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?
- Webpage for the 18th February 2009 Police Authority Meeting, which at the time of writing contains no agenda or papers.
- Contentless article on the Police Authority Website entitled, “Public forum’ at Police Authority meetings”
- My comments on the December 2008 Police Authority Meeting, including subsequent correspondence.
Photo of the Chief Executive obtained from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign