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Association of Chief Police Officers

Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark. I am pleased to have secured this debate. Police officers do fantastic work on the streets of our constituencies, but of late there have been many instances of the police themselves being under investigation. For example, there are allegations that the police have been too cosy in their relationship with journalists, and in my part of the country, North Yorkshire, the outgoing chief constable has been found guilty of gross misconduct after an investigation that cost taxpayers £300,000. There are also investigations into Cleveland police.

Our police leaders should be beyond reproach, but the example set by the leadership, the Association of Chief Police Officers, leaves much to be desired. We all agree on the need for a co-ordinated approach to policing in this country, and that cannot be run county by county. However, the organisation that provides such leadership needs to be professional and clean, but ACPO is riddled with conflicts of interest and poor governance. I want to examine the way that ACPO operates and what it has been up to in recent years, and shine a spotlight on the organisation as the Government consider its future.

ACPO was incorporated as a private limited company in 1997, and it is that status that causes such tension and concern. The organisation is primarily funded by the taxpayer, and it receives hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Home Office and police authority budgets around the country. Millions more come via special projects that ACPO undertakes on national policing issues, and its staff are entitled to generous civil service pensions. Despite receiving large amounts of taxpayers’ money as a private company, ACPO was initially not open to the scrutiny of freedom of information legislation. Last year, ACPO was subjected to FOI legislation for the first time, although that does not appear to have opened up the organisation as the Government hoped. ACPO is being dragged, kicking and screaming, towards transparency.

Last month, via a freedom of information request, Rob Waugh of the Yorkshire Post found that hundreds of thousands of pounds were being paid in contracts to consultants who were often former senior police officers. More worryingly, he discovered that in many cases those consultants were employed without any of the procurement processes and controls that ACPO tells individual police forces to follow. Most of the payments were made through personal service companies.

According to the Yorkshire Post, more than £800,000 was paid to 10 consultants, largely over the past three years, from ACPO’s central office. The payments include over £190,000 for the services of a former chief constable of Essex at a rate of around £1,000 a day, with payments made through a consultancy company. One former detective superintendent received over £200,000 through his company, and a former assistant chief constable in Cumbria was paid £180,000. ACPO has its own guidelines that require three quotes for expenses over £1,000, and tendering for amounts of £50,000. Alarmingly however, the Yorkshire Post was unable to find any evidence that those rules were followed in any of those cases. In the case of Linda van den Hende, paperwork was present for a 12-month period, although she worked for four years.

ACPO is an organisation charged with ensuring best practice for the police service of our country, and it is funded largely by taxpayers’ money. There is, however, form in this area. Last year, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that £30,000 had been paid to the deputy chief constable of North Yorkshire police, without any auditing to find out how it had been spent. Graham Maxwell leads North Yorkshire police and he has been found guilty of gross misconduct. He is also the finance lead on ACPO.

ACPO seems to feel that the Freedom of Information Act should be only partially applied, and it has published details only of those consultants employed at its head office. I took up the case in a letter to Sir Hugh Orde who chairs ACPO, and I asked for copies of contracts and details of the procurement processes for every consultant engaged by the organisation over the past three years. He responded by saying that he would set up a review that will be led by ACPO’s head of professional standards, overseen by ACPO’s council, and monitored by Transparency International UK. So Sir Hugh will not respond directly to a request by an elected Member of Parliament. He has tasked the person and board who should surely have been looking at the matters in question on an ongoing basis, and they will be checked and supervised by an organisation the bulk of whose work is advising corrupt Governments.

I urge the Minister to support my call for ACPO to release details of every consultant engaged over the past three years in each of its business areas, with details of how those payments were calculated and what procurement processes were used. I also ask for his support in referring the matters to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which has thus far been vague with me about whether it will check the tax situation pertaining to the arrangements in question. Will the Minister confirm how much the civil service pensions of ACPO staff currently cost the taxpayer?

