Update on Police and Crime Panel
Simon Harper, Scrutiny Support Team Leader, Gloucestershire County Council to present.
Cllr Burford thanked Simon Harper and Stephen Bace for their patience and emphasised the vital role that the panel would play in the county.
Simon Harper gave the following background information:
Elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner would be held on 15 November. By that time a Police and Crime Panel would need to be established in Gloucestershire. The panel would not be a replacement for the Police Authority but it would be a powerful local authority scrutiny body with members from each of the seven councils. It would have powers to require the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable to attend meetings and answer questions, review the commissioner’s draft police and crime plan setting out police priorities for the area and importantly veto the commissioner’s police precept
As far as he was aware Gloucestershire was the only area in the country that had a Community Safety Scrutiny Committee that included county, district and police authority members. This committee was set up along the lines of the Health, Community and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The well-established joint scrutiny arrangements between the districts and the county had placed Gloucestershire in a good position in terms of preparations for a Police and Crime Panel. The work that members had done so far had been acknowledged by the Centre for Public Scrutiny as an example of best practice.
At the Leadership Gloucestershire meeting held on 10 November 2011 the leaders of the seven councils agreed in principle that Gloucestershire County Council should act as the lead authority in establishing the panel and should provide the necessary officer support, the panel should be made up of a minimum of 10 non-executive councillors and two independent members and that the elected membership should be made up of a minimum of six district councillors and four county councillors.
There were a number of steps in establishing a panel and these would require close co-operation among the seven councils. These included setting the terms of reference, panel arrangements and rules of procedure, appointing independent members and organising training. The team had already started to develop the terms of reference and associated documents. Draft documents had been presented to the Community Safety Scrutiny Committee on 16 January. The documents were not complete as regulations and guidance were still to be released by the Home Office. He hoped that each council would appoint members and deputies to the Police and Crime Panel at its annual meeting in May 2012.
It was worth noting that the Police and Crime Panel and the Community Safety Scrutiny Committee would be separate legal entities. There were clearly close links between them and in the short-term they were planning to hold meetings on the same day. He was expecting some members to be appointed to both bodies although that would of course be a decision for individual local authorities. He recognised that there is a need to keep members and senior officers from the seven councils aware of the latest developments and we would continue to produce briefing notes.
Stephen Bace informed the committee that the county council's Constitution Committee would consider the terms of reference in March and that the panel would be established in June, so that it could agree rules of procedure and appoint independent members in July. It would then be in a good position when the Commissioner was elected in November. He confirmed for Cllr Bill Evans that the Police Authority would cease to exist in November 2012.
Cllr Burford asked how the panel would be politically balanced.
Simon Harper replied that it was a requirement of the act that the panel be politically balanced as far as was possible. The current thinking was that once the councils had appointed their representatives, the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council would appoint top-up members to ensure that the balance was achieved. He would need to consult Leadership Gloucestershire and, if necessary, the leaders of relevant political groups in the county.
Simon Harper said that no figure had been set for the cost of setting up the panel, but that the county council had identified it as a priority. Stephen Bace was the dedicated officer who would work on the process and consequently other duties might not happen.
Cllr Allaway Martin commented how demanding scrutiny at that level could be and asked how the panel would be scheduled.
Simon Harper replied that it would be in line with the Community Safety Scrutiny Committee, which would still look at safety, fire and rescue and other issues. The panel would meet six times per year.
Cllr Winship asked what the political balance currently was in the county.
Simon Harper answered with the following approximate figures: Conservative - 50 - 60 per cent, Liberal Democrats - 20 per cent, Labour - 10 per cent and other groups a very small percentage. Because there would be elections in at least one of the councils within the county each year, he said that the composition of the panel would have to be reviewed annually.
Cllr Burford asked Simon Harper to bring the exact figures to the next county scrutiny group meeting.
Cllr Pugh asked when would be a good time for the committee to consider lessons learned from good practice in scrutiny.
Cllrs Winship reported that she already circulated briefings to all members from the Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cllr Smart said she could do the same for the Health, Community and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Simon Harper said that the county council prepared those briefing notes and could forward to the council's Democratic Services team for circulation.
Cllr Smart asked if the new panel's powers went as far as those of the Health, Community and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee in sending things to the Home Secretary.
Simon answered that the panel's powers did not extend that far, but the government's intention was for it to represent scrutiny with teeth, by giving it the powers already mentioned. It was also important to note that the panel would be the first genuine joint scrutiny body for the county. The real value would be added at task group level, as was currently the case for other scrutiny committees.
Cllr Burford thanked Simon Harper and Stephen Bace for their presentation.