Cllr Ann Sinnott, representing Cambridge City Council on Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Panel on Wednesday 28 January, led the attack by Panel members on plans proposed by Police and Crime Commissioner Sir Graham Bright to get his annual budget and precept approved based on one desultory page of financial accounts.
Cllr Sinnott proposed a veto of the precept approval due to the total absence of income and expenditure detail provided by Sir Graham, nor any detail to justify the rise in Sir Graham’s private office costs of £1.2m with staffing costs up 8% in 2015 at a time of major police service cuts. The call for a veto, which would have caused a stand-off between the Panel and Commissioner and fresh meetings and proper financial reports, was only narrowly outvoted by five votes to four, with Cllr Sinnott abstaining on a further decision whether to have a zero precept or not.
Sir Graham accepted at the meeting that the financial details justifying his proposals were not adequate by agreeing to provide a full report for the next Panel meeting on 18 March, but four Panel members from different Cambridgeshire councils voted to say this was inadequate. The future impact on policing of freezing the precept for a year had no clear justification and Sir Graham also agreed to get financial reporting right in 2016, a move that will depend on whether Police Commissioners still exist after the general election.
Cllr Sinnott also challenged delays to the Commissioner’s promised extra staffing for the sub-standard 101 service, where the PCC replied that “the service is on hold” pending a new plan for merging the service with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
Cllr Sinnott said, “I’m pleased that Sir Graham recognised his failure to provide the financial detail meant the Panel could not fulfil its scrutiny function properly, especially since the Chief Constable is no longer directly accountable to the community.
“We were not opposing the precept freezing plan outright, but it wasn’t clear it was the right call and many police authorities have decided the freeze would damage their future finances. And we object even more strongly to the total lack of accountability under the Commissioner system, and his expectation that Councillors could approve a £128,765,000 budget on the basis of one A4 side of financial accounts.
“We also object to his 8% hike in his own staffing costs in his personal office budget of over £1.2m at a time when services like 101 call answering are totally inadequate.
“I was also dismayed, but not surprised, at Sir Graham’s announcing a freeze to sorting out the 101 service, contradicting his statement to me at the last Panel that new staff recruits were already in the pipeline.”