Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Jimmy Spratt (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Simon Hamilton
Mr Alan McFarland

Witnesses:

Mr Eddie Gaw ) Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust
Mr Sheamus Hamill )

The Chairperson (Mr Spratt):

I remind members to turn off their mobile phones because they interfere with the recording equipment. Hansard is recording today’s evidence session and, therefore, everything that members say will be recorded.

I welcome Eddie Gaw, chief executive of the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust (PRRT), and Mr Sheamus Hamill, chairman of the board of directors. You should make a short presentation, after which members will ask questions. The Committee is running close to quorum, but I hope that other members will join soon.

Mr Sheamus Hamill (Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust):

The Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust is a company limited by guarantee that was formed on 2 March 1999. Therefore, 2009 is our tenth anniversary. The trust is funded by the Government through grant aid, which, this year, amounts to £2·2 million. We must find our revenue and capital from that sum — it is one funding package.

Our sponsoring Department is the policing policy and strategy division of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). A management statement and financial memorandum is in place between the trust and the NIO. The trust is non-profit making and is what is known as an arm’s-length body. It has rigorous governance structures and follows Treasury guidance and other guidance on governance issues.

The trust was established following a 1994 internal review of policing. That review identified the need for changes to the police service in subsequent years. Research was conducted among serving officers, and they identified four main areas in which they felt that they would need help and support in the event of a change in policing in Northern Ireland and a downsizing of the service. Those four main areas were: careers guidance and personal development support; training and education; psychological therapies; and physiotherapy.

In essence, those areas break down into two main streams. One focuses on developing vocational and employment opportunities for officers with particular emphasis on redeployment, self-help and self-reliance and the other aims to relieve the distress and hardship of officers who have been physically injured or psychologically damaged in the course of their policing service. Until two years ago, that is what the trust had done since its establishment.

Over the past two years, we have sought — with the approval of our sponsoring Department — to expand our services to other areas. We now provide psychological and physiotherapy services to former military personnel in Northern Ireland. We also offer services to serving police officers through their occupational health and welfare unit, and we provide services to the Prison Service Trust, which came on stream from Christmas 2008. We also formed a subsidiary company called Futures (NI) Ltd, which is a wholly owned company that has the potential to provide our services to other elements of the public sector. We may say more about that company during the question-and-answer session.

In fulfilling its purpose, the trust aspires to be a centre of excellence for the provision of services in the field of rehabilitation, careers, education, training and employment, and in supporting those with psychological or physiotherapy needs. The trust’s model is very successful in handling the people issues that relate to the downsizing of the Police Service, and in treating some major health issues associated with former and serving officers.

As a provider of services, we see the necessity for the trust’s work continues post-2011. Moreover, the model that PRRT has developed can be used across the entire public sector, either to manage sickness absence and allow people to return to work sooner, or through outplacement support during any subsequent reorganisational or structural change. Our services could also be accessed by victims’ groups or similar groups.

The trust has two concerns. As with many other groups, we are concerned about funding post-2011, because, at the moment, we have been notified of our funding only until 31 March 2011. Our other concern is that we may have to leave our current site at Maryfield.

The Chairperson:

The estimated costing of relocation from your present site by 2011 is £5 million. That appears to be in order to facilitate a rebuild of Northern Ireland’s forensic laboratory on your current site at Maryfield. Would that allow for all of the costs that are involved in relocating? Would it be necessary to have additional staffing? Would it also allow for improved or updated IT equipment, given the facilities that you have on the site to carry out some of the functions that you mentioned during the opening presentation?

I understand that you already pay rent to the Northern Ireland Office. Therefore, the Northern Ireland Office gives you a grant, but it takes money back off you for rent, and so on. Can you give us an idea of what that figure might be? Have any discussions about the relocation taken place? Have you been notified officially of that, in writing or otherwise? If so, when were you notified?

Before you say anything, I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. I do not think that there are currently any other interests in the room.

Mr Eddie Gaw (Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust):

At the moment, the formal position is that the Northern Ireland Office, our sponsor Department, has written to inform us that, with effect from March 2011, we should no longer be at the Maryfield site. That letter arrived late in the last calendar year. On that basis, we undertook some initial costings of alternative accommodation, which is where the figure of £5 million came from.

That amount is probably a ballpark figure for replicating, at a basic level, what we have at Maryfield. We have since undertaken some further work to replicate what we are doing and expand it in relation to new IT and further staff. We came up with a figure of about £8·5 million for a new building on a greenfield site. The figure of £5 million can probably now be translated to about £8·5 million for a greenfield newbuild.

