Public Questions – Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel March 2014


Wednesday, March 12th, 2014. 1:35am

I have submitted the following questions to Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel’s meeting on the 19th of March 2014:

  1. Why do the panel’s rules of procedure not include provisions for members of the public to make statements to the panel, or to suggest items for scrutiny, during the public participation agenda item?
  2. Which aspects of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role does the panel consider are for the electorate, rather than the panel, to hold the commissioner to account in relation to?

Expanding on the questions

Expanding on the questions ought be possible when presenting them in person at the meeting and when asking follow-up questions.

Public Participation

I attempted to use the public participation agenda item at the last meeting to make a statement and suggest both specific items for scrutiny, and approaches the panel could take to identify items for scrutiny however my attempt to do this was largely thwarted by the panel’s narrow terms of reference. The panel’s secretariat initially unilaterally rejected my submission without reference to any panel members; my submission would have been silently rejected had I not submitted subsequent questions about the rejection. I note my submission also could have been derailed had I addressed it to panel chairman (who turned out to be absent from the meeting).

I would like to see the panel assisting the public in holding the commissioner to account and considering suggestions of items for scrutiny from the public.

I note Cambridge City Council’s public speaking slots all permit either questions or statements and Cambridgeshire County Council has a system for members of the public to suggest items for scrutiny.

The panel publish current contact details on their website; however I note the webpage for the agenda for the 19 March 2014 meeting, and the panel’s main webpage gives the contact email address of an officer who left the panel’s secretariat in late 2013.

While the Police and Crime Panel have latterly included a “Public Questions” item on their agenda there is no note on agendas pointing to the rules for public participation; there is nothing to prompt those reading the agenda to refer to the panel’s rules of procedure where the rules on public questions are set out. When I first attended a local government meeting with a public questions slot on the agenda I wasn’t aware of any requirement to submit questions in advance so wasn’t able to raise the point I’d attended to to make.

Currently the rules of procedure do not ensure the panel’s agenda and papers are published prior to the deadline for non urgent public questions. I would like to see questions and statements on agenda items accepted so long as they are notified to the chairman or officers prior to the start of the meeting.

I would also question if rule 7.6 of the panel’s rules of procedure requiring the chairman to record decisions not to allow public submissions for specified reasons in the minutes. I would suggest this rule is expanded to all decisions to reject public submissions.

I note the action point updates in draft minutes from the 5 February 2014 meeting of the panel reveal the Police and Crime Commissioner has responded to the panel following my submission to that meeting. The reply has not been sent to me, nor has it been published by the panel. I would like to suggest the panel does proactively publish such replies from the commissioner.

I suspect a review of rejected questions might prompt the panel to review its decision not to allow questions to be asked of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, unlike other commissioners for example in Kent and Essex, isn’t holding public question time events himself. I think it would be right to separate such events from the routine business of the panel, but holding such events would be one way the panel could enable the public to benefit from the panel’s powers to require the commissioner to answer questions.

What Aspects of the Commissioner’s Role Does the Panel Consider Outside its Remit?

At the last meeting of the panel acting chairman Cllr Jason Ablewhite stated:

“the commissioner’s diary, that’s not, frankly, our concern at all. That’s a politically accountable thing and it’s up to the electorate if they feel that’s the case and not a scrutiny panel to all intents and purposes. “

The panel went on, later in the meeting, to recommend the commissioner proactively publish in advance details of when his outreach worker is to attend public meetings of town and parish councils.

I find it inconsistent for the panel to take the position the outreach worker’s diary is a matter for the panel, but the commissioner’s diary is not. (One of the things Cllr Ablewhite appeared to be dismissing in his comment was my suggestion the panel recommend the commissioner publish details of his upcoming official engagements, such as attendance at public council meetings).

In light of this I’d like to ask: Which aspects of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role does the panel consider are for the electorate, rather than the panel, to hold the commissioner to account in relation to?

I note the commissioner has now begun publishing, in retrospect, some of the information which previously was released only via FOI requests for his official diary. This makes it even easier for the panel to review the content of this material when seeking to identify items for scrutiny.

Further Questions I’d Ask If Permitted

Members of the public are restricted to two questions per meeting of the Police and Crime Panel. Further questions I’d like to see addressed include:

  • 2. I’d like to be able to follow-up the response by the commissioner to my submission to the February 2014 meeting of the panel. That response has not yet been published and I’ve not been provided with it, so I can’t do that.
  • 3. Why has the panel not terminated the appointment of independent member Raja Ali given his failure to attend a panel meeting since March 2013 (Details).
  • 4. When will the panel add a piece of detailed, proactive, scrutiny to its agenda programme, or at least hold a discussion on how it might identify and select items for such scrutiny (beyond merely considering those decisions the commissioner decides to report to the panel)? This question follows on from my submission to the February 2014 meeting of the panel. The panel’s agenda plan does not contain any proposed detailed scrutiny exercises or even any proposals to identify areas for such scrutiny.

