Police Review Article

An Authority’s functions are to ensure that the force is run effectively and efficiently, and to monitor how complaints are dealt with.  It is also the disciplining body for its ACPO ranks and can decide how to address any complaint made against a senor officer.

The Police Authority fits uneasily between Home Office, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the chief constable, whose total control over operational matters can cause a problem for an Authority.  This model ensures that no one is actually accountable for mismanagement or for poor administration within the police service.  All Police Authorities set the police precept that the local authority merely collects.  North Wales policing costs has rocketed in recent years yet the chief officer still challenged the public to pay more or services could not be guaranteed.  The Authority acquiesced to two years of “begging bowl” strategy, ignoring the potential loss of confidence when promises were broken.  The Assembly continues to increase its share of force budgets yearly but has no say in how the money is spent or to determine if Wales is getting a good deal.

The Welsh Assembly is committed to equal opportunities for all, condemns confidentiality clauses and Cabinet minutes are published.  Compare this openness with that of Home Office and Police forces who are not obliged to publish gender balance data, provide information on the number of internal grievance procedures and industrial actions the force is defend or to give details of discrimination or harassment of police and civilians.  Sickness rates and medical retirements, resulting from of poor personnel management do not feature regularly in a Police Authorities Annual Reports.  These statistics are vital in determining health and morale of a work force.

The Welsh Assembly could play a valuable role in ensuring that fair play occurs across all sectors, including police officers and civilian support staff.  The public purse, either through force budgets or insurance premiums must fund any compensation claim, the majority of which are confidential.  Why should the NHS or an Education Authority have to publish details of their settlements and yet the Welsh Police Forces may remain silent.?  How do we know what is being spent in our name and more importantly, are lessons learned if the matter can be buried in a secrecy clause.  In 2005, the Auditor General for Wales will assume responsibility for the policing audit.  Devolving policing at the same time would be sensible.  Controversial areas such as escalating police pensions and challenging the practice of briefing Authorities committees verbally rather than by written report, barred at Local Government committee could be addressed.

Wales is not unique in having Police Authorities that are untouchable and cannot be challenged either in person or as a member of the Corporate Authority.  Speaking from extensive experience, I know of no mechanism that can challenge let alone punish inappropriate collective behaviour of the ruling body of a police force.  This is not a healthy situation and one that the Welsh Assembly could a address once policing is devolved.

District Auditor’s powers to address value for money issues are woefully limited.  Despite the delay of 24 months between the suspension of a Authority staff member and the eventual legal confidential settlement, the DA could only report on value and probity issues AFTER the matter had been settled.  The Authority is not bound to publish this report, nor release it to elected members.  Thus their actions, the cost of public money on external consultant, legal fees, etc, and the confidential legal settlement itself, remains secret.

The legal meter ticked remorseless, gobbling a force budget when another civil action ran for eight years.  Could the Welsh Assembly have intervened and lessened the impact of a long delayed employee/employer dispute?  Its worth exploring.

The Assembly could address a serious conflict of interest between the role of the Clerk, who is both legal adviser to the Authority and the statutory role of Monitoring Officer.  Such a conflict can arise, particularly if the advice given is wrong or mischievously applied to produce a particular result.  How can the same Clerk, who gave the advice also act as the “impartial” Monitoring Officer, who has a statutory duty to deal with any complaint or impropriety that resulted from actions taken by the Authority?  He cannot!

However flawed the Clerk’s advice, or actions he may suggest, the Clerk cannot and will not investigate him/herself if the Authority misdirect itself by following his advice.  Neither the Law Society, the Lord Chancellor nor Home Office, felt able to interfere in the actions of the Police Authority. Surely, it must be accountable to someone?  Devolving policing to the Welsh Assembly could redress serious weakness in the current system.

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