm considering asking the panel why it has such restrictive rules at its next meeting)]
Acting Chairman Cllr Jason Ablewhite: Richard, we’ve got them in writing which we appreciate, and obviously the questions are: “Does the panel share my concerns?” and “Will the panel take any action in light of them, and the suggestions I have made”. Are there any comments from the panel members.
There was then a debate, apparently on if the submission was in-order or not, during which some members took the opportunity to comment on its content.
The chair never clearly ruled on if the submission was in-order. As I was not given the chance to respond to the comments/responses made as sections 7.10 – 7.12 of the panel’s rules of procedure permit in effect I wonder if perhaps the questions were ruled out of order. I suspect there was just no clear decision.
Cllr Curtis went on to comment further saying:
Cllr Martin Curtis (Representing Fenland District Council): I am concerned about this submission. And I think part of it is that what could be some very very good and interesting challenges have been clouded in actually something which is actually far too long and complex and actually the only comment was not quite right what you’re saying was but very similar is that you believe the commissioner is only publishing statutory guidance and those of public significance or something along those lines; well actually that’s what I’d expect him to publish and no more, no less, because otherwise he’s not going to be able to walk down the street without having to publish things, or have any discussion, without having to publish things and I know as the leader of the County Council if we had to do that you know I’d spend all my time publishing things. The public want to know the major significance and I take that point about, and I absolutely take the point about whether we should find some areas where we need to scrutinise and get deeper in, I absolutely agree with that, but what we need to be challenging as a panel is not he should publish every single decision but that we should look at the impact of what the commissioner is doing and make decisions on what we should scrutinise and where we should go in depth, based on areas where we don’t really think the impact is being made that we would expect.
And some of the things are really, really difficult for me to comprehend, the notion that he’s spending too much time with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ as an example. I know that those national organisations and the knowledge and work with them has significant value to the work you do at a local level, so to say he mustn’t do that actually means that it will harm his ability to deliver in his role which he has for Cambridge so I have some real concerns about you know this could have been dealt with by being a lot more focused on what you felt were real significant issues instead of being clouded with minor stuff that are not the responsibility of this panel. But I also take on board the issue of scrutiny that we should think about and say OK, where is it we don’t feel the Police and Crime Commissioner is having the impact he should and should we get deeper into those issues. I take that point.
Comment on some specific points
something which is actually far too long and complex
The submission is available for all to read, it’s around 1,500 words, I think it’s clearly laid out with the key point at the beginning and the remainder largely being examples to support that. The headings break the content up for the reader.
I think it says what needs to be said, and it is a submission I remain proud of. I think it is concise and appropriate in the context of a fifteen minute slot (which I was the only person using).
you believe the commissioner is only publishing statutory guidance and those of public significance or something along those lines; well actually that’s what I’d expect him to publish and no more, no less
While that’s garbled, it does I think mis-represent what I was saying. I think Cllr Curtis was trying a debating trick of arguing against something which I hadn’t said.
My prime concern was that the commissioner alone has been deciding what to put to the panel for scrutiny; rather than working in collaboration with the panel to decide what to report.
I have made the observation that what the commissioner is reporting, and what the panel is therefore considering, appears to be almost the statuary minimum (the commissioner has to by law report his budget, his police and crime plan etc.)
what we need to be challenging as a panel is not he should publish every single decision
I do think the panel ought challenge the commissioner when he assures them, as he has done repeatedly, that he is reporting all his decisions, when there are clearly important decisions, such as those I’ve pointed to on call answering performance and local police priority setting that he’s not reported.
the notion that he’s spending too much time with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ as an example. I know that those national organisations and the knowledge and work with them has significant value
I’ve not suggested the commissioner is necessarily spending too much time on his national role; just that the question of the time, and resources from his office, expended on his national role is something which comes from the diary which has been released and I’d like to see the panel ask questions about. I’m not jumping to what conclusions and recommendations might come out of such a scrutiny exercise. The commissioner appeared keen to explain the benefits his national role was bringing to Cambridgeshire when he referred to my contribution later in the meeting, showing how raising the matter can lead to the those of us who live in Cambridgeshire being better informed about the activities of our commissioner.
minor stuff that are not the responsibility of this panel.
Cllr Curtis didn’t identify what he considered to come into this category; without this I don’t think his comments ought be given much weight.
I think it’s inconsistent that the panel, including Cllr Curtis, recommended the commissioner consider publishing his outreach worker’s diary of upcoming public attendances at council meetings after my suggestion of publishing the same information in respect of the commissioner was ruled not to be a matter for the panel.
Cllr Curtis’ Attendence Record at Police and Crime Panel Meetings
Of the six meetings of the panel which had taken place prior to the February 2014 meeting Cllr Curtis was absent from three of them, a 50% absence rate.
|Absent without apologies||June 2013|
Cllr Curtis and the panel don’t make it easy to track attendances as they don’t make clear which body each councillor is representing. It’s conceivable that Cllr Curtis could have started on the panel as a representative of the County Council but latterly become a representative of Fenland District Council. The material published by the panel doesn’t show this at all. Fenland District Council minutes from October 2012 show Curtis has been representing Fenland District Council on the panel since the panel’s inception.
Cllr Curtis’ Allowances
Cllr Curtis is currently, according to published information, trousering a £4,530.96 basic allowance plus a £839.92 “special responsibility allowance” from Fenland District Council (details) as well as a £7,610 basic allowance and a £22,246 “special responsibility allowance” from Cambridgeshire County Council. On top of this in 2011/12 (scandalously the latest year information is available for) he claimed £4,708.63 in expenses (mainly milage) from the County Council. Assuming the milage is the same this year (and it might be expected to be more given his Police and Crime Panel role also offers expenses, and as Leader of the Council he might be expected to travel more) that comes to a quite astronomical £39,935.51 in taxpayer’s cash for his part-time “volunteer” role as a councillor.
County Council officers told their independent remuneration panel that the total amount of money each councillor receives from the public purse is made public but they have not been able to point to anywhere where that calculation is made, I’ve attempted an estimation here based on what councillors make public, we don’t have up to date expenses figures from the panel, or the councils. Cllr Curtis’ register of interests entry says he also “profits or gains” from his Local Government Association role. The Local Government Association is funded by the taxpayer via public bodies who subscribe to it as members.
I think it’s reasonable to look at Cllr Curtis’ performance, and attendance record, in light of the public funds he takes home.
Additional articles commenting on the February 2014 Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel meeting:
- Member of Cambs Police and Crime Panel Suggests Panel Considers What It Wants to Scrutinise – article hi-lighting some of the more positive responses.
- Electorate Ought Hold Commissioner To Account Say Cambs Police and Crime Panel
- Independent Member of Cambs Police and Crime Panel Says I Should Have Raised Concerns About the Panel’s Operation Sooner