The questions and observations put forward by Gwen Swinburn to the Panel meetings of 14th October and 4th November 2021 and the report provided by the OPFCC in supporting the Panel to consider those issues as raised on 14th October.
The Chair advised that a question had been received from Gwen Swinburn for Item 8 (Public Questions or Statements to the Panel) but that as it related to the paperwork provided for this item, Items 7(a) and 8 would be combined.
Diane Parsons reminded Panel of the questions and observations put by Gwen to the previous meeting, which centred around concerns regarding control and oversight mechanisms for police and fire complaints, whistleblowing and tribunals. Additionally, that audit oversight for policing and fire is dealt with by separate committees with no linkage to the Panel or other scrutiny body. Gwen had provided her apologies for the 4th November meeting but, having reviewed the report provided at Item 7(a) had asked for the following to be read out at the meeting:
Thank you for responding to my concerns regarding governance gaps, and for this report.
As before I sent a detailed response to the panel, but for the purpose of this committee may I highlight a few points. Again this is to seek assurance moving forward.
Firstly the transparency of this meeting and the audit committee meetings. May I ask moving forward that both are held in public, webcast and put on York and North Yorkshire Council calendars, with slots for public speaking, standard protocols in other words, but to include audit committee.
Regarding the gaps/firewalls between the audit committee and the panel. I am glad to see a suggestion in the paper that some informal connection could be arranged. If not possible also to have at least the audit annual report put to this panel, perhaps such an arrangement could be made via Council audit or scrutiny functions?
Regarding specific reporting to the Audit Committee - the information gaps I think could be easily provided as part of their performance reporting, to include more information on suspensions, payoffs, NDAs, employment tribunals etc. At least then the audit committee could be aware of culture and other risks, even if this Panel is not allowed to engage.
Thank you Chair.”
Diane Parsons provided some further context for Panel, given by Gwen, to this statement. Gwen is concerned to look at ways to resolve perceived governance gaps through strengthened reporting, engagement and transparency, particularly around the work of the audit committee. Gwen had also proposed a good governance charter to consolidate governance between the OPFCC, the Panel, the Chief Constable, Chief Fire Officer and audit committees.
Members discussed the comments provided. It was identified that some of the suggestions would require the Panel’s councillor members to go back to their constituent authorities to see if they would support such a linkage with the policing and fire audit committees. However, it was agreed among Members that there was merit in developing an informal connection with the audit committees. Simon Dennis and Michael Porter both spoke in support of an informal communication being developed and that a recent refresh of membership on those committees afforded an opportunity to review arrangements and also strengthen transparency. They both wished to emphasise for Panel, however, that it is important to retain the distinction around the independence of both the police and fire audit committees.
Simon Dennis suggested that the ongoing work between the Panel and the OPFCC to develop a Memorandum of Understanding may provide a useful place in which to identify the relationship between the jurisdiction of the audit committees and the Panel in the North Yorkshire context.
Members considered the issue of oversight of complaints and disciplinary processes. The Panel receives annual/biannual reports on the complaints and recognition function. Simon Dennis outlined the role of the Appropriate Authorities Liaison Meeting which enables further oversight of legal and standards issues.
It was also agreed more broadly that the OPFCC, Panel and partners providing reports for Panel would ensure that they adopt plain English and explain in clear terms any acronyms used.
That the Panel:
(a) notes the report provided at Item 7(a);
(b) progresses work to consider developing an informal connection with the police and fire audit committees; and
(c) commits, along with the OPFCC and emergency services partners, to using plain English and giving full explanation of acronyms.