Openess and Accessibility of Cambridgeshire Police Authority


Sunday, February 15th, 2009. 4:19am

Dorothy Gregson

Dr Dorothy Gregson has moved from her previous position of Director of Public Health at Cambridge City Primary Care Trust to become the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire Police Authority. Her first regular Police Authority meeting is scheduled for Wednesday the 18th February 2009, and she doesn’t appear to be getting off to a great start as the agenda and papers for that meeting are not yet available online as of Sunday the 15th.

Mr Wilkins, a county councillor and member of the police authority told the Cambridge City/County joint North Area in 2008 that he used the public website to review the papers for meetings. Will he be as effective as he could be in his role if given little time to review the papers for the upcoming meeting? Will he have time to discuss his responses with his fellow county councillors and the public who he represents prior to the meeting? Members of the public, and the press are certainly not able to browse the agenda for any items they might want to act on.

Late publication particularly impacts the opportunity for members of the public to raise questions at the Police Authority as the public are required to submit their questions three days in advance of the meeting; something made challenging when agendas are published after that deadline.

I also noted a reference to an apparantly previously unpublicised Police Authority meeting held in January 2009. (I prompted the publication of the minutes of the 17th September 2008 which was previously unpublicised by drawing attention to a similar reference).

I am also concerned that a special meeting held on the 13th of February 2009 to set the 2009/10 police precept was in fact used for broader purposes; this would be a problem if it was being used to hide issues by having them discussed there rather than at a regular authority meeting, though in this instance I do not believe that was the case.

I have sent the below:

Dear Dorothy Gregson, Chief Executive of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority,

I note the agenda for the 18th February 2009 Police Authority Meeting has not yet been made publicly available online. This is the second time in a row that the agenda and papers for an upcoming regular Cambridgeshire Police Authority meeting have not been made publicly available online prior to the recommended date for the submission of public questions. I think this is an absolutely astonishingly poor start to your stint as Chief Executive of the Police Authority. I note that you receive a salary of ~£100,000 per year of public money and are, as evidenced by this failing, not doing what I at least expect of you in return for that. When I commented publicly on the publication, about 24 hours before the meeting, of the agenda and papers for the Authority’s December meeting I was told by the chairman of the Police Authority that this was due to a most unusual delay resulting from a server failure, yet it has happened again.

Not publishing the agenda publicly in advance of the deadline for members of the public to notify you of their wish to make a statement or ask a question significantly reduces the usefulness of the “open forum” and does not encourage public participation. The late publication of agendas removes the opportunity for any members of the public to ask questions about items on (or omitted from) the agenda or reports to the meeting.

I have written to the chairman, Mr Walters, questioning his interpretation of the standing orders at the December meeting of the Police Authority. It is his interpretation, not the standing orders themselves, which in my view prevent the public making statements in response to late agendas. He ruled that no public contribution could be made to the meeting due to no members of the public making a request to speak in accordance with the standing orders. However, with respect to statements, the standing orders do not require notice be given. With respect to questions they only say that questioners should give notice for the purposes of preparing a meaningful response to questions and to manage the agenda; they do not say notice of a question must be given. Added confusion is introduced as the standing orders on public questions do not precisely mirror the latest resolution of the authority amending them. Mr Walters has told me that he is seeking expert advice; I have suggested he publish details of his intended interpretation of the standing orders on the authority website. If you provide, or have provided Mr Walters with advice on this matter I would like to suggest that is published online. I have additionally suggested that a brief summary of the public speaking rules, along with a reference to the standing orders ought be included on agendas.

Also, could you let me know if there was a meeting of the Full Police Authority on the 14th of January 2009? The existence of this meeting is suggested by the agenda for the special meeting on the 13th of February which contains an item considering the minutes of a meeting held on the 14th of January 2009. If such a meeting did take place why was it unpublicised?

Related links:

Photo of the Chief Executive obtained from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign

4 comments/updates on “Openess and Accessibility of Cambridgeshire Police Authority

  1. Richard Article author

    The Agenda, but no papers, were made available on Monday the 16th before the meeting on Wednesday the 18th.

    http://www.cambs-pa.gov.uk/meetingDetail.cfm?meetingID=252

    A reference to the rules on public speaking has been included on the agenda.

    As the special meeting held on the 13th of February 2009 was in fact used for broader purposes than it ought to have been including receiving reports from subcommittees the agenda for Wednesday is scant, with no substantive items of business to be taken in public.

    Yet again the expanded TASER deployment is not on the agenda.

    Within hours of the ministerial announcement on Monday the 24th of November 2008 the Metropolitan Police Authority announced their decision not to extend TASER use to all front line response officers in London on the grounds that they may cause fear and damage public confidence. However Cambridgeshire Police Authority are still reluctant to act, not mentioning the subject at all during their December 2008 meeting and now not having it on the agenda for their February 2009 meeting.

  2. Richard Article author

    I have quoted from Dr Gregson’s reply in this article.

    Her excuse for the late publication, or failure to publish notice of, the meetings on the authority’s website was:

    Regarding publication of the 14th January and 18th February Police Authority agenda, all business within these meeting fell or will fall within the closed session in accordance with clauses 3 and 4 of Part 1 of the revised schedule 12A to the Local Government Act.

    This appears to be established practice as on the 15th of October 2008 her predecessor, Mr Peaston, wrote to me explaining why a full authority meeting held on the 17th of September was not publicised:

    In either case, 17 or 30 September, this single item of business would have been exempt under Clauses 1 and 2 of Part 1 of The Local Government (Access to information (Variation) Order 2006, making it inappropriate to hold the meeting in public and hence meaningless to advertise it or incur the costs in doing so.

    It is not acceptable for the Police Authority to hold secret meetings, they can go into closed session, but the fact they are meeting ought be publicised. Even if all agenda items are confidential members of the public might want to ask questions or make statements (as they are allowed to do) and have a right to know what is being discussed.

  3. David Vincent

    I always thought that a meeting was open to the public until the committee had passed a resolution to exclude them, hence the notice of the meeting and agenda still needed to be made public three days in advance of the meeting. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean being on the website – that would simply be good practice. Pinning the agenda up outside the police HQ would probably be enough to meet the statutory requirement.

  4. Richard Article author

    David you are absolutely right the meeting ought be open to the public while it debates and votes on the motion to close it to the public.

    Publishing online is the only route used to publicise meetings to the public. While I believe members get papers posted to them, they too use the online version to get extra time to read them.

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