The Chairperson:

There is an indication from the Northern Ireland Office that there are buildings that might be suitable and that it would help you to relocate.

Mr Gaw:

The Northern Ireland Office is liaising with Land and Property Services to assess what buildings are available. We had a meeting with our sponsor Department as recently as last week. Despite a number of reminders from our sponsor Department, Land and Property Services has not, as yet, identified any buildings.

The Chairperson:

The figure of £8·5 million is in relation to a newbuild. However, if another building were located, the figure would be £5 million. Is it correct that what is being suggested is a relocation figure of £5 million?

Mr Gaw:

The £5 million figure was based on our initial findings. We viewed a couple of buildings, and it was based on what we would need to do to turn one of those into a clinical, medical and rehabilitation centre.

The Chairperson:

My understanding is that the PSNI buys in other services, so there is a possibility of picking up any slack. In relation to physiotherapy to get officers back on duty, do you pick up some of the work of the occupational health and welfare services branch?

Mr Gaw:

Very much so. We are working with the occupational health and welfare services branch on the physiotherapy side and the psychology side. We are formalising contracts with the branch in relation to those areas. The focus is about getting people back to work. As Sheamus mentioned, it has made us give some thought to working with other public-sector bodies on the absentee-management side of things.

The Chairperson:

In relation to the figures, you are basically selling your services to other people as a provider. What sort of ballpark figure, on a yearly basis, do you bring in from those other organisations, including the PSNI?

Mr Gaw:

As Sheamus said, there are different contracts. We work with the Royal Irish Aftercare Service, which is a separate contract, and we bring in a significant amount of money from that. In relation to the PSNI, we bring in only enough to cover one psychologist’s costs and half of a physiotherapist’s costs — perhaps between £70,000 and £100,000.

The Chairperson:

What would the other significant sum be with respect to the Royal Irish Aftercare Service?

Mr Gaw:

That contract brings in £400,000 a year.

The Chairperson:

Are there any legislative proposals or refurbishment needs that might put your budget under pressure n the foreseeable future?

Mr Gaw:

The big forthcoming pressure will be with respect to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). We are not DDA compliant at the moment and, as you might guess, that has practical implications for a number of our clients. In addition, there are implications for our reputation, so I have been speaking with the Northern Ireland Office about an additional capital budget to make PRRT DDA compliant. Initial soundings from our sponsor Department have been very positive regarding additional capital availability for the DDA work.

Mr Hamill:

In addition, we are at full capacity on our present site. If we were to take on additional work, we do not have enough space within our existing building’s footprint for further consultation, treatment or, indeed, training rooms. We would either have to resort to some type of temporary structures or consider building a permanent, purpose-built structure.

Mr Gaw:

We have looked at the cost of leasing spare capacity in, for example, health centres, but that would be a hugely expensive way in which to go about our business.

The Chairperson:

You said that you have identified possible opportunities to use your expertise with victims’, and other, groups at other centres. I assume that that would be cross-community work with groups outside the security forces?

Mr Hamill:

Very much so. The model that we have developed and refined is applicable to any group in Northern Ireland, and we would be prepared to provide our services — either in retraining or, more particularly, with respect to psychology and physiotherapy — in any part of the Province to any group that fits the spirit and criteria under which we work.

Mr Hamilton:

I commend you for the good work that you do in difficult circumstances. The £8·5 million capital requirement that you mentioned is obviously the most significant pressure on your budget. If you were to have that facility, in order to sustain yourselves in the future, how confident are you about the contracts that you have outlined, such as those with the police and the Royal Irish? I understand that it makes good business sense to work with victims’ groups in order to expand your pool of clients, but, in light of the level of investment required, are you confident that your existing contracts are secure enough to sustain your organisation for the lifetime of any new premises?

Mr Hamill:

In order to answer that question, I must break it into a number of parts. Our contract with the Royal Irish is to provide services for three years, with an option to renew for a further two years. Obviously, we do not know whether it will take up the option to renew — that is a matter for it.

Everything that we do is based on cost recovery. For example, although the Royal Irish contract is for £400,000, the regiment gets £400,000 of services. We are a not-for-profit company. The occupational health and welfare services branch contract is a contract in the sense that it is has time-renewable points at which the PSNI can, quite rightly, review the arrangement to ensure that it is getting value for money.

If we were to develop any other new business streams, it would be very much around a cost-recovery type of business arrangement. That means that if someone wanted to buy our services and we needed to buy in extra staff then that cost is charged as part of the contract. One of the advantages that we see is the non-profit-making part — we are there to provide the services and clients are buying precisely that service, with the associated expertise and support mechanisms developed by PRRT over the past 10 years.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you for your presentation. Is most of the trust’s current work on the psychological and physical rather than on career and employment opportunities?

