Including some of the background information you can use to ask questions of the candidates.
You can find out who the candidates are in your area using your postcode at https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/
For those of you who want to see what others have investigated on policing in Cambridgeshire, see the responses to Freedom of Information requests here.
What is policing like in South Cambridge? Like this.
I filmed PC Collier Harris’s speech at the Cherry Hinton Village Centre which hosted Cambridge City Council’s quarterly South Area Committee meeting of April 2019. You can read the details of the item here, under the ‘Policing & Safer Neighbourhoods’ item. Also Nicola Gwyer wrote up the exchanges here for the Cambridge News.
Cambridgeshire Police officers attend meetings like this on a regular and routine basis. This is part of the accountability mechanism where elected local councils from any of the district or county councils – and sometimes parish and town councils outside of Cambridge & Peterborough, can raise concerns with officers responsible. Normally there is also a police sergeant at quarterly meetings who takes questions from councillors on local policing priorities, which in Cambridge have to be agreed by the panel of local councillors on area committees – which in principle is the most local public forum that Cambridge’s residents can raise issues at.
One independent community reporter who is based in the north of the city, Richard Taylor, explained to me in this video back in 2015 what area committees are about.
Richard Taylor, who focuses on policing issues at local council meetings.
Holding police accountable at a county level.
Officially this is done by the Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Panel, which Peterborough City Council (once part of Cambridgeshire County Council, but grew too big and is now a unitary city) provides administrative support for.
***This is where the real details are if you want to scrutinise the monitoring of policing in the county – and how effectively the Commissioner is doing the job***
Many of the important meeting papers will be buried in individual meeting agendas. You can see the list of meeting agendas since the last election, and the detailed papers attached to them here. Since 2016 the post of Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough has been held by a candidate from The Conservative Party. Therefore it is their party’s policies and personnel choices for candidates that can be held accountable by voters at this election.
This matters due to the resignation of the elected Commissioner in 2019, leading to an Acting replacement who is not standing as a candidate in the up-and-coming election. It also resulted in the former Commissioner resigning as a district councillor. [Clock on the links to established local and national media organisations at your own risk – I am not responsible for the content in the links].
Reports, charts, and spreadsheets
There will be lots of monitoring reports and spreadsheets with items that look like this:
Above – from item 7 of a Panel meeting on 15 Nov 2017 – the papers are here.
You are also looking out for charts and graphs.
Above- from agenda item No. 8, looking at 999 calls answered. The meeting papers will often have a large file where all of the papers are put together. The 6MB reports pack here has a number of charts and graphs in item 08, which when you scroll through quickly you can pull out and analyse.
The Police and Crime Plan – which the Police Commissioner is responsible for
The most updated/refreshed one is from late 2019 and is here. (Scroll to foot of the page). Page 8 of that plan shows:
It is then up to the public to compare what is in the Police and Crime Plan as proposed, with the decisions the Police and Crime Commissioner took, and the reasons he gave. Such as this from October 2020.
Interestingly the BBC have used an archive photograph of the first PCC who did not re-stand after his first term. You can read the BBC’s article from October 2020 here.
The Police and Crime Plan has flow charts like this. So anyone who was a victim of crime can ask themselves if they felt they were “placed at the heart of the criminal justice system” and had “access to clear pathways of support”.
Part of the problem has been the huge delays in the Courts Service. The House of Lords’ Constitution Committee reported on this on 30 March 2021. So just over a week ago at the time of writing this. Their Lordships did not pull their political punches.
My own experience as a victim of crime reflects the problems. This was an assault by a drunken man on a friend on Mill Road in the late afternoon a few years ago in which he hurled racist abuse at me. I reported it to the police and took a photo of him as we were getting into a car to take my friend and I away. I made a statement, and yet it took *nearly. a year* for the case to get to court. The Defence relied on me not being able to remember everything crystal clear and the case was discharged – my friend being unable to get to court that day.
I had no briefing, counselling, support or anything to explain to me what it might be like appearing as a witness in front of the accused. That experience showed me why so many court cases do not result in convictions. And Ministers know this.
“Latest figures show more than 53,000 cases are waiting to come before Crown Courts. Some of these cases have been scheduled for 2022” – from The Justice Inspectorate Jan 2021.
Should the previous Police and Crime Commissioners have been making promises about the Criminal Justice System that they could not deliver? The challenge the Conservatives have is that the MP for South East Cambridgeshire is the highly qualified barrister Lucy Frazer QC – pictured here with one of the former Police and Crime Commissioners on her website in 2018. This is currently her fourth year either as Solicitor General (where she’s covering for the maternity leave of the Attorney General – which also brought in a welcome change to the law on maternity rights for women in ministerial and Crown legal posts) or as a minister at the Ministry of Justice – where one of those roles was as Courts Minister. What conversations did previous Police and Crime Commissioners have with the Minister and MP for South East Cambridgeshire regarding the impact of courts’ delays in meeting the County Police and Crime Plan’s objectives for victims of crime?
With police behaviour at protests in other parts of the UK in recent weeks coming under the media spotlight, note the importance of the third objective on ethical behaviour to ensure public confidence and trust. The reaction to PC Collier Harris’s speech to councillors and local residents in Cherry Hinton was positive towards her and negative towards those responsible for such low funding that she and her team had a huge geographical area to cover with so few of them – and one becoming more challenging due to the large increase in population following recent housing developments. It is that which has resulted in the boundary changes requiring the re-election of the full council.
Finance and spending
The above figures are from the Police & Crime Plan – P22 here.
This shows that the increases in police spending has *not* come from central government, but rather from an item in your council tax bill. The BBC explains what a precept is here. The choices that ministers have when deciding how to finance public spending on public services can be to borrow, raise direct taxation like income tax, raise indirect taxation like V.A.T., or target specific groups with wealth taxes. Alternatively it can effectively ‘give permission’ to local councils and organisations to increase council tax – or their element of it – the precept.
Political choices – and trying to take away the negative connotations from the words ‘politics’ and ‘political’ in explaining this.
Government ministers – since 2015 coming from the Conservative Party, have made a political decision (as is their right) to enable the raising of the precept as a means of providing more funding for police forces. Other political parties in Westminster may take a political decision to use a different means of funding, and accordingly put that in their manifesto for the next general election. Again as is their right. Note the call from the former Acting PCC:
“Myself and the Chief Constable continue to present the case nationally for a fairer funding allocation for Cambridgeshire. Our county is currently fifth lowest in the country in terms of funding per head of population. In that context, difficult choices must be made.”https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-54630496 from 20 Oct 2020.
Again, the voting public and party candidates can argue and debate why Cambridgeshire has been unsuccessful in persuading successive Home Secretaries to increase funding for Cambridgeshire. (Despite the City of Cambridge being a net contributor to The Treasury on business rates – the amount of money redistributed to other less economically affluent parts of the country under the present system of local government funding).
Voters may wish to lobby their Members of Parliament via https://www.writetothem.com/ to get a written response from ministers on the public record why they have chosen to keep central government grant funding to Cambridgeshire Police at the low levels quoted.
Either way, the choices we make when we vote, and the choices politicians make on our behalf following elections on things like the allocation of resources, are political choices. The challenge for the decision-makers is finding that balance. How much we spend on health, education and policing – they are all political decisions. The lines of accountability and the structure of public services, eg whether to go in-house or to outsource to the private sector – political decisions. That’s politics.