Police authorities 'not ensuring value for money'

15 Mar 10
Most police authorities are failing to set priorities for local forces and do not ensure value for money, inspectors have found
By David Williams

15 March 2010

Most police authorities are failing to set priorities for local forces and do not ensure value for money, inspectors have found.

A joint investigation of ten authorities in England and Wales by the Audit Commission and the Inspectorate of Constabulary found only mixed performance, with the majority of authorities performing only adequately overall.

The ten authorities oversee £6bn of spending every year – or 44% – of the total annual policing budget, with one force, the Metropolitan Police Service, spending half of that sum.

In a report released today, the inspectors published the results for nine of the authorities, rating them from ‘poor’ to ‘excellent’ in four broad areas. The results for the Metropolitan police will be released on March 25. None of the nine received the top rating for value for money, with eight rated ‘adequate’. Two were rated ‘poor’ for their scrutiny of local policing.

Inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham suggested that part of the problem was in the breadth of police authorities’ responsibilities, which range from setting ethical standards, reviewing costs and representing local public opinion to setting strategic priorities.

‘Authorities are not yet demonstrating that they can respond to the many multifarious demands that are placed on them,’ she said.

‘There is very little evidence even of police authorities performing well, let alone excellently. They have to prioritise better… relentlessly and ruthlessly focusing on setting strategic priorities. They need to be in touch with the public and able to follow the money.’

It is the first set of assessments looking into the full range of work undertaken by police authorities. Inspections of the remaining 33 bodies will follow.

Chief inspector of constabulary Denis O’Connor said authorities could struggle to save £545m by 2014 as set out in last year’s policing white paper. He criticised authorities for not comparing their force’s spending data with those of other forces.

However, Gareth Davies, the Audit Commission’s managing director for community safety, said those savings ‘should be achievable by well-run forces and authorities’. But, he added: ‘There is a question mark around the capacity.’

Rob Garnham, chair of the Association of Police Authorities, said the report highlighted many challenges for authorities. ‘We must ensure that we are getting the best possible value for our communities in the difficult economic times that lie ahead, and in driving the longer-term future of police forces effectively. Authorities have a good track record on ensuring policing is efficient, but we know a step-change is needed in these difficult times. I am confident that we can rise to this challenge and make the desired improvements,’ he said.

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