On the 21st of November I went to Huntingdon where a a meeting of Cambridgeshire’s Shadow Police and Crime Panel was scheduled to take place. A meeting paper gave the “title/purpose” of the meeting as “Meet the Commissioner”.
The meeting was listed online as being “private”, however in my view it met the legal definition of a local government “joint committee” and therefore ought, by law, have been open to the public (more). This view has been supported by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
I was prepared to observe, report on, and if permitted film the meeting. I think the first meeting between the panel and the Police and Crime Commissioner is highly significant and likely to set the tone for their relationship over the commissioner’s term of office. I would have liked to have heard, for example, what the Commissioner wanted the panel to do to support him in his role, what information the commissioner will be making available to the panel. I would have also been interested to hear the panel let the commissioner know what views they have come to in relation to their role, and the approach they want to take, during the series of “shadow” meetings they have been holding.
Today, the defeated Labour candidate has used my site to reiterate the pledge he made during his campaign, that he would not meet the Police and Crime Panel in secret session. The fact Commissioner elect Graham Bright was prepared to take part in the secret meeting appears to me to be at odds with his declaration of acceptance of office in which he promised:
I will take all steps within my power to ensure transparency of my decisions, so that I may be properly held to account by the public.
In Sussex the first meeting between the Police and Crime Panel and Police and Crime Commissioner there is to be broadcast live on the internet and made available online for six months (See Press Release). This is dramatically at odds with what has been seen in Cambridgeshire.
What Happened at Huntington
I arrived at the Huntingdonshire District Council offices more than half an hour before the scheduled start of the meeting. I made a video outside describing why I was there and I what I intended to do; I also shared these plans with Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Bick when he arrived.
When I approached the reception desk to ask if I could observe the meeting they told me they had been told it was a private meeting. I explained why I thought it ought be open to the public (as a decision making joint committee) and they offered to call someone to come and talk to me.
I spoke to a number of officers, a number of whom appeared to be supportive of my efforts to find out what was going on in the meeting, and what the commissioner was saying. One officer confirmed to me the Commissioner, Graham Bright, was present.
Eventually, well after the 13.00 scheduled start time of the meeting, Alex Daynes of Peterborough City Council came to see me in the reception area saying he was one of those responsible for administering the panel. I explained I wanted to observe the meeting, and why I thought it ought, by law be open to the public. Mr Daynes said he would let the panel’s chair know I was present and the basis of my request to observe the meeting.
I was informed that Commissioner Bright had left the meeting, to “return to Police Headquarters” and one officer even suggested I go there and ask him about his attendance at the panel’s private meeting.
I waited in the reception area for over an hour, before deciding to go elsewhere having given my mobile number to the receptionists in case there was any progress. I went out to walk around the building where the meeting was taking place and generally look around.
A delegation headed by the chair of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel, Cllr Mac McGuire, appeared. Cllr McGuire approached me asking if I’d seen a tweet from Cllr Martin Curtis (another member of the panel). I had not at that time, but now have, the tweet states:
@RTaylorUK Once again you have your facts wrong.
Cllr McGuire explained he was concerned that I was saying Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright had attended the meeting of the panel. McGuire told me that the Commissioner had been present to meet members of the panel, but had not stayed for the formal element of the meeting where they considered the items on their agenda.
I gained the impression Cllr McGuire and officers supporting the panel thought it would be wrong if the Commissioner was present for the panel’s discussions on things like how to carry our confirmation hearings. They might well have a point, however the Chief Executive of the Police Authority, who will become a member of the Commissioner’s staff and is highly likely to be appointed as Chief of Staff, and therefore subject to a confirmation hearing, herself was present at the panel meeting. So if there was a conflict of interest with the Commissioner being present, there would also certainly be one with the presence of the Chief Executive.
My view that how much of, and which elements of, the meeting the commissioner was present for is rather academic and a distraction from the key matter, that he was there, meeting members of the panel, in secret session.
To try and pin down what happened I asked Cllr McGuire at what time the informal meet and greet with the commissioner happened. The reason I asked this is that I saw panel members arriving for the meeting, and most arrived within the last 5-10 minutes before the scheduled 13.00 start time of the meeting. Cllr McGuire refused to answer that question; he also refused to tell me if Cllr Bick of Cambridge City Council had arrived in time to meet the Commissioner.
I did not see Commissioner Bright despite keeping an eye on those coming and going, and seeing all those approaching the reception desk, and many of those coming and going from the building containing the meeting for over half an hour before the meeting, to around an hour after it was scheduled to start. I don’t know if he was smuggled out of a back door so he didn’t have to face any questions from me.
Meeting papers were made available online before the meeting however the papers for the item on the appointment of non-councillor volunteers was incomplete (due to interviews not having been carried out at the time of publication). The online papers were not updated when that information did become available, an FOI request might be required to obtain their release.
No decision notices have been placed on the meeting’s webpage, meaning there is no official source of information on any decisions the panel made, or what the Commissioner said to the panel or what the panel said to the Commissioner.