The Police & Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough must overhaul his consultation process

Pictured: Puffles the Dragon Fairy at an emergency services open day in Cherry Hinton 2013

Even accounting for the Covid Restrictions, the minuscule number and percentage of responses from teenagers and young adults is a huge concern

“Of note is the response from those in the 18-24 band, with only six responses, less than one percent of the 813 responses. There is a general pattern that as the age band increases, responses increase. Whilst this does not necessarily skew the results, it does suggest that some of the solutions identified may be through a narrower lens than would be ideal.”

Cambs & P’boro Police & Crime Plan 2021-24 Consultation Report, P8.

These are not the numbers to base major county policies on.

Above – from p8 of the PCC Crime Plan Consultation Report

This is not the first time I’ve gone after a public body over poor consultations.

Recall my anecdotal findings from my hospital bed asking healthcare staff whether they had heard about the then consultations on new transport plans and schemes. Few had heard of the schemes and even fewer had heard of the organisations that were running the consultations. Not surprisingly, the results in terms of the number of responses made for very grim reading the following month. Amongst other things, the feedback called for a longer consultation period – which I also highlighted to the Mayor citing 2008 Government Guidance on Consultations that the minimum time period for a good consultation was three months.

Above – the 2008 Code of Practice on Consultation which you can read here.

Its general principles are still sound ones today – even though communications technologies have transformed society with how large institutions use things like social media and video conferencing. (It was *very different* for such institutions back then – all too often seeing such technologies as threats and threats only – or something that was for teenagers!)

“What does policing and crime look like to your average teenager?”

From an institutional perspective, I’m not sure they know because which ones have the regular ongoing conversations with them to feed back not only what their issues are, but also what some of the solutions might be.

The thing is, just as teenagers and young adults – who form a huge part of the night time economy, are not listened to today, they weren’t listened to for my generation of 1990s teenagers.

I’ll try and avoid the mistake of “When I were a young lad things were…” through rose-tinted glasses look back at a past that did not exist. The one thing I did keep back in mid-late 1990s was a manuscript diary. It makes for excruciating reading today, but one of the several common themes that arises is my fear of violent crime and the impact that this had on my social life and of those around me. Do any of our institutions of whichever sector have any idea of what neighbourhoods, villages, towns, and cities look like through the eyes of different generations? Because back in the 1990s there were some parts of town that I simply refused to go through because of fear of crime. And with good reason. In the mid-1990s in year 11, we had a series of 15-30 minute ‘talks’ with adults who were not teachers. I think it was what Tory ministers at the time considered was enough for us to make our way in the world outside.

  • “Don’t commit crimes
  • Don’t get drunk
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Don’t have sex outside marriage or you/your partner will get pregnant even if you do it *just once* – and you might get disease too!”

That was the message John Major’s Government thought was fine for us. So one of the chaps they sent along was a local police officer who started off by saying that we were entering a cohort of people who were the most likely people to be victims of violent crime.

Which was a nice positive start.

Very little about the concept of the law and legal rights, just ‘Try not to do anything stoopid. Like getting your head kicked in.’

And that was about it.

Being asked what we think about stuff? We had about 15 mins with one of the Queen Edith’s Councillors – Geoff Heathcock, then a Lib Dem, to talk politics. And that was it. Ministers are not helping public sector organisations carry out essential consultations if they are not going to provide for education in politics, democracy, the law, and civic society.

I’m still of a disposition where if I’m approached by a police officer it’s because they think I’ve done something wrong and they want to arrest me. And that’s before taking into consideration the headlines on institutional racism. Yet as neighbourhood police officers at local council area committee / neighbourhood meetings have tried to get over repeatedly (not helped by their colleagues in The Met given recent headlines), such instincts are a barrier towards positive neighbourly relations and policing by consent. The problem is that we have none of the institutions, structures, systems, processes, policies, or actions to change that disposition in our neighbourhoods. Furthermore, the inability to deal with low-level anti-social behaviour only acts as a further disincentive to get involved.

