Suggesting Questions to Julian Huppert for Police and Crime Commissioner Bright at the Home Affairs Select Committee


Monday, November 25th, 2013. 4:59am

MP Julian Huppert Chairing the Home Affairs Select Committee

MP Julian Huppert Chairing the Home Affairs Select Committee

Julian Huppert MP,

I have noticed our Police and Crime Commissioner, Graham Bright, is due to appear in front of you and other MPs at the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday the 26th of November 2013.

I would like to share some ideas for questions, which I think are both firmly on the topic of the committee’s inquiry and may also help those of us in Cambridgeshire who are seeking to scrutinise the commissioner’s performance locally. In brief summary these are:

  1. Why is Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright not reporting many decisions to the Police and Crime Panel for their scrutiny?
  2. Why has Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright turned down an invitation from Cambridgeshire County Council’s policing related scrutiny committee to attend their meetings and discuss aspects of his work with them in detail, in public?
  3. Why did input from the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, and from the public of Cambridgeshire, not lead to the commissioner making any modification to his draft Police and Crime Plan before he approved it for publication?
  4. Will the cost of The Office of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner be less than the cost of Cambridgeshire Police Authority was (assuming we discount both the salaries of the Commissioner and deputy and the expenses and allowances of the authority members)? Now he has completed his first year in office will the commissioner ensure he promptly releases the information required for that comparison to be made?
  5. Why are there so few entries in Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s published spending data? What’s included, how is the material prepared and selected for release?
  6. Doesn’t standing for election on a manifesto “not to put any additional burden on council tax” only to increase council tax by 1.9% just weeks later bring democracy into disrepute and damage trust in politicians?

Detailed Background to Questions

  1. The committee’s announcement of the launch of its inquiry into Police and Crime Commissioners stated one subject to be covered is
    The role of police and crime panels in holding their commissioners to account

    A key problem I have observed with the operation of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel is that they only consider for scrutiny decisions which the commissioner puts to them. In Cambridgeshire our commissioner has decided to only make the panel aware of those decisions he publishes on his website; he selects those he considers to be “decisions of significant public interest”.

    Commissioner Bright has published seventeen decisions in his first year of office. Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner published more than that in December 2012 and has published one hundred and twenty four in total to-date.

    Has Commissioner Bright been much less active than Gwent’s Commissioner or are a proportion of the decisions the commissioner is making in Cambridgeshire not being reported?

    To-date the vast majority of decisions reported by Graham Bright have been those which the commissioner is explicitly required by law to report to the panel such as those relating to the appointment of his deputy, the annual report, and the approval of the Police and Crime Plan.

    The duties of the panel are much broader Section 28(6)(a) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 states a Police and Crime Panel must:

    review or scrutinise decisions made, or other action taken, by the relevant police and crime commissioner in connection with the discharge of the commissioner’s functions;

    Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel has, as you would expect, reflected that in its terms of reference. In fact it is reproduced verbatim as term six.

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright is not assisting the panel in their role by only sharing a very limited number of his decisions with them. I would like to see the panel members taking a more inquisitive and questioning approach, for example identifying decisions made from statements the commissioner makes which are reported in the press, or from his published spending data, however I think they are relying on him to report decisions for scrutiny.

    Examples of decisions which Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has made but which he has not published on his decision log or volunteered for scrutiny by the Police and Crime Panel include for example:

    • Decisions which the commissioner claims have led to the improvement of non-emergency call handling performance. See 0:23 of video interview by the Peterborough Telegraph where he says he dealt with the issue within three days of coming into office.

      Graham Bright: When I took over as the Police and Crime Commissioner in November I had a lot of complaints from the public and it came from across the county; the time it took to get a call answered.. so it was a real priority. In fact I dealt with it within three days of coming into office.

    • Decisions relating to the staffing levels in the Commissioner’s office, including decisions to employ consultants.
    • The decision to hold the Commissioner’s key decision making committees, particularly the Business Coordination Board in secret and private; only publishing meeting papers well after the meetings took place.
    • 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.
    • The decision to consider the roll out of TASER to non-fireams police in Cambridgeshire as an operational one; rather than a strategic matter for him to decide on; and his decision not to comment on the roll out on the day it was announced.
    • Decisions relating to the setting up and operating of the Commissioner’s “Star Chambers”; secret, private, events at which he holds those spending the “Community Safety Grant” money he is responsible for to account.
  2. Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright has refused an invitation to appear in front of the Cambridgeshire County Council scrutiny committee which deals with policing matters.

    I have published a letter to me from the committee chairman Cllr Bullen confirming the commissioner has declined the committee’s invitation. A advance draft of report to Cambridgeshire County Council’s Safer and Stronger Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the 19th of December 2013 provides more details.

    The commissioner argues that he is not compelled by law to attend the committee. He is absolutely right, no one has suggested he is.

    My view is it would be very helpful if he would attend the committee and work with them; they have for example been monitoring the police’s call handling performance for many years now. (See meetings from December 2011, and it is still on their work plan as something to continue monitoring).

    We’ve got a committee of eleven County Councillors keen to help the commissioner understand, and address, the problems Cambridgeshire Police are having answer their phones; he’s said he’s keen to tackle the problem, so why isn’t he prepared to join forces with them and attend their meeting?

    Last year the committee did a detailed piece of work on Domestic Abuse; it is clear this is a group of councillors the commissioner ought be working with.

    I’d like to see our Police and Crime Commissioner use these councillors; to help him monitor the performance of our police force; including perhaps taking on some of the tasks such as dip-sampling of complaints and reporting publicly on issues arising which used to be carried out by the Police Authority but now no longer appears to occur.