Mr Hamill:

At present, it is split fifty-fifty. There are still quite a number of officers leaving the Police Service each year, and that will continue until 2011. Even after that, the officers who leave on 31 March 2011 will be provided with up to two years’ support. We regard our business as being 50% training and careers guidance and 50% psychological and physiotherapy services.

Mr McCartney:

Is the cost split fifty-fifty or does it cost more to deal with the physical and psychological side?

Mr Gaw:

The cost is probably about fifty-fifty. We have more staff on the clinical side, but we buy in training expertise and academic expertise.

Mr McCartney:

Do the psychological and physical services extend to the wider family or is it confined to former personnel?

Mr Gaw:

The services extend to the wider family.

Mr McFarland:

The original idea behind the organisation was to see police officers through the retirement process by helping with training and looking after those who had been damaged, which will go on for some time. The trust is now contracting out and becoming a private company.

In GB, for example, military veterans have priority treatment on the NHS, which is illegal here. The Minister cannot offer ex-military people here similar treatment because it is against human rights and equality legislation. If the trust is moving outside its original structure and design — to see police officers through the retirement phase — how does offering UDR, Royal Irish Regiment and ex-police officers, in effect, a separate private health service fit in with equality legislation? If the Health Service here is not allowed to treat military personnel in the same way as the rest of the UK, how come ex-police and UDR can access PRRT as a special private health service?

Mr Hamill:

I do not necessarily agree that we are a health service. Elements of what we do certainly constitute healthcare in the sense of the psychology and the physiotherapy. The trust was set up by Government in order to provide those services to the police and, in particular, to officers who were retiring or leaving the service. There was a recognition that certain needs existed within that police community. For example, if police clients did not, or could not, access psychological services from us, they would have to access them through the National Health Service or some other route.

The Royal Irish Aftercare Service procures services from us. We responded to a procurement process that it issued and were successful in securing the contract, so we provide those services.

Mr McFarland:

Again, that is part of the process of downsizing the Royal Irish Regiment — those organisations were set up to see people into civilian life. The question is one of viability: can we justify the service when 70 officers leave a year, many of whom do not have psychological problems? How do you see the service going forward and making money, unless organisations such as the RUC Benevolent Fund and the UDR Benevolent Fund buy services off you for their ex-members? However, that is no longer part of the downsizing process. I wonder about the legality of that.

Mr Gaw:

We are mandated by legislation to provide the services that you mentioned. We are in dialogue with our sponsor Department about broadening our services. Sheamus Hamill spoke about the establishment of a sister organisation called Futures (NI), which will go into the market on a non-profit-making basis. I have held meetings with the Civil Service and local councils to talk to them about any services that we can provide on the health side of absentee management. We will get the legislative side sorted out with our sponsor Department and then broaden our services — we will not be taking on any contracts beyond the vires of what we are doing at the moment.

Mr Hamill:

Taking psychological care as an example, in the trust we see somewhere in the region of 350 officers a year, most of whom are former officers. We do not see the same people each year, and, although no one knows why and when psychological trauma manifests itself, our figures support the assertion that we see 350 new people each year. We have not seen any tailing off in those numbers — if anything, the numbers have climbed, albeit slowly, each year.

Our prediction for the next number of years is that there will be a cadre of former officers who end up with some type of psychological disorder that will require an intervention. We provide that intervention in what many people see as a secure environment. Many ex-officers are reluctant to discuss their condition or even their former occupation with GPs. Referrals to us are down to the individual — the individual usually self-refers, although we will see some people who have been referred to us by their GPs. Our clients know that they can come to our organisation on their own without having to tell anyone else about their condition or what they may be experiencing.

With regard to the physiotherapy aspect, we obviously see people who have been involved in very traumatic incidents, such as bomb explosions. However, quite a lot of the people we see are officers who suffer from the wear and tear of the occupation that they had. For example, many officers spent long periods of time on foot patrol walking cross-country with the military, so we see people with lower-limb difficulties and hip problems. We see people with back problems, because they wore body armour or had to sit for long periods in vehicles that were not ergonomically adapted for that purpose. We do not see any diminishing of that need as the retired police population grows and gets older.

Mr McFarland:

Can the UDR people, like the Royal Irish Regiment, self-refer, or do they —

Mr Hamill:

They come through a different route.

Mr McFarland:

Are there are no regular Army personnel here at all?

Mr Hamill:

No.