As ACPO is a private company, it has also been able to engage in commercial activities. It is impossible to get a picture of what it gets up to commercially, because the set-up has no central source of information. For the most part, the publication of limited accounts has been permitted, as the concerns in question are small businesses. Two companies that have spun off from ACPO are ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd and Road Safety Support Ltd. Those are both not-for-profit companies, which are limited by guarantee. Both appear not to use confidential data held by police forces, but much of their business is obtained because of their close links with ACPO and their links to former senior police officers.

For example, ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd is entirely owned by ACPO and its registered office for the last company accounts was the same as ACPO’s. Its directors, as listed in the last available return from Companies House, include an assistant chief constable from Northamptonshire, the former chief constable of Lincolnshire police, the current ACPO chief executive, a former Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner, a former Sussex police officer and a former assistant chief constable of Strathclyde police. Just like the consultancies that have been dished out by ACPO, using public money, to former senior police chiefs, those companies seem to provide tasty directorships for senior police officers. In one case it appears that a chief constable was a director on a company while still in his role as chief of police.

ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd is funded through partnership with companies whose products meet technical standards identified by the company. In return, the licensed company is able to utilise the Secured by Design logo and, on those products which meet the technical standard, the title “Police Preferred Specification” can be used. By offering “Police Preferred Specification” as a slogan, the line is blurred, with many people who buy products with that slogan expecting approval to come from taxpayer-funded police services, rather than from a private company that is given permission by ACPO to use the name.

Road Safety Support Ltd was formed in 2007. It provides training to speed camera operators and advice and information on camera placement. In the last set of accounts from Companies House it had three directors, one of whom is the recently retired former chief constable of South Yorkshire police. He, for some time, was also the representative for ACPO on road policing. Curiously, the same three directors are also directors of another company, NDORS Ltd, which is registered at the same address as Road Safety Support Ltd. That company runs speed awareness courses—presumably for those who have been caught by cameras, which may have been placed on advice from Road Safety Support Ltd.

In those companies, which all make use of their close links to the police, directorships and jobs are provided for former senior police officers who have left forces across the country, and the crossovers in what are, supposedly, separate limited companies, are clear to see. As police chiefs collected gold plated pensions, they were able to top up those already huge pensions with either a consultancy with ACPO or a directorship with one of its spin-off companies. I am today writing to Sir Hugh Orde to ask for a list of every individual who has been a director at an ACPO-related company over the past three years and whether they were also working in any capacity with ACPO or with a police force at the time. I want to know what projects they were working on and how much they were paid. I have also asked Sir Hugh for copies of the full accounts of every ACPO-related company and not just the redacted small company version that appears at Companies House.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the vagueness and the secrecy that he identifies only lead to suspicion? Therefore, it is vital that our police service is beyond reproach.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My experience in my constituency is of excellent policing. What I am trying to get at in this debate is that some of the things at the top appear to be not beyond reproach.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate and the Yorkshire Post on its investigative work. It is clearly important that transparency is brought to bear on all of the matters that he has raised. What implications does he think that all of this has for the future status of ACPO, bearing in mind the importance of combining independence, accountability and freedom from political interference?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am just about to get there. I would like the Minister’s support in getting all of the information on these ACPO companies.

I too congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. It is clear that some significant concerns about transparency have been raised here. Is my hon. Friend able to say something about ACPO perhaps giving some reassurance to the victims of crime whom it has failed through its conduct? My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. She has done some fantastic work with victims in this area. The lack of consideration of both victims and the people whom the police chiefs serve has been the cause of many of the issues I have raised today.

I would like some additional thoughts from the Minister on these companies. For example, what will happen to them when, inevitably, ACPO changes or is wound up? These companies have traded on the taxpayer’s name. Going back to my hon. Friend’s remarks about victims, if there is some benefit from selling these companies, perhaps it could go to the victims. I would be grateful to the Minister if he could tell us how we ensure that the taxpayer fully benefits from the wind-up of these companies.

Towards the end of last year, the Home Secretary told the House in a written statement that a new police professional body was to be created to develop policing as a single profession, representing the entire service and acting only in the public interest. It also envisaged the setting up of a chief constable’s council to enable senior officers to assess and discuss critical operational issues. I understand that ACPO is resisting that development and the idea of becoming part of a broader professional body because it wants to maintain some form of chiefs’ club. As the Home Affairs Committee recently stated, all levels of the police family should be represented in the new professional organisation. Many of the problems at ACPO seem to have come from an arrogance, a lack of challenge from the lower ranks and a belief that command and control means that the chiefs are accountable to no one.

My message to ACPO is that I and a number of colleagues will relentlessly pursue what it has been doing. It will all come out in the end, so get it out now and respond quickly to our questions. What does the Minister see as the timetable for the future of the organisation and what discussions have the Government had with the president of ACPO to ensure a smooth transition to the new body? Can he confirm that the Government are pushing ahead with a new all-level professional body for the police? What measures are the Government taking to ensure that the new body is fully transparent and accountable? The role of this country’s most senior police officers is vital in protecting our country and our constituents, but I urge the Minister and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to reject point blank any idea that ACPO should be retained or revived. Of course there should be a strong professional body for the whole of the police service, and of course there should not be a special cosy club for police chiefs.

Many people involved in ACPO have, at best, been negligent or, at worst, corrupt in how they have managed the resources and opportunities they were granted. I have seen that locally in North Yorkshire, and we have seen it nationally. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) found similar issues with the National Police Improvement Agency. The Government’s policing reforms are right, but they should be even bolder. ACPO should be wound up as quickly as possible, and such gold-plated, dodgy clubs for any leaders of public organisations should be consigned to the past.

I welcome you to the Chair, Ms Clark. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on raising a number of significant and important questions relating to the Association of Chief Police Officers to which I will respond.

My hon. Friend has made a number of criticisms about the leadership of the police service in England and Wales, but I welcome his positive statement about the work of front-line officers. We must be clear that police officers and staff throughout the country have our support in their fantastic work in keeping us all safe day in, day out.

In the context of some of the specific issues that my hon. Friend raised, I am aware that Sir Hugh Orde, president of ACPO, has written to my hon. Friend about the issues he has raised, and I am satisfied that ACPO has taken and is taking those criticisms seriously. That was demonstrated by the decision of the ACPO cabinet earlier this month to conduct a review of spending on consultants within ACPO. As its president outlined in his letter to my hon. Friend, that review will also look at how financial controls have been applied over the last three years. The whole process will be subject to external scrutiny by Transparency International, and the results will be made public.

A review is the right course of action, and it is appropriate to allow it to proceed and its report to be published before commenting further on the details. I agree that every organisation that receives money must be open and transparent about how that money is spent. Sir Hugh Orde stated that clearly to my hon. Friend in his response to him, and I note that he has agreed to meet my hon. Friend to discuss any further issues in detail.

My hon. Friend highlighted a significant point about ACPO’s independence. It is a private company limited by guarantee. It is not owned or controlled by the Home Office, and is operationally independent. The discussion of ACPO’s future role and funding must be framed in the light of the wider work taking place on police reform. As part of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s intention, which is laid out in the White Paper, “Policing in the 21st century”, the Government have embarked on the most radical programme of reform to policing in 50 years. We are currently developing the bodies necessary to support and reinforce those reforms. That work will help to deal with many of the concerns raised today regarding accountability and transparency within policing in England and Wales. We are grateful that ACPO agrees that change is necessary and for the constructive way in which its presidential team are engaging with the Home Office regarding the future of ACPO.

In August 2010, the Home Secretary asked Peter Neyroud to carry out a fundamental review of the delivery of leadership and training functions in policing. In response to the review, the Government announced their intention to create a new police professional body, which presents a unique opportunity further to professionalise policing and increase public accountability. As part of that work, the National Policing Improvement Agency will be phased out by the end of this year.

The Home Secretary has acknowledged a continued need for chief constables to come together for discussion on key operational issues and also when it is in the public interest for them to do so. Indeed, we are clear that chief officers will continue to play a vital role, both within the professional body and as part of a chiefs council, which will work with the new professional body. Together, those two bodies will equip the service with the skills that it needs to deliver effective crime fighting in a changing, leaner and more accountable environment. We are currently working with ACPO and key partners to consider the precise remit of the chiefs council, its relationship with the new body and the transition of ACPO functions. The Government have agreed to continue to fund ACPO’s grant-aid during the 2012-13 financial year while those discussions take place.