On broken structures – different institutions that should be working together are organised on uncoordinated geographical lines.

For Cambridge we have:

  • A two-tier local council set up with a Combined Authority/Mayoralty on top
  • A county-and-unitary (Cambs & P’boro) set up for the Police
  • A regional set up for Probation
  • An I-haven’t-a-clue set up for magistrates courts
  • A who-in-the-hell-knows what set up for Crown Court circuits for serious offences

But here’s a nice guide on The Judiciary for England and Wales from 2016

Actually, the above is a useful introduction.

…Because it shows the circuits of High Court and Crown Court judges – see p11

None of the above for England aligns with the old Government Offices for the Regions – which in the case of the Probation Services, seem to be more aligned to that network, only London and the South East are split into three rather than two regions. How much of this is due to Chris Graylings disastrous privatisation of the probation services (which proved so disastrous that they had to be renationalised again – even though this in itself doesn’t deal with the lack of money from ministers).

And I have not even started at looking at how all of this fits together with the organisation of the NHS and delivery of primary care services – dealing with that and its interface with local government is complicated enough! Yet we know from academic research that mental ill health continually comes up as an issue for those locked up in prison. Which then impedes attempts at rehabilitation.

Back to county and PCC reporting – what do the numbers say?

For 2012-16 they had some interesting data from their publication: The Strategic Needs Assessment: Managing Offenders; Preventing Offending.

There’s also more reading for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Joint Youth Justice Plan July 2019 – 2022, and from the House of Commons Library, prison population statistics.

“How much of the above addresses the needs and concerns of teenagers and young adults – the ones not responding to the consultations?”


And this feeds into the policies around restoring our high streets, building back better, levelling up, and everything to do with encouraging and enabling people to get out and about in their neighbourhoods and not live in fear or feel that there are ‘no go’ areas in their neighbourhoods, towns, and cities. Even now I look back to the 1990s and can’t think of any high profile local figures that I recognised as visibly and publicly fighting for the rights of young people in our neighbourhoods. Everything was being run on a shoe string, and to be honest even the teachers looked utterly exhausted. What’s changed?

I still feel that anger today – those local public policy failures on youth services shaped who I am today

When I left Cambridge for Brighton in 1999 my intention was to leave for good. Mental ill-health which had its roots in Cambridge but were brought on by my experiences at University meant I had to come back to Cambridge after graduation. I tried to leave Cambridge permanently again in 2007. But a mix of London being stupendously expensive, and poor mental health treatment back in Cambridge in the early-mid 2000s, followed by austerity put a stop to that. Just over six months later I had my first major mental health crisis which stopped me from working full time ever since. Followed by two more recent episodes in hospital to do with my heart. So I’m also of the mindset that the amount of time I have left to do stuff is far, far shorter than I thought it was going to be. (Even though in the minds of the medical professionals the actual heart muscle damage is very likely to be minimal).

As I sometimes say to others, I didn’t choose Cambridge, Cambridge chose me. I’m a Mill Road Baby. This is my home whether I like it or not. Given previous failed attempts to leave, I’m left with trying to make the best of what is a fragmented and broken city riddled with inequalities. And if you cannot see or feel those fragments then you’re not looking hard enough or opening your mind enough. It’s not just the data that tells us this.

“We are Cambridge – we demand better”

…was a slogan I came up with in a previous blogpost. Because that is my take. Either we are as good as the glamorous corporate brochures say we are, or we have serious shortcomings that the brochures don’t show, that the estate agents underplay, that University Dons are oblivious to, but are all too real for those that have to live at the bottom end of the inequality scale, along with those that provide face-to-face services for them whichever sector they are in.

And if we can’t get something as basic as our consultation processes right, then we will simply repeat the mistakes of previous generations by making bad local policies based on poor quality and incomplete information.

My generation as teenagers did not have Brexit, a Climate Emergency, nor a global pandemic that shut down our schools, to deal with. This present generation does. We can, and must do better than this. There are local elections coming up in May 2022 – less than three months time. If you have the vote, please use it – but talk to your candidates beforehand.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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