Date: 26 March 2014
Reference: NIA 163/11-15
ISBN: Only available online
Mandate Number: 2011/15
Committee: Public Accounts
9699.pdf (1.15 mb)
1. The Good Friday Agreement established the basis for a new beginning to policing. In 1999, the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland set out proposals for the future structures and arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland (the Patten Report). This acknowledged the need for change in policing and made 175 recommendations. As a result, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) experienced a programme of major change unlike any other police force in the UK. Among the Patten recommendations was the requirement to reduce the overall size of the police service while at the same time recruit new officers to achieve a balanced force that was “representative of the society it polices”.
2. The Patten report made a package of recommendations to achieve compositional change in the workforce. To encourage the required number of full-time officers to leave the PSNI, an early severance scheme was offered to those aged fifty and over who were serving officers prior to 1995. Simultaneously, a compulsory severance scheme was introduced for full-time reserve officers. This led to around 5,500 officers leaving PSNI between 2001 and 2011 at a cost of £500 million. With some years to go before reaching state pension age, a trust (the PRRT) was established and funded to provide a suite of support services directly to help retiring officers find alternative future employment. However, up to March 2012, 19% of these retired officers secured employed via recruitment agencies as civilians. Alternatively, if they re-joined the PSNI as police officers the legislation required them to repay their severance lump sum.
3. The departure of so many experienced officers over a relatively short period led inevitably to a skills gap and PSNI has spent over £106 million since 2004 on temporary staff. Nearly 40% of those employed through an employment agency had previously left PSNI with a severance package.
4. On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Committee examined the cost and extent of use of temporary agency staff in PSNI, and whether there was a planned approach to controlling and managing the supply and demand of temporary staff. The Committee took evidence from the Department of Justice (the Department), PSNI and the Northern Ireland Policing Board (the Board).
5. The Committee acknowledges that the implementation of the Patten report over the last 10 years, together with the introduction of a radical new policing structure in Northern Ireland, represented an enormous challenge for PSNI. Undoubtedly, the impact of the Patten Report has been huge, with PSNI given primary responsibility for implementing the changes required. The number of serving officers has reduced by around 8,000 and, at the same time, a new recruitment policy was introduced to achieve a more representative balance of officers from the Catholic and Protestant communities in the service.
6. Civilian jobs were rebranded as privatised jobs and appointments filled through a single supplier. In future, such jobs should be re-profiled as civilian jobs and should be openly advertised. Increased civilianisation is a key strategic priority for PSNI and any recruitment practices should reflect this.
7. A Policing Board and Police Ombudsman’s Office were also established to improve oversight and accountability for members of the police service as well as the wider community. There appears to be a lack of accountability in the use of agency staff, with the Police Ombudsman empowered only to examine the conduct of agency staff in designated roles. The Committee encourage the Department of Justice (in partnership with the Policing Board) to accelerate progress for legislative change to provide for oversight by the Police Ombudsman of all temporary/agency/civilian staff who operate in a policing capacity and not just those in designated roles.
8. In common with many organisations, PSNI uses temporary staff to cover short-term vacancies and to meet skills and knowledge gaps. Properly managed and controlled, they can provide value for money. However, at times, the numbers engaged by PSNI appear to have been excessive. During the period when recruitment was at its peak, PSNI should have exerted greater central control and monitoring. This clearly was not the case, and to quote the Chief Constable “the corporate justification for the numbers was not there”. The Committee can only conclude from this that, by taking its eye off the ball, PSNI has spent considerably more money on the recruitment of temporary staff than was necessary.
The award of the contract for recruiting temporary staff
9. The procurement of temporary staff represents a major deal in its own right, and it is therefore vital that costs are well managed and controlled. Competition is central to obtaining good value for money and acts as a safeguard against corrupt practices but there was no competitive tendering until 2008. The current supplier has now been in place continually since 2002, having won only one competition. Consequently, for much of this period PSNI had no assurance that the contract for providing temporary agency staff was providing value for money and that opportunities for savings were not being missed. The contract was due for tender in 2013, and the Committee expects that, in future, the value for money of ongoing services will be assessed regularly through competition. However any new contracts to be awarded by PSNI on behalf of the Policing Board must have the approval and authority of the Policing Board, and the relationship between civilian support staff, PSNI and the Policing Board should be clarified at all times.