5 comments/updates on “Public Questions – Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel March 2014

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve submitted my questions:

    From: Richard Taylor
    Date: 12 March 2014 00:44
    Subject: Public Participation – 19 March 2014 Police and Crime Panel
    To: Ford Paulina

    I would like to submit the following questions the “public
    participation” element of the Police and Crime Panel meeting on
    Wednesday the 19th of March 2014:

    1. Why do the panel’s rules of procedure not include provisions for
    members of the public to make statements to the panel, or to suggest
    items for scrutiny, during the public participation agenda item?

    2. Which aspects of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role does the
    panel consider are for the electorate, rather than the panel, to hold
    the commissioner to account in relation to?

    I have published my questions, along with background information which
    I may be able to introduce when presenting my questions in person, and
    when asking follow-up questions, at: http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/6711

    Section 7.3 of the rules of procedure which the panel have adopted
    require public participants to identify the panel member to whom
    questions are addressed. In order to comply with this I will nominate
    the chairman, or in his absence whoever is chairing the meeting, to
    address my questions to. As also required by that section, my name
    and address is: Richard Taylor, [removed], Cambridge, CB4 [removed].

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  2. Paul Lythgoe

    Given that we cannot ask any questions of the PCC I would again attempt to ask whether the panel is clear what distinguishes an operational matter, and a strategic matter. So, for example, targeting ASB, however poorly defined, or promoting a 101 phone number, is strategic, and sanctioning the use of Tasers and covert policing is operational.

    I would also like to ask the panel whether they see any conflict of interest for Christine Graham given the focus of her consultancy business, and the new responsibilities of the PCC in terms of victim support, and community safety.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    I received a response on the 12th of March:

    Dear Mr Taylor

    Thank you for your mail. I will advise the Chairman of your questions.

    Regards

    Paulina Ford
    Senior Governance Officer Scrutiny
    Democratic Services Team
    Legal and Governance
    Peterborough City Council
    Town Hall
    Bridge Street
    Peterborough
    PE1 1HQ

    I’ve no idea why my questions are being referred to the chairman this time, rather than simply being accepted and distributed to panel members.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve written to Cambridge’s representative on the panel, Cllr Tim Bick, in advance of the meeting:

    Cllr Bick,

    I’m writing to you in advance of the meeting of Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel on the 19th of March 2014. I’d like to suggest some points you might want to take up:

    1. The response from the Police and Crime Commissioner to my submission made during the public participation slot at the last meeting is noted as being received, and distributed to members, but it has not been published. I would like to see the panel publishing the response. I am disappointed it has not been proactively released by either the panel or the commissioner. I as a result I will not be able to follow up any points made in the response at the March meeting.
    2. I hope you, and other members of the panel, who have received a copy of the commissioner’s response will follow up on any matters raised.
    3. I I note the draft minutes of the public participation section at the last meeting don’t mention Cllr Curtis’ point of order asking for the chair to consider ruling my submission out of order. I had hoped to learn from the minutes what had actually happened. I thought given I was not allowed to ask any supplementary questions the submission may have been ruled out of order. (I achieved much of what I wanted to by publicly alerting the panel to my concerns with the approach of only considering items the commissioner volunteers for scrutiny).
    4. II appreciate you suggested the panel look into the Commissioner’s decisions on the performance of call answering by the police, however you didn’t push this to a formal proposal or vote and it was dropped. I would like to suggest you try again, perhaps starting by asking the panel to request the commissioner to report his decisions on this subject to the panel, along with supporting information he was provided with to inform those decisions and monitor the effectiveness of them.
    5. IThe March 2014 meeting of the panel will mark a year since independent member Raja Ali has attended. Nothing has been placed in the public domain about his absence, and the panel has not considered using its power to remove him. I have written to Mr Ali but have had no response. Panel members have important powers, they are the only people able to require the commissioner to answer questions. I don’t think the panel ought continue to operate under-strength. Even if Raja Ali turns up at the next meeting I think he ought be invited to explain his absence.
    6. IDespite having a taxpayer funded secretariat the panel’s webpages are not being kept up to date. Key problems include the email address of an officer who left the secretariat last year being provided as the main contact address (even on the page specific to the March 2014 meeting); and the approved minutes of the November 2013 meeting not yet being placed online in the same manner as previous minutes. These relate to the basics of making the panel’s operations open and accessible.
    7. I I would like to see you continue to push for the panel to discuss how it might identify and select items for such scrutiny (beyond the current practice of merely considering those decisions the commissioner decides to report to the panel).

    I’m not seeking a reply as I intend to observe the meeting.

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

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