Is it the Government’s intention that the two bodies to which the Minister refers will take on all ACPO’s present responsibilities, or will certain areas—perhaps co-ordination on counter-terrorism or serious crime—be the responsibility of a separate body?

It is precisely those issues that are the subject of the detailed discussions between the Government and ACPO. We will come forward in due course with further details of the police professional body and its precise functions. That will be the right time for the Government to set out in detail proposals for the police professional body, but it may help the right hon. Gentleman if I say this. As the Government have made clear, the challenge for the police service is to reduce crime to make communities feel safer. At the same time, forces must deliver significant savings to meet the challenges set by the spending review. Tackling those two challenges together will require transformational change; it cannot be done by relying on the existing structures at national level in policing. They require a fresh way of thinking. In particular, they require the development of a professional model for policing. At the heart of that model is the creation of the police professional body.

The new body will safeguard the public and fight crime by ensuring professionalism in policing. It will develop skills and leadership, facilitating the drive to reduce bureaucracy, and will have greater public accountability. The professional body will speak for the whole of policing and will directly support police officers at all ranks and civilian policing professionals. It will set and improve standards of professionalism in the police service and will take responsibility for specialist police disciplines. Work is under way on the detailed design of the new body.

The role of the professional body must be understood within the wider policing landscape and, in particular, the transformation in accountability that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will bring. It will need to reflect that shift in how it is constituted, in what it delivers and in how it delivers that. Its most important role will be to act in the public interest.

Key to that, and reflecting the move towards greater accountability, will be the way in which the professional body is structured. It will be chaired by someone independent of the police service, and its board will have an equal balance of police service and non-police service representatives, including police and crime commissioners. It will be open and transparent. In taking its work forwards, it will need to take into account public need in setting and inculcating standards among officers and staff. It will also need to take into consideration the cost of any changes it recommends to develop professionalism. That will form a crucial part of its ability to enhance the British model of policing by consent.

Many criticisms have been made today of the accountability and transparency of decision making by senior police officers. There are, however, clear examples of where the police have responded impressively to the need for change. This is one public service whose leaders generally recognise the difficult economic times and understand the benefits that reform can bring. Greater Manchester police, for example, have saved £62 million a year from their support functions, releasing 348 police officers from those roles so that they can get back to front-line work. Surrey police have carried out a significant restructuring, which has allowed them to commit to increasing constable numbers by up to 200 over the next four years.

Some forces are going even further, moving beyond restructuring and outsourcing, to building strategic relationships with the private sector. This is not about privatisation; policing will remain a public service. However, by harnessing private sector innovation, skills and economies of scale, forces can transform how they work and improve the service they provide to the public.

As well as saving money, our reforms are about making policing better. We are rebuilding the link between the police and the public. In November, the first elections for police and crime commissioners will take place. Elected by local people, commissioners will have the democratic mandate to set their local police force budget, and they will respond to local people’s concerns by setting the force’s priorities.

The direction of police reform provides a clear basis for the way in which the police professional body will operate. The police service is becoming more open, more transparent and more accountable to the public, and it is right and proper that that is the case.

In “Policing in the 21st Century”, we said that we expect chief police officers to continue to play a key role in advising the Government, police and crime commissioners and the police service on strategy and best practice. We will also expect chief constables to play a leading role in driving value for money and to have the capability to drive out costs in their forces.

ACPO is operationally independent of the Home Office, so it is a matter for the company directors to determine its future. ACPO has played a valuable role since it was established in 1948, providing a means for chief constables to come together to agree a common way of working in the absence of any federal policing structures. I re-emphasise that the Government fully appreciate the contribution that chief officers continue to make at a national and local level, particularly those chiefs who are directly supporting the substantial reform agenda. We look forward to building on all that ACPO has achieved.

The Government’s agenda for police reform is strong and coherent, and will free the police to fight crime at a national and local level, deliver better value for taxpayers and give the public a stronger voice.