PSNI’s governance of the contract
10. Local devolution of decision making can bring benefits, but still requires robust corporate oversight. This was clearly lacking over a number of years and the Chief Constable concedes that the PSNI should have exercised “greater corporate grip” of the use of temporary staff. The Committee notes the PSNI’s assurance that there is now “an extremely robust, centrally-monitored process” for appointing temporary staff. In the future, the PSNI will also need better quality management information to monitor the contract. It will also need to address concerns over the equality issues arising from its use of former officers in temporary roles. An action plan by the PSNI and the Policing Board is required to ensure a representative police service across Northern Ireland, and should include fair employment law and equality practices.
The use of temporary staff
11. The Committee agrees that there are sound operational reasons for employing temporary staff in the PSNI. Some temporary roles undoubtedly require policing skills: many others do not. It is also hard to justify temporary staff remaining in post for several years without any review or challenge. The Committee notes the Chief Constable’s acknowledgement of the public concern that this has generated.
Workforce and succession planning
12. Succession planning was undoubtedly difficult in the unique circumstances in which the PSNI found itself during this period, but it was not impossible. In the Committee’s view, succession planning becomes even more vital in such circumstances and it is regrettable that it did not receive the attention that it required. The Committee welcomes the PSNI’s assurance that it has plans in place to reduce its reliance on temporary staff in the future.
Summary of Recommendations
The Committee recommends that PSNI should assess annually the value for money of the services provided. Any major changes to contracts should only be achieved through open competition, which is a fundamental principle of public sector procurement. This can result in significant savings and avoids any perception of impropriety.
Non-compliance with established controls is often a feature when things go wrong within organisations, and examples of this have been highlighted regularly in the Committee’s reports. All public bodies, including the PSNI, should ensure not only that adequate procedures and processes are in place but also that they are adhered to consistently by staff.
The Committee recommends that mechanisms are established within PSNI to ensure that suitable and proportionate business cases are prepared to justify contracts of this scale and, where appropriate, these are submitted to the Department and Policing Board for robust scrutiny and challenge.
Procurement decisions which run contrary to CPD procurement advice should be avoided. Where such decisions are made, the reasons must be documented fully and retained on file. In the case of the PSNI, notification should also be made to the Policing Board which has a statutory duty with regards to value for money.
The Committee is concerned that the Department was unsighted for so long on the use of limited companies by temporary staff in the PSNI. The Committee recommends that the Department’s oversight arrangements for its sponsored bodies should be improved and action taken to address issues of concern when they are identified.
The Committee recommends that PSNI establishes clearly the type and frequency of management information that it needs from the new contractor for monitoring purposes. This should be included in the new contract. In addition, the Committee recommends that PSNI reviews its key performance indicators at least annually, updating them as necessary, so they remain adequate to measure the performance of the supplier and drive continuous service improvement.
The Committee welcomes the PSNI’s recent engagement with the Equality Commission and the Policing Board to review its entire human resource strategy. This should address the issues of policy screening and equal opportunities monitoring. Whatever recommendations emerge from that review should be taken forward as a matter of priority with both bodies and progress reported to the Committee. PSNI and the Policing Board must engage as soon as possible in order to establish an agreed action plan designed to ensure a fully representative Police Service which is compatible with fair employment laws.
The Committee recommends that the Department, working with PSNI and the Policing Board, should consider if further action is needed to strengthen the accountability arrangements to the Police Ombudsman of temporary staff, including the desirability of legislative changes. There must not be a void in accountability in the use of agency staff. The Ombudsman must be able to examine the conduct of all staff. The PSNI should cease the practice of employing anyone who is unaccountable to the Police Ombudsman.
The Committee recommends that PSNI should ensure that mechanisms are established for the regular review of temporary posts. If the need is no longer short-term, then PSNI should consider awarding the job on a fixed-term contract on the basis of open and fair competition, with selection demonstrably based on merit. Only contracts which have the approval and authority of the Policing Board, and which have been subject to proper options appraisals and business cases, should be awarded in the name of, and on behalf of, the Policing Board.
The Committee recommends that PSNI works constructively with the Policing Board to develop and agree long-term people strategies, ensuring that skills gaps are closed, civilianisation advanced, in line with Policing Board requirements, and the need for temporary staff minimised. This requires targets and timetables for progress which are subject to regular review and fully disclosable to the public. The relationship between civilian support staff, PSNI and the Policing Board should be transparent at all times.