Mr Attwood:

There are two points that I want to clarify. The biggest pressure after 2011 will be the new accommodation. I am not clear as to whether you expected that, through NIO processes, alternative accommodation would be identified, rather than looking for a budget line to acquire or build what you have at the moment. Is there any clarity on that?

Mr Gaw:

NIO has asked us for an indicative budget to put in its budget line. We go through NIO on this.

Mr Attwood:

I appreciate that, but the Chairperson indicated that the NIO might look internally to see whether there was alternative accommodation to relocate the service. Does that seem the more likely outcome at the moment, as opposed to looking for a newbuild budget, a new purchase budget or whatever other alternative there might be?

Mr Hamill:

Our preferred choice is to remain on the site that we currently occupy. It is obvious that, if we do remain there, some remedial work will have to be done to the building; it is getting quite old and has not had any maintenance for quite some time. If we have to leave the site, and there is another suitable publicly owned building or location for us to move to, we will require approximately £5 million to make such a move.

A lot would depend on the building that we get in that instance. We might get a building that does not require an awful lot of work done to it; the two or three sites that he have looked at have all been sitting vacant for quite some time and are in a sad state. To turn them into the type of accommodation that we need would require approximately £5 million. A brand-new building on a brand-new site would cost £8·5 million or thereabouts.

Mr Attwood:

Do you anticipate being served with a notice to quit Maryfield?

Mr Gaw:

We have been served with a notice to quit with effect from March or April 2011.

Mr Attwood:

I am mindful of what you said about your workload increasing as more recently retired people cross your door with the range of problems that you identified. Is it not the case that your other core business — giving advice to officers who retire or take severance — will decline with the ending of severance in 2011, subject to any potential future scheme? That core business would decline while the other core business would clearly expand.

Mr Hamill:

You are quite right; after 2011, the numbers of officers leaving the police will not be anywhere near current numbers. When we considered the matter a few years ago, we took the view that we had a pool of expertise that could be put to use across the public sector. Whether it be the psychological or physiotherapy side of things or careers guidance, those services are already there and are already being paid for by the public purse. We feel that they have an adaptability across the public sector.

I accept your point that the number of police officers needing guidance on careers and retraining will decline quite a bit. However, there is no reason why our service could not be offered to other elements of the public sector.

The Chairperson:

Given that you work with serving police officers, what impact do you feel the recent upturn in terrorist activity will have on your current and future budgets in both areas of your business?

Mr Hamill:

Some of this can be a little unpredictable. Certainly, we have received evidence in the past week that some retired officers are anxious and pessimistic about what the future might hold. However, it is difficult to know what effect that is likely to have on serving officers. To extrapolate the situation with the retired police community, it might be that serving officers might feel more under pressure than they have done in the past.

It is one of those things and, as I said earlier in reply to another question, it is difficult to know what triggers psychological difficulties in particular. We have commissioned a piece of academic research, which is under way, that we hope will answer some of those questions in about nine months’ time, when we have done our work. We are looking at whether there are certain triggers.

For example, some academics believe that retirement itself acts as a trigger for psychological difficulties. When officers leave the Police Service, they leave the comfort of their colleagues and their work environment. They end up at home or doing a new occupation and new things; however, sometimes that is not enough to help them deal with problems that have been dormant for some time. Some officers have been retired for 10 years with absolutely no difficulties. One example is a former officer who drove past the scene of a road traffic collision and suddenly, for no reason whatsoever, all types of events came together and an intervention was required from us.

The Chairperson:

I will ask a couple of questions that I have asked the other organisations that have appeared before us. Does your agency, as part of the NIO, currently pay value added tax (VAT)? Are you able to reclaim that or does it go directly to the NIO?

Mr Gaw:

We pay VAT, but because we are a clinical, medical and educational establishment, a number of our purchases are VAT-exempt. We pay VAT of approximately £140,000 a year; we can claim back about £10,000 a year. Therefore, we pay approximately £130,000 net.

The Chairperson:

I am not sure whether we got a figure for rent. On the one hand, the NIO gives you money and, on the other hand, it takes money away for rent each year. What is the figure for rent?

Mr Gaw:

The rent is £110,000 a year.

The Chairperson:

Does that move up or down?

Mr Gaw:

It tends to be stable. The problem in and around the issue of rent is that it is difficult to know what the landlord’s responsibilities are — the lease seems to be lost in the mists of time. In the past year, I have had to start some capital work that I would have thought should be the responsibility of the landlord. Rather than getting into an ongoing debate — there are health and safety issues — we have taken the hit and paid for that work. I do not want to dip into money for front line services to spend on capital projects.

The Chairperson:

Are you telling me that the NIO is treating you like squatters in the Maryfield complex at the moment?

