I have submitted the following in advance of the “public participation” slot at the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel meeting scheduled for 14.00 on Wednesday the 5th of February 2014.
Reporting of Decisions
The Police and Crime Commissioner repeatedly assures the panel he is reporting all decisions he makes to the panel. I am concerned that panel is allowing the commissioner to select those decisions which the panel are formally notified of. When deciding which decisions to report to the panel for scrutiny the commissioner appears to be reflecting the criteria he uses for publishing decisions on his own website, selecting only those he considers “of significant public interest” to report. Examples of decisions which have not been reported to the panel, which I would have liked to have seen scrutinised include:
- Decisions which the commissioner has reported to the media, but not the panel, which he claims have led to the improvement of non-emergency call handling performance.
- The decision to hold the commissioner’s key decision making committees, particularly his Business Coordination Board in secret and private; only publishing meeting papers well after the meetings take place. From my perspective there has been a significant reduction in transparency with the transition to a Police and Crime Commissioner. Our commissioner is not publishing details of proposed changes to policies before he makes decisions about them.
- Decisions relating to the staffing levels in the commissioner’s office (though I realise the panel has considered this at a high level in that the commissioner’s budget was submitted to the panel). The panel have not challenged the commissioner on how he justifies the number of staff in his office, or his decision to delegate roles, including attending public meetings, to an outreach officer (I note as of December 2013 Warwickshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner had no staff in his office and was planning to recruit just three).
- Decisions on which transactions to include in the commissioner’s published spending data.
- Decisions on pro-active publication of information; including police performance statistics and Force Executive Board papers.
- Decisions on where the strategic / operational boundary lies, including in relation to the commissioner’s refusal to comment on the significant strategic change to the face of policing in the county when non-firearms officers began being armed with TASER weapons from May 2013.
- The decision to decline an invitation to attend Cambridgeshire County Council’s policing related scrutiny committee. I would suggest that the panel consider their response to that decision and would like to see them take up, for example, scrutiny of call answering performance which the committee dropped from their work programme following the commissioner’s decision to refuse to appear at the committee.
- The decision to delegate local priority setting to councillors at Cambridge’s area committees; having initially decided to set all such priorities himself. The wider issue of local police priority setting was another item removed from Cambridgeshire County Council’s scrutiny committee’s work programme following the commissioner’s refusal to appear and is something else perhaps the Police and Crime Panel could take on. Prior to stopping their consideration of the subject one member of the County Council Committee stated that far from being democratically set, in part of the force area Neighbourhood Watch groups are setting priorities and I have observed mob-rule (where anyone who turns up getting a vote) and the police themselves setting the priorities at local priority setting meetings.
I would suggest the panel make clear to the commissioner which decisions they expect him to report to them; and I encourage the panel to review all public sources, including for example the commissioner’s statements and spending data, to detect decisions the panel may wish to consider for detailed scrutiny despite even if the commissioner has not pro-actively informed the panel about them.
The panel could point the commissioner to other commissioners who publish, and report, many more decisions and ask the commissioner to explain his approach. (Gwent’s commissioner reported 139 in 2013, compared with our commissioner’s 18, including those from 2013 being reported to this meeting)
The Police and Crime Commissioner has recently released his diary in response to a Freedom of Information request. There are a number of matters raised by the diary which I would like to see the panel raise with the commissioner:
- The diary appears to show the commissioner writing off two working days a week as “keep free”; the panel should determine if he is working a three day week and if he is able to fulfill the role in that time. I note the panel did consider the proposed working arrangements of the deputy commissioner so there is a precedent for this kind of inquiry.
- The commissioner has taken on a directorship of a Limited company, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners . I think the panel should review his decision to take on this role, and how it is impacting his focus on Cambridgeshire as well as if and how he is using staff from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to support his APCC role The released diary shows one working week when after two days off, and two days with the APCC, only one day was left for Cambridgeshire.
- The commissioner publishes an events calendar on his website; key events including appearances in public at council meetings have been omitted from this (and the released diary). I think the panel ought look at what the commissioner pro-actively publishes about his upcoming official engagements, as well as his historical diary.
Accuracy of the Commissioner’s Statements to the Panel
I would like to highlight two instances where commissioner has made statements to the panel which I would like to see the panel probe the accuracy of.
The first was on the ECINS data sharing website; on the 12th of June 2013 the commissioner, responding to a question from the Cambridge City Council representative on the panel, gave an assurance that very little information was shared via the system, saying:
” If you put a name in it just identifies who that person has been in contact with”
This is substantively at odds with what Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership has repeatedly been told; a much greater degree of data sharing via the website has been described to them; well beyond just revealing if an agency has been in contact with an individual or not.
The second came when the commissioner described his ALERT system. The commissioner gave the impression that the system would provide almost comprehensive, near real time, extracts from the police log saying, neighbourhood watch groups would:
“know the very next morning whether there’s been a burglary, whether there’s been some anti-social behaviour, a car stolen, or whatever the case may be, it’s there for them to see.”
The commissioner also stated the system was entirely separate from ECops (claiming he had no responsibility for the latter), despite ALERT now taking on the name ECops and users being migrated from ECops to ALERT.
The panel also heard the commissioner, while speaking about ALERT, state: “it was developed by the Home Office specifically for Neighbourhood Watch.” I asked the Home Office about this and they responded:
“The Home Office was not involved in this development”
I would suggest the panel ought look into the way the decision to award the contract for this system was made and at the different ways it is being used around the force area.
I would like to see the panel challenging the commissioner when he makes statements which are at odds with what other bodies are saying or appear implausible.
First Year Spending
I note the commissioner’s spending in his first year in office, from November 2012 to November 2013 has been released following a Freedom of Information Act request I made. This shows the commissioner spent more running his office in that first year than the Police Authority cost in its last full year of operation.
I don’t think the commissioner’ spending in this first year ought go uncommented on, and the panel should challenge the commissioner on this, in light of his pre-election promise that his office would cost less, not more, than the Police Authority.
No Extra Burden on Council Tax
I would like to remind the panel of the commissioner’s clear pre-election promise “Not to put any additional burden on council tax”. I saw this raised at the February 2013 panel meeting which endorsed a council tax rise proposed by the commissioner. At that meeting Graham Bright admitted to the panel that he had promised “no extra burden” but argued he had not broken this pledge on the grounds the increase was “below inflation”.
In my view the pledge was clear and suggested to me the policing element of council tax would not rise under Commissioner Bright. I note that the commissioner’s report to today’s meeting on his proposed further council tax increase, does not mention his pre-election pledge. It is far from the case that everyone’s income rises year on year with inflation and it is not the case that rises do not impose an additional burden. I think democracy is damaged when representatives do not fulfil their promises, and in this case I think this is compounded when the panel fail to robustly challenge the commissioner’s tax rises. I would like to know if efforts are being made to reduce the proportion of policing funding derived from the council tax, in favour of more progressive taxes.
- Does the panel share my concerns?
- Will the panel take any action in light of what I have said and the suggestions I have made?