    In terms of the relationship with the county council; the Commissioner sent his deputy to answer questions at the last full council to which he was invited (full council isn’t the venue for in-depth scrutiny and is no replacement for co-operation with a scrutiny committee). Cllr Ian Manning has commented on the Deputy Commissioner’s performance stating:

    It wasn’t a very satisfactory series of answers he gave

  3. Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright published his draft Police and Crime Plan as the Police and Crime Plan without amending it at all following the comments made during a public consultation and consideration by the Police and Crime Panel. Did he not feel any of the panel’s or the public’s comments were helpful?
    (His well practiced answer to this question is: “it’s a living document, it can be amended at any time”.)
  4. I am concerned about the costs of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s office. The Commissioner’s statement of accounts for 2012/13, which includes the costs of the Police Authority from April 2012-November 2013 show a substantial rise in office staffing costs from £347,000 under the full year of the Police Authority in 2011/12 to £439,000 in 2012/13, in the year of the transition. These figures exclude the salary of the commissioner or his deputy, and also exclude expenses and allowances paid to Police Authority members; so they are in my view directly comparable. “Other office and running expenses ” jumped from £64,000 to £117,000.

    These rises come despite the following exchange I had with Mr Bright during his election campaign:

    Richard Taylor: You’re going to cost more; your office is going to be bigger than the Police Authority’s?
    Graham Bright: It’s going to be less.

    Mr Bright repeated this sentiment in a radio interview in December 2012.

    I have submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details of the amount spent by the Commissioner on his office during his first year in office; this ought provide data for the first full year of operation of the commissioner’s office so that can be compared with the costs of the Police Authority.

  5. I don’t have much confidence in Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s published spending data. There appear to be relatively few transactions reported. When I made a Freedom of Information request to ask for details of one, substantial (£27,029.00), transaction the response was essentially: “oops that shouldn’t have been on the list”. The published data has not been corrected as of the time of writing now over a month since the response was issued.

    Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s latest published spending data (for September 2013) contains just eight transactions, and one of those is the one he’s admitted including in error. Costs related to salaried staff appear to be one major omission.

  6. I have written about Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s proposal to increase council tax which was approved and enacted despite his manifesto commitment “not to put any additional burden on council tax”. Mr Bright has claimed that a 1.9% rise is no extra burden due to inflation; this of course isn’t much condolence to those who’ve not seen their incomes rise but have seen living costs go up. I thought this might be relevant to the
    The role of commissioners in budget and precept setting;

    aspect of the committee’s inquiry.

Scope of the Home Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Police and Crime Commissioners

In terms of the scope of the committee’s inquiry; I think a key element has been omitted and that is the questions of:

What have we lost in the transition to Police and Crime Commissioners?

and

Who, if anyone, has picked up all the aspects of the role of the Police Authorities?

The answers to those questions will depend on how commissioners in particular areas have set up their operations but in Cambridgeshire key things I feel we have lost include:

  • The publicising, and open public discussion, of proposed major police policy changes.
  • Police performance monitoring, in public (including monitoring and oversight of the complaints system)

5 comments/updates on “Suggesting Questions to Julian Huppert for Police and Crime Commissioner Bright at the Home Affairs Select Committee

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Bedfordshire’s Chief Constable is appearing as a witness after Police and Crime Commissioner Bright.

    If might be interesting to ask both of them about the Bedfordshire / Hertfordshire / Cambridgeshire collaboration; and especially why Hertfordshire for a good period of this year pulled out of further collaboration. When asked at the last Police and Crime Panel Commissioner Bright replied he wasn’t prepared to get into it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eazYZcaBpds&t=67m4s

    It would be interesting to hear the Home Affairs Committee get into the subject of collaboration, and mergers, of police forces but that’s probably one for a separate inquiry.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner has got a group of members of the public “dip sampling” stop and search records:

    http://www.gwent.pcc.police.uk/transparency/decisions-made/2013/april/stop-and-search-dip-sampling-march-2013/

    That kind of thing would be good to see happening in Cambridgeshire; with the results reported in public.

    I’d like to see more than just stop and search covered, and would suggest councillors on relevant scrutiny committees and the police and crime panel might be appropriate people to do it.

  3. Paul Lythgoe

    Sir Grahams appearance at the Home Affairs Committee was a joy to see. It was up there with his best performances. He was as ever rambling, slightly incoherent, and soft on detail. To be fair to him th questioning was pretty soft too. What did we get from his replies.
    - The post of PCC was not a fatally flawed system – “if it was we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.” No elaboration on what we do.
    - What was his single acheivement – “set up a high powered audit committee holding the Chief Constable to account on a monthly basis”. Not clear to what committee he refers, nonetheless challenged on this he says “setting up a committee that is what we do.”
    - On the media – “The media have it in for us. ”
    - On his activities – …”got out and about and engaged with 364 Parish Councils”. Doesn’t say how many he has actually visited.
    - On the election turnout – he predicts a 35% to 40% turnout next time round. Doesn’t say on what basis he thinks he will acheive this though it is 10 times the turnout he was elected with.
    - On the PCP – he has met them 5 times and they are still bedding in. He takes the PCP seriously and offers them reports. He mentions informal briefings to the PCP. I wonder where, when, how often and what about. Is this why there are so few questions at the formal meetings.
    - On crime figures – you have to be open and transparent. You can’t fool the public – by which he means neighbourhood watch and ecops. Quite why he trusts there anecdotal reports more than any audited crime figures not explained or questioned.
    - On collaboration – “making dramatic savings”. This despite an increase of 2% on precept. No clarification on these savings.
    - On diversity – only one man in his office and made effort to increase number of women. Didn’t he just inherit this fot the most part.
    Sir Graham then showed his remarkable abilty to make the swiftest exit from meetings….

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