Mr Gaw:

I could not possibly say that.

The Chairperson:

I will not press you on that one.

Mr Hamill:

We pay our rent, and, to be fair to everyone, a lot of work has been ongoing to try to sort the problems out. However, we pay our rent, and for that we get nothing. The trust pays for everything else, from the grass-cutting to any other work that may need done in relation to the building. As I said earlier, unfortunately the building is getting quite old and tired, so as time goes on it will soak up more money.

Mr Gaw:

We are in debate with the NIO about the responsibilities of the lease, and who does what, but, as I said, there are certain issues on which one just has to bite the bullet and pay, otherwise they will be ongoing for the next two to three years.

The Chairperson:

You say that you have to cut the grass; my recollection is that there are fairly big grounds at Maryfield. You could perhaps think about getting a few sheep in, or letting the land as conacre and making a few quid. [Laughter.]

Thank you for those answers. Are you aware of any other issues that could have a material or inescapable consequence for your organisation’s budget? Is there anything that you have not told us about that you suspect may be hurtling down the train lines at you, and which could have an impact on your budget? I suggest that if policing and justice is devolved, and you come back in six or nine months’ time to tell us that you forgot to mention £2 million or £3 million, you might not get a good reception at this Committee. If there is anything, now is the opportunity to put that on the record.

Mr Hamill:

As a trust we have always lived within the budget that has been allocated. Until quite recently we only got the budget on a yearly basis; last financial year was the first time that our budget has been allocated for three years. We work with the allocation that is given to us. Like many others who may sit in this chair, if we had more money we could do more things.

We feel that, with the £2·2 million allocated this year, for example, we can do probably about 70% of what we want to do in relation to providing services to our clients and responding to our clients’ needs. If we were allocated something in the region of another £500,000, that would probably allow us to do 90%-95% of what we feel we need to do. However, it is difficult to make predictions about the needs of the retired police community and the serving police community if we continue to do some business for them. If there were capacity for something in the region of another £500,000 per year, that would give us a certain amount of flexibility. Even with our current budget we have increased the number of psychologists in the organisation from three to 11. That in itself says a lot about some of the problems and issues that there are.

In addition to those 11 psychologists, we have a range of associates who are distributed throughout the Province. It is unfair to ask someone to drive from Enniskillen to Maryfield to receive a service, so there are associate psychologists who are paid to provide that service. We do the same with physiotherapy. Again, if we had a little more flexibility we might be able to provide one or two more centres across the Province. By centres I do not mean buildings; I mean people who are already in business and can provide the service that we need through our associate group. There are things like that that would help us to expand.

If the public sector were to see PRRT as a model that could be put to use in helping the wider public sector to address the levels of sickness absence, or to address some of the needs of the other victims’ groups throughout the Province, then we would need some flexibility in relation to our grant allocation to allow us to at least start up some of those new initiatives. I do not imagine that that would involve much more than around £500,000 on top of what we are already receiving.

The Chairperson:

I assume that you are referring to Futures (NI). Are you saying that you need an additional figure from Government for whatever work you want to do, that you are already discussing it with the NIO, and that that figure is around £500,000 in addition to your current budget?

Mr Hamill:

Yes. If we had that flexibility, it would allow us take the services for our client base from providing 70% of what we want to do to over 90%. That would enable us to cut waiting times — which are very good at the minute, al though we could do more work on that. We could expand our associate practices throughout the Province, and the extra money would give us flexibility to provide new specialisms if we needed them for dealing with other aspects of business. For example, with respect to victims’ groups or sickness management issues, it may well be that we need counsellors, rather than psychologists. We would have to acquire the services of people with those skills so that we would be in a position to dispense the services that a future customer might wish for or need.

The Chairperson:

At what stage are your discussions on Futures (NI) with the Northern Ireland Office?

Mr Gaw:

We have put a business case to the Northern Ireland Office. It is discussing it with its finance people. There are certain financial obligations to be met and tweaks to be made to the business case. However, the ball is in the court of the Northern Ireland Office at the moment. Shortly, there should be a meeting with some of the senior finance people.

The Chairperson:

The figure involved is £500,000?

Mr Gaw:

Yes.

Mr Hamill:

We see that sum as covering the start-up costs. As I said, any service that we would provide from then would be self-funding. If a Department were to take up our services, the charges would pay for the services. From my point of view, there is an advantage in that there is a non-profit element in that.

The Chairperson:

Thank you both for coming along today and making your presentation to the Committee. We may want answers to some additional questions; we will write to you in due course if that is the case. We wish you well.

Mr Gaw:

Thank you very much.

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