On the 19th of April 2012 I used the public speaking slot at a full meeting of Cambridge City Council to ask the executive councillor for policing, Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Market) what he had been doing in that role.
I said I thought the role of executive councillor for policing was a rather special one, but noted that not much was proactively made public about what Cllr Bick was doing in that role, hence my question. The role had been specifically given to Cllr Bick at the 2011 annual meeting of the council, previously the council leader had exercised the council’s policing related powers.
In his response:
- It was revealed that rogue officers who Cllr Bick had failed to keep under democratic control had been behind proposals to give policing powers for Cambridge City Council rangers. Cllr Bick stated the first he heard of the proposal was via a report in the Cambridge News; Cllr Bick noted that the story had probably been based on a response to a FOI request I made. Cllr Bick confirmed that officers were not acting in line with policy set down by councillors while pursuing police powers for city rangers. (See also an article I wrote in 2009 covering this subject).
- Cllr Bick admitted his approved policy on Neighbourhood Resolution Panels for Cambridge contained a key error, making it apply to more serious offences than he attended. Cllr Bick thanked me for my proof-reading but claimed the intent of the policy was clear, and stated the agreed policy “is not the last word on the matter” suggesting there will be an opportunity to revise, clarify and correct it.
- Cllr Bick told the council he had not taken up the opportunity offered by Cambridgeshire Police to take a role in the appointment of Cambridge’s new police commander, and had played no role in Superintendent Vicky Skeels’ appointment. The minutes of the June 2011 Force Executive Board meeting state:
The process for selecting senior staff for the six areas of operational command was discussed and the Chief Constable indicated that a representative from local councils would be on the selection panel.
Cllr Bick’s response appears suggest this has not happened in Cambridge (unless one of his rogue officers represented the Cambridge’s residents without telling either the people of Cambridge or Executive Councillor Bick).
- Cllr Bick reported that proposals for dispersal zones for both central Cambridge, and the East of the City had been dropped. This was the first announcement of this news in public. Cllr Bick said further details in relation to central Cambridge would be reported to the West Central Area Committee. (I attended and have written about that meeting).
- Cllr Bick stated the make up of Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel was still under discussion, that he was not yet happy with the proposed make up and as yet there had been “no agreement”. Cllr Bick did not explain what he would like to see, or why he felt the current proposal was deficient.
At a number of points during his answers Cllr Bick’s Liberal Democrats colleagues raised their eye-brows and made other faces expressing surprise at his answers.
Up to date
Cllr Bick was absent from the May 2012 Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meeting. As Cllr Wilkins was also absent, there was no elected representative present at all.
C|lr Bick was re-elected to his Market Ward seat on the 3rd of May 2012. According to ex councillor Neil McGovern the Liberal Democrat group internally elect executive councillors, and councillors stand for election to the positions. I would love to observe the hustings and debate, but the Liberal Democrat party carry out the selection procedure behind closed doors. We don’t yet know if Cllr Bick will remain in his position following the upcoming annual meeting of the council.
My view is the position of an executive councillor for policing is a very important one. The City Council holds a number of significant policing related powers, including a veto on giving police powers to security guards, rangers and other non-police personal; they also hold a veto on the use of dispersal powers.
Role of Executive Councillor for Policing Under a PCC
With the introduction of a Police and Crime Commissioner in November I would like to see district councillors with responsibility for policing given a greater role. Perhaps such individuals will effectively become sub- commissioners with responsibilities for their local area, forming a key local link for the Commissioner who will have a very broad and disparate area to cover. I would certainly like to see such a role develop; I think it will help address some of the challenges a Police and Crime Commissioner will face covering such a large area if they have a close relationship with key local councillors, such as the individual in the post of Cambridge’s executive councillor for policing.
Early discussions on this idea have raised the suggestion it might be appropriate for the commissioner to contribute to the expenses of such an individual if they were to act as a sub-commissioner / local deputy commissioner.
A Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner
I also think an actual deputy commissioner ought be appointed; in my view this would have to be a senior elected individual capable of taking on the commissioner’s key statutory roles if they were incapacitated or killed, mitigating one of the key weaknesses of centralising everything in one individual. In my view the options for Cambridgeshire are:
- Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council
- Leader of Peterborough City Council
- Cabinet member at Cambridgeshire County Council or Peterborough City Council with responsibility for policing
- One of the deputy/sub commissioners from one of the districts which make up the Cambridgeshire Police force area. (Elected councillors given responsibility for policing by their district councils).
I wouldn’t envisage this deputy having any statutory role if the elected commissioner themselves was capable of fulfilling their role.