Suggesting Police and Crime Commissioner Bright Lets Councillors Set Local Priorities

I spoke at Cambridge’s West / Central Area Committee on the 10th of January 2013 following a speech by Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright. While I didn’t manage to record myself while I was speaking I do have video of the Commissioner’s face while I was speaking which I have published along with this article.

What I Said:

  • I noted that the commissioner had focused on neighbourhood watch and parish councils in his speech and let him know that in Cambridge we don’t have parish councils or many active neighbourhood watch groups.
  • I urged the commissioner to observe democratic police priority setting by local councillors on the West/Central Area Committee. The commissioner didn’t reply to this suggestion verbally, however he can be judged on his actions: he walked out of the meeting as the policing agenda item got underway.
  • I asked the commissioner if he supported councillors on the area committee setting local police priorities and holding the police to account for their performance against them. I asked if he would be letting councillors set local police priorities and if he would be endorsing any priorities set later in the meeting. The commissioner gave no answer to this key question, which I had asked previously him during the election campaign when his response was: “wait until after the election”.
  • I suggested that local police priorities set by elected councillors provide “democracy in depth” and “localism” and noted that councillors were representatives of all residents in an area in contract to members of neighbourhood watch who are self-selecting.

What Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright Said After I had Spoken:

The commissioner responded without directly answering the key question of if he supported local, democratically set, police priorities ; and the chair provided no option for follow-up questions (something the commissioner may well have negotiated in advance?).

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright said:

Yes I shall be setting priorities, I will continue to do that, but I will do it in consultation with as many people as I can

That could be interpreted as saying the commissioner is going to do all local priority setting himself; he’s certainly started by ordering a crackdown on “dangerous cycling” in Cambridge saying:

….dangerous cycling in the city was brought to my attention during my election campaign. As a result I asked the Chief Constable to tackle it.

  • The commissioner didn’t directly respond to my suggestion that supporting local democratic priority setting might be a rational response to the low level of support for him from the city’s electorate. He replied instead commenting on the low turnout promising in three and a half year’s time he will have made sure people “know what it’s all about”. I hadn’t pointed particularly to the low turnout, but the fact he got only 2.4% of the electorate in Cambridge voting for him – that’s not low turnout, that’s a low vote for him in the city.
  • Commissioner Bright said: “I appreciate Cambridge is different” and said “I have to point out Peterborough is very different too”; that was typical of the true but vacuous statements he made throughout his appearance at the committee. I suspect this comes from years of practice evading public questions.
  • The commissioner said: “I don’t think you can have an umbrella operation around the county”. I agree with this; in some places we have strong, democratic parish councils which ought be given a role in police priority setting, in Cambridge we have students’ unions, which the law requires be run democratically, who represent a significant fraction of the population who could be given a role. I have published my own proposals and think that while there could, and should, be local variation the principle of elected councillors being at the core of the process of holding the police to account on at a local level is one I would like to see in operation everywhere.

It is often very difficult for members of the public seeking to contribute to area committees to understand what is permitted. I note I was interrupted by the chair after two minutes and asked to ask a question; despite the fact the council’s public speaking rules permit either questions or statements and suggest that members of the public ought be allowed three minutes to speak, and be afforded a two minute follow up. I understand chairs have the freedom to vary these parameters to meet demand, avoid repetition and keep things interesting, but there have been far too many occasions where members of the public have been reprimanded for not asking questions during public speaking slots.

4 responses to “Suggesting Police and Crime Commissioner Bright Lets Councillors Set Local Priorities”

  1. Sir Graham Bright looks set according to his latest peice to Cambridge News to encourage police to follow Glasgow police example of zero tolerance of youth crime. He equates grafiti and other social misdeamonours with violent knife crime and leaves the suggestion that one leads to the other. He continues to be intent on criminalising youth, and creating moral panics regardless of real evidence that this is an appropriate response. How he can equate policing a city like Cambridge with Glasgow is difficult to understand. Cambridge may look frightening from the perspective of the village of Camborne, but it is not Glasgow. Just one look at the crime stats for Glasgow and compare with Cambridge will give you an insight into how wrong he is.

  2. It is interesting that Sir Graham Bright still is argueing that he will consult with Neighbourhood Watch committees and Parish Councils to help him with his priority setting. Of the 104 Parish Councils there are in South Cambridgeshire alone – how many of these has he consulted in setting his priorities. Has he , for example, consulted his council in Cambourne. Has he considered how representative Parish Councillors are. In the 2012 May elections 34 Parish Councils needed to hold elections of these only 3 were contested. One of these 3 was Longstanton, which is noteworthy because of the financial impropriety that has left the council with debts. So, it would appear that the Parish Council are as self selecting as the Neighbourhood watch commtittees where they exist. Put yourself up for a position on a Parish Council and it would appear that only 5 candidates failed to get elected in 2012.
    Parish Councils give a veneer of democratic consultation – but it is only a veneer.

  3. The Police and Crime Commissioner’s staff appear to be now trying to undo what the commissioner said on local police priority setting by tweeting claiming reports from the West/Central area committee were “mistaken”:

    The commissioner’s official twitter account has also emanated a statement saying the Commissioner “wants local people to continue deciding local priorities”, this is ambiguous as it doesn’t make clear if he means elected councillors, anyone who turns up, or neighbourhood watch, but at least suggests he as commissioner won’t be the only one setting priorities:

    That said the “Yes” in the above tweet appears to say the commissioner has decided to allow democratic priority setting to continue in Cambridge – it would be good to hear this from the commissioner himself, not someone manning his official twitter account who refers to him indirectly.

  4. At Cambridge’s North Area Committee on the 20th of March 2014 I urged Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright to make clear to councillors he had delegated powers to set local priorities to them and to assist them in their local priority setting role by ensuring they are provided with the information they need to set priorities.

    Richard Taylor: Something I’d like to ask the Commissioner while he is here is how he can support the local police priority setting, the democratic police priority setting, that we see here. Now some of our councillors don’t actually realise that, commissioner, that you have delegated your local decision making to our councillors here; having heard your initial statement that you will take all the priority setting decisions they hadn’t realised, Cllr Manning made the comment at a recent Cambridge Cycling Campaign meeting, that he hadn’t realised that at the East Area you had made clear you were going to allow councillors, to continue to set priorities.

    I’d like you to support the councillors in setting those priorities, to get better information to these meetings. For example when the police come they provide violent crime statistics but they don’t break that down into violent crime in public on the streets vs domestic violence for example; they don’t give us information on motoring crimes, speeding offenses in the area, for example.

    Chairman Pitt: Thank you Richard. The general point has been made so.

    Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: I mean when the police are here, if you want to have some clarification on that then ask them. The actual policing operation is run by the police if you’re unhappy write to me. You don’t have to wait to come to a public meeting and make a scene. Write to me.

    Councillors at all of Cambridge’s committees have repeatedly asked the police for more information to inform their priority setting but it has not been forthcoming. The commissioner has previously claimed that he monitors the minutes of the local police priority setting meetings so I would expect him to already have been made aware of this in writing.

    If the commissioner is going to dismiss questions raised when he attends meetings as making a scene, and his response to a suggestion made in public is going to be suggesting someone writes to him in private, then he doesn’t appear to be using the opportunity he has to hear from the public as effectively as he could be.

    While Chairman Pitt prevented me from going into more detail on my suggestions for better information; I have expanded on that previously:

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