Improving the Openness and Accessibility of Cambridgeshire Police Authority


Saturday, May 2nd, 2009. 2:31am

Cambridgeshire Police HQ

On Wednesday the 29th of April 2009 I attended a meeting of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority. I asked about the procedures for public speaking.

My Question – PUBLIC SPEAKING

Why was I not allowed to speak and make a statement at the December 2008 or February 2009 full police authority meetings?

Mr Walters did not allow me, as a member of the public, to make a statement to the February 2009 meeting. However he did allow David Copeland of the Cambridgeshire Branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers to make a statement.

I am very concerned that I was not treated in the same way as Mr Copeland. Neither Mr Copeland or I submitted a request to ask a question or make a statement to the meeting, a fact which I have confirmed with the Police Authority. I do not believe that retired police officers, or those known to Mr Walters, ought be given privileged access to the Police Authority.

I wrote to Mr Walters shortly after the meeting (on the 19th of February) asking for an explanation but he has not replied.

I would like to see a clarification of the public speaking rules at meetings of the Police Authority and details of any guidance which has been provided to the chairman on this matter published.

I note that the agendas for the December and February meetings were not published online in advance of the suggested deadline for public questions.

Answer

A number of people had submitted questions on injury pensions for the 18th February Police Authority meeting. David Copeland, who was representing National Association of Retired Police Officers and hence many pensioners, asked to clarify a point. The Chair used his discretion to allow this.

We were unaware that you wanted to ask a question at the 18th February meeting. I am sorry we have not specifically replied on this point before, this was an oversight.

With respect to seeking expert advice on Standing Order 6, as we outlined in our response to your freedom of information request, the Chairman spoke to our then chief executive whose views echoed that of the Chairman; that the Standing Order is quite clear. However following your concerns regarding this issue we have changed the wording on our agendas to help clarify the situation. The new wording can be seen on today’s agenda. No other internal guidance was produced. These changes were also set out in our Chief Executives letter to you 17th February. In this letter, Dr Gregson offered to meet you to discuss any additional remaining concerns or issues you had.

My Response and Comments

Following the answer being read out I said I will take up the opportunity offered to meet with the Chief Executive of the Police Authority. I drew attention to the problem of not publishing meeting papers, or in some cases even the fact there is to be a meeting at all, online until after the deadline for public questions. This isn’t conducive to enabling members of the public to use the opportunity to ask questions or openness and transparency more generally. Usually when making this point I draw attention to the fact the Chief Executive of the Police Authority is paid around £100,000 of public money per year to administer the police authority, I didn’t make this point at the Authority meeting, but all those present would have been well aware of it in any case.

Questioners are given the opportunity to ask for factual clarification of the answers, but not to ask any follow up questions. Seeing this wasn’t very conducive to effective use of the public question time Peterborough City Councillor David Sanders put reviewing this, and other elements of the public speaking rules on the agenda for the next Police Authority meeting. He said the current system gave the impression that the authority was rather stand-offish and defensive. He questioned if the authority was serious about wanting to encourage public questioners.

When I do meet the Chief Executive I might also note that requiring members of the public to bring their passports, and have their passport information, photograph, car registration number and perhaps other details recorded by the police is overkill and unjustifiable for attending a meeting which is held in a room directly off the reception area in Police Headquarters.

Other suggestions for improvements:

  • Members of the authority should also be able to seek clarification on the answers to public questions, and ought be free to discuss if and how the authority will respond.
  • Providing members of the public, and authority members the answers to questions as they become available would also assist the process.
  • The agenda itsself, despite its new wording, does not make clear there is a deadline.

See also my previous article entitled : Openness and Accessibility of Cambridgeshire Police Authority.

3 comments/updates on “Improving the Openness and Accessibility of Cambridgeshire Police Authority

  1. Debra Smart

    Dear Mr Taylor

    I read the above with great intreast. Could you please tell me can you speak at all Police Authority meetings ? We went to ours which took was almost 6 hrs round trip . When the Chair said any questions. My husband stood up and said he had a couple. The chair said ” we dont take questions from the public” . This was at the AGM 22nd June 09. I spoke to a Counciller the other day ( I do not Know him ) he said well i have heard the public speak ? We have complained about the about the Police and an officer was taken to court and charged . If this is public surley we had that right to ask a question. we were very dispointed and going such a long way. On the link last night i looked at the 8.1 public meeting Dyfed Powys our undersataning is we can ask a question .
    thank you for you time in reading this email.

    Best Wishes Debbie

  2. Richard Article author

    I have seen public questions taken at the Cambridgeshire Police Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority.

    I believe there is no general right for members of the public to speak at police authorities, it is up to the individual authority. Cambridgeshire have only allowed public speakers since earlier this year (and in practice haven’t really got their system sorted out yet).

    There is no evidence of a public speaking slot in the most recently published minutes of a Dyfed Powys Police Authority meeting, or in the June AGM minutes.

    Clearly if there is a practice of allowing some members of the public to speak and not others than that urgently needs looking into and stopping.

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