13. The Public Accounts Committee met on 10 October and 28 November 2012 to consider the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on ’The Police Service of Northern Ireland: Use of Agency Staff, (3 October 2012). The witnesses were:
Mr Nick Perry, Accounting Officer, Department of Justice
Chief Constable Matt Baggott, Police Service of Northern Ireland
Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, Police Service of Northern Ireland
Mr Sam Pollock, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Policing Board
Mr Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General
Ms Fiona Hamill, Treasury Officer of Accounts.
The Committee wrote to Mr Perry on 19 October 2012 with further queries following the evidence session. Mr Perry replied on 5 November 2012 with further replies on 16 November and 19 November 2012. Additional evidence was also received from Mr Baggott on 26 November 2012. The Committee also received additional evidence from Mr Pollock on 16 January 2013.
14. The Committee also decided that the PSNI’s Director of Human Resources (HR) and Director of Finance and Support Services could be of assistance to its deliberations. The Chief Constable and his HR and finance teams were called to give supplementary evidence on 28 November 2012. The Chief Executive of Grafton Recruitment was also called to attend. The additional witnesses were:
Mr Joe Stewart, Police Service of Northern Ireland
Mr David Best, Police Service of Northern Ireland
Mr Michael Cox, Police Service of Northern Ireland
Mr Jason Kennedy, Grafton Employment Group.
Following this second evidence session, the Committee wrote to Mr Baggott on 7 December 2012 with further queries. Mr Baggott replied on 16 January 2013. The Committee sought further information on 1 February and 15 February and the Chief Constable responded on 8 February, 28 March and 29 March 2013.
15. With the departure of some 5,500 regular and full-time reserve officers under early severance schemes, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) increasingly relied on agency staff to cover skill shortages and vacancies in both policing and non-policing roles. Numbers increased following the Patten report in 2001, reaching a peak of around 800 in 2007 before falling back to their current level of around 400. As a result, since 2004 PSNI has spent around £106 million on the use of temporary agency staff. Of the 2,740 temporary staff hired almost 1,100 were former police officers, representing nearly one in five of all Patten retirees.
16. The Committee acknowledges that the implementation of the Patten reforms represented a major undertaking, and accepts that such radical organisational change and high levels of staff turnover inevitably presented problems and challenges along the way. PSNI told the Committee that it has dealt with some 80,000 personnel movements, over the last 10 years, involving recruitments, retirements, promotions and transfers of police officers and staff. Against this background, the Committee wants its report to be forward-looking and help the PSNI to build a long-term human resource planning programme of the highest standard.
17. In taking evidence, the Committee focused on four areas:
weaknesses surrounding the award of the contract to provide temporary staff;
deficiencies in governance;
the extensive use of temporary staff over the last 10 years; and
the lack of succession planning for key posts.
The Award of the Contract to Provide Temporary Staff
The procurement process has not always been competitive and PSNI cannot demonstrate that value for money has been achieved
18. The procurement of temporary staff from a single recruitment agency began in 2004 when PSNI signed a variation to a contract it already held to provide permanent staff. The value of the existing contract was around £2 million a year in fees, but the variation increased spending by a massive £44 million over the next four years. The Chief Constable told the Committee that the bulk of this increase related to salary costs and, based on procurement advice obtained at that time, PSNI considered that these were not part of the contract costs so a competitive tendering exercise was unnecessary.
19. The Committee finds this explanation astonishing. By any standards, this was a major service contract costing millions of pounds of scarce public money. The PSNI contends that procurement guidance at that time was not explicit about the inclusion of salary costs in the evaluation process. In the Committee’s view, public procurement regulations at that time were explicit and the relevant value of the contract should have been the total consideration payable. This clearly includes the costs of the salaries payable under a contract for temporary workers.
20. An assumed absence of clarity is not an excuse: even if PSNI perceived that there was no impediment under the guidance, that does not mean that it was right to have gone ahead with this. The Department of Justice and the Department of Finance and Personnel were very clear that all payments expected to be made under the contract should have been taken into account in the decision. PSNI should have considered carefully all the options and risks before simply extending the scope of the contract. The Committee’s view is that all public procurement of goods and services must be based on value for money, having due regard to propriety and regularity. PSNI must always establish the requisite conditions to generate competition in order to demonstrate that value for money is being achieved.
21. On a more positive note, the Committee heard that the guidance has been clarified further since devolution. The Committee welcomes the Chief Constable’s assurance that full salary costs will be included in future contracts and the Departmental Accounting Officer was very clear that he shared this view. The Committee expects that the lessons learned will be taken into account when the contract is renewed.
22. The Committee recommends that PSNI should assess annually the value for money of the services provided. Any major changes to contracts should only be achieved through open competition, which is a fundamental principle of public sector procurement. This can result in significant savings and avoids any perception of impropriety.
A member of PSNI staff signed a contract variation far beyond their delegated authority
23. The variation to the contract in 2004 was signed on PSNI’s behalf by a recruitment manager with a delegated approval limit of £100,000. The Chief Constable told the Committee that he understood the authorisation to have been a simple mistake in relation to the level of signatory and, while there was no question over the actions of the individual or the legitimacy of the contract, accepted that it should have been signed at a higher level. In the Committee’s view, this highlights the lack of control operating at that time and a lack of knowledge of roles and responsibilities by certain staff. However, the Committee notes that appropriate training has been introduced across PSNI to ensure that similar mistakes are not repeated.
24. Non-compliance with established controls is often a feature when things go wrong within organisations, and examples of this have been highlighted regularly in the Committee’s reports. All public bodies, including the PSNI, should ensure not only that adequate procedures and processes are in place but also that they are adhered to consistently by staff.
An appropriate business case was not completed in 2008 prior to a competitive process taking place
25. Although a new contract for the provision of temporary staff was awarded in 2008, following a competitive tendering exercise, there were major failings in the procurement process. PSNI did not complete a business case until the tendering process was at an advanced stage and, once again, it did not include the salary costs, despite the fact that that their inclusion was a clear requirement of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006 and that they amounted to over 90% of the contract’s value. The full costs of the service being put out to tender, more than £60 million of public money over 4 years, were never properly assessed. This is unacceptable. The Department conceded that it should have insisted on the inclusion of salary costs in the business case.
26. The Committee considers that the significant gaps in the business case call into question the strength of the PSNI’s procurement arrangements at this time, as well as the rigour of the Department’s scrutiny and oversight. Before spending public resources, a clear business need must be established, options for meeting that need must be considered properly and the total amount that the contracting authority expects to pay under the contract must be quantified.
27. The Committee recommends that mechanisms are established within PSNI to ensure that suitable and proportionate business cases are prepared to justify contracts of this scale and, where appropriate, these are submitted to the Department and Policing Board for robust scrutiny and challenge.
Central Procurement Directorate provided guidance on procurement issues but there was no mechanism to ensure that the PSNI complied
28. Shortly after the award of the contract in 2008, a variation was needed to allow Grafton to assume responsibility for providing temporary staff to the Historical Enquiries Team. Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) expressed concern at the potential increase in the value of the contract and advised that re-tendering should be considered. PSNI told the Committee that this advice was considered but ultimately discounted for business continuity reasons and due to the risk of legal challenge by Grafton.
29. The Committee accepts that CPD’s role is to give expert guidance and advice and that the responsibility for correctly delivering a contract remains with the contracting organisation – in this case the PSNI. That is the delegated process which CPD cannot and does not police. Nonetheless, the absence of follow through is a worrying issue that has been raised by the Committee in the past. The Committee welcomes the assurance that since November 2011 there is a mechanism established to follow up such issues when they are identified through the Procurement Board.
30. In this particular case, the PSNI’s action was not compliant with best procurement practice. The lack of contemporaneous documentary evidence to support the decision taken is also of concern. The PSNI’s reliance on an e-mail written in July 2012 to justify the procurement decisions taken in 2004 and 2009 to the Committee was not convincing. The Committee expects that decisions to disregard guidance should be the exception rather than the rule and that an explanation for such decisions, even for justifiable operational reasons, is documented fully and retained on file.
31. Procurement decisions which run contrary to CPD procurement advice should be avoided. Where such decisions are made, the reasons must be documented fully and retained on file. In the case of the PSNI, notification should also be made to the Policing Board which has a statutory duty with regards to value for money.
The history of tender and award of contracts has been lacking in competition
32. The contract for the provision of temporary staff was extended without competition in December 2012 for a period of one year. The Chief Constable told the Policing Board that the PSNI did not have sufficient time to re-tender the contract due to the ongoing PAC inquiry and so chose to make a direct award contract to the current supplier. The findings of the Committee, when published, would inform the tender process to be taken forward in 2014. The Committee cannot accept the argument that its inquiry presents a valid reason to suspend the normal procurement processes in favour of an uncompetitive direct award. The current supplier has now been in place continually since 2002, having won one competition in 2008 which was not itself without flaw. In that time, it has established a virtual monopoly in the supply of temporary staff. Proper procurement arrangements are there to protect public money. Their absence in this case provides no assurance over the value for money of these contracts and leaves the PSNI with little protection against corrupt practices. In the Committee’s view, this fuels the perception of a cosy relationship between the PSNI and some of its contractors.
The relationship between PSNI and the Policing Board needs to be improved
33. Public accountability is not a new experience for the PSNI. The Policing Board has been established for more than ten years with a statutory duty to hold the Chief Constable to account, without impinging on his operational responsibilities. There is a fine balance to be struck in the relationship and it is not always an easy one. The Chief Constable has acknowledged that “the relationship should be constructive, but never comfortable.” The Committee considers it clear that the relationship has not functioned effectively to support the Board’s scrutiny.
34. There is much evidence of the Policing Board seeking information on the PSNI’s use of agency staff consistently from 2002 to the present. There is also much evidence of information being provided by PSNI, although it was not always of good quality nor necessarily the right information at the right time. Undoubtedly the Policing Board had difficulty in obtaining sufficient accurate and relevant information to inform its scrutiny. The Committee recognises this only too well. The quality of evidence that it received during this inquiry has not met consistently the standards of accuracy and openness that it expects. Such evidence does not serve the interests of public accountability.
35. Whatever difficulties may exist, the Policing Board remains central to the accountability arrangements for the PSNI. The Committee expects the Chief Constable to work closely with the Policing Board to achieve a demonstrable improvement in this vital relationship. This should be based upon an open and constructive exchange of information between them. The Department also has a role to play, in monitoring the effectiveness of the accountability arrangements for the PSNI and being prepared to take action if necessary.
Some temporary staff engaged via the recruitment agency are being paid through limited companies
36. The C&AG’s report identified that more than 60 temporary staff engaged via Grafton are paid through limited companies, which can be a means of minimising personal tax obligations. Such arrangements are expressly forbidden in Managing Public Money. The Department told the Committee that it was unaware of these arrangements and does not support schemes designed to minimise taxable income. Equally, the Committee has concerns about the equity of such individual arrangements compared to other public sector employees who use PAYE.
37. The Committee was informed that the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) has been discussing this issue with HM Treasury and has surveyed all public bodies in Northern Ireland to establish if similar arrangements exist here. This has identified some 2,700 engagements with individuals on an ‘off payroll’ basis across the NICS, its agencies and arms length bodies, including those engaged through employment agencies. This information has been passed to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for its attention. Depending on its findings, this may require departments to take remedial action in some cases. The Committee also notes that DFP is working with CPD to determine what additional requirements could be included in contracts to regulate such arrangements in the future.
38. Whether those remunerated through limited companies are paying the correct amount of tax is ultimately a matter for HMRC. There is a risk that, should these arrangements prove non-compliant with the regulations and tax has not been collected as a result, HMRC may seek restitution from the PSNI. Notwithstanding this, the public sector must be seen to be maintaining the highest standards of propriety in its employment practices. The Committee looks forward to receiving a progress report from DFP in due course which will set out the options to address this issue, if anything further needs to be done. In the meantime, the Department should ensure that it has complete and up to date information on the extent of these practices in the justice area.
39. The Committee is concerned that the Department was unsighted for so long on the use of limited companies by temporary staff in the PSNI. The Committee recommends that the Department’s oversight arrangements for its sponsored bodies should be improved and action taken to address issues of concern when they are identified.
Governance of the Contract
Local devolution of management can bring benefits but PSNI still needs to maintain robust central oversight
40. The Patten report recommended devolution of decision making to local districts and police commanders. With this came the authority to buy in temporary staff and, subsequently, the numbers engaged rose from around 100 in 2002 to 800 by 2007. It appears to the Committee that, from a corporate perspective, PSNI took its eye of the ball around this time and became far too hands-off. Numbers of staff and costs were allowed to escalate without anyone questioning whether they were all justified. In the Committee’s view, devolved authority still requires a degree of central oversight to ensure that it operates as intended.
41. The Chief Constable conceded that PSNI had not exercised sufficient oversight over this area and that there should have been a “greater corporate grip”, while the Deputy Chief Constable acknowledged that this had an impact on community confidence. The Committee notes PSNI’s reassurance that any shortcomings have been addressed and, since January 2011, there has been “an extremely robust, centrally-monitored process” in place for the appointment of temporary staff. The Committee expects to receive an update report from the Department in the coming year to demonstrate the improvements in governance that these processes have delivered.
Some posts created for temporary staff were not subject to sufficient job evaluation
42. The C&AG’s report identified that there was no established corporate policy or procedure for district commanders to follow for the recruitment of temporary staff. In many cases, agency staff were not hired to fill specific posts, but rather temporary posts were created as opportunities to provide skills that local commanders felt were missing from their area. As a result, some temporary posts were not subject to adequate job evaluation.
43. The Committee was informed that an internal review of the Criminal Justice Department carried out in 2009 evaluated 18 posts, which confirmed that more than half were over graded and consequently overpaid. The Deputy Chief Constable acknowledged that job evaluation was not as rigorous as it ought to have been but significant improvements have since been made.
44. The Chief Constable told the Committee that the guidance for those making decisions locally has been strengthened and re-issued. In addition, a comprehensive review of every single post in PSNI has been undertaken to assess whether it was essential, necessary or desirable and whether it is graded correctly. It is regrettable that these arrangements were not in place from the outset but the Committee notes the recent improvements and in particular, that job evaluations are now subject to much more rigorous scrutiny.
PSNI needs access to comprehensive, accurate and timely management information to monitor the contract and contractor
45. Access to good quality management information is a prerequisite for any organisation to adequately monitor the performance of a contract. However, management information was generally poor and the PSNI contract manager had no idea how much was being spent on temporary staff. The Committee was surprised that PSNI had failed to see the need to maintain comprehensive records centrally. The lack of data continues to weaken PSNI’s ability to manage and challenge performance and the Committee expects to see this rectified.
46. The Committee welcomes PSNI‘s willingness to take steps to standardise, analyse and collect complete and timely data. The Committee notes that the current contract is due for renewal in 2013 and expects PSNI to take this opportunity to carry out a comprehensive review of the type of management information required, and the frequency with which it needs to be generated and passed to PSNI by the contractor. In addition, the reporting of key performance indicators should be reviewed and updated quarterly to keep pace with changing business requirements.
47. The Committee recommends that PSNI establishes clearly the type and frequency of management information that it needs from the new contractor for monitoring purposes. This should be included in the new contract. In addition, the Committee recommends that PSNI reviews its key performance indicators at least annually, updating them as necessary, so they remain adequate to measure the performance of the supplier and drive continuous service improvement.
PSNI failed to screen its policy for recruiting temporary staff or consult with the Equality Commission
48. The Patten report set out a range of measures to encourage Catholics and women to join, or remain, within the police service. As the Deputy Chief Constable informed the Committee, building a service to be “representative of the community it polices” is not just about police officers but includes permanent civilian staff, temporary staff and managed services.
49. If this is the case, the Committee is surprised at the PSNI’s admission that it failed to screen its policy on the use of temporary staff and never conducted a full equality impact assessment. It is disappointing that the PSNI did not have the foresight to undertake these important steps in 2001 or in subsequent years. There were regular meetings with the Equality Commission from 2001 onwards, but the PSNI told the Committee “there are no records available to show specific advice was sought on screening the use of temporary staff”. Neither did the PSNI recognise that, if the labour pool from which it was drawing its temporary workforce consisted of former police officers, then the imbalance in community representation within that pool would be reflected in the organisation. In moving the change agenda forward, it is important that the PSNI learns these lessons and takes steps urgently to restore public confidence and trust in the workforce mix. The Committee welcomes the Chief Constable’s agreement on this.
The PSNI does not monitor equal opportunity data for agency staff
50. Under fair employment legislation, employers in Northern Ireland have a legal duty to monitor the composition of their workforce and those applying to fill vacancies. The PSNI does not hold information on the community background of temporary staff. Witnesses told the Committee that, as the temporary workers are employed by Grafton and assigned to work within the PSNI, it may be unlawful to do so. This is not the case. The Committee considers that this calls into question the quality of the advice provided to the Chief Constable by the HR department.
51. The PSNI contends that it was never its role to monitor the temporary workers used. Nevertheless, the invitation to tender and specification of requirements for the contract let in 2008 included a requirement that the PSNI “must be provided with all relevant information for fair employment monitoring purposes”. The evidence from the Policing Board is that a similar requirement existed within the 2002 contract for permanent staff which was varied in 2004 to include the recruitment of temporary staff. It follows logically that the provisions of the 2002 contract became applicable to the recruitment of temporary workers when the 2004 variation was enacted. In effect, at any point since July 2004 the contract required Grafton to collect equal opportunity monitoring data and to make it available to the PSNI to monitor its use of temporary staff in line with the good practice established by the Equality Commission. In the view of the Committee, it is a matter of some concern that this has not taken place.
52. The Committee welcomes the PSNI’s recent engagement with the Equality Commission and the Policing Board to review its entire human resource strategy. This should address the issues of policy screening and equal opportunities monitoring. Whatever recommendations emerge from that review should be taken forward as a matter of priority with both bodies and progress reported to the Committee. PSNI and the Policing Board must engage as soon as possible in order to establish an agreed action plan designed to ensure a fully representative Police Service which is compatible with fair employment laws.
Temporary staff are not accountable to the Police Ombudsman although a new contractual agreement requires them to co-operate with his Office
53. The Committee was informed that there were risks in PSNI using temporary staff as they were not accountable to the Police Ombudsman’s Office. The Committee accepts that, on occasions, there may be a need to bring additional policing skills but equally there is a need for these people to be held accountable to the Ombudsman in the same way as regular officers.
54. The Chief Constable accepted that certain risks existed but told the Committee that a new agreement had been drawn up for temporary staff which states “you also agree to co-operate with all statutory agencies, including the Police Ombudsman’s Office”. While the Committee welcomes this attempt to strengthen current arrangements, the Chief Constable cautioned by saying he was unsure whether it would stand a legal test. He also told the Committee “if the Executive were to pass legislation compelling people to co-operate with ombudsman’s enquiries, I would certainly stand behind that fully”.
55. The Committee recommends that the Department, working with PSNI and the Policing Board, should consider if further action is needed to strengthen the accountability arrangements to the Police Ombudsman of temporary staff, including the desirability of legislative changes. There must not be a void in accountability in the use of agency staff. The Ombudsman must be able to examine the conduct of all staff. The PSNI should cease the practice of employing anyone who is unaccountable to the Police Ombudsman.
Extent of Use of Agency Staff
Some temporary staff were employed for too long without any review of their post
56. The C&AG’s report and the evidence given to the Committee shows that some temporary staff stayed in post for too long and their jobs were never reviewed. For example, 37 assignments lasted more than five years and four longer than seven years. In the Committee’s view, this makes the term ’temporary’ meaningless and suggests a significant drift from any original plan there may have been. Evidence that temporary workers were in post for several years should have started alarm bells ringing. The Chief Constable conceded that while the numbers were relatively small, they did provide “real examples where grip should have been exercised”.
57. The Committee acknowledged the positive steps that have been taken over the last few years to address this issue and improve controls. The Chief Constable reported that each business case must now be submitted through the head of Human Resources (HR) in the relevant district, to a central committee which assesses it against organisational need. Once the assignment period is complete, PSNI checks if the work has been finished and delivered to the expected standard; and whether the temporary staff have left the organisation. This provides greater central control and consistency in the use of temporary staff across the service as a whole. While these are welcome developments, it remains the Committee’s view that such processes should have been in place from the outset. Their absence displayed a failure in the approach to workforce planning.
58. The appointment of at least eight former officers on fixed term contracts, including two in the HR department, is of concern. The PSNI told the Committee that they brought essential specialist skills, but the Chief Constable acknowledged that none were appointed through open competition. In the Committee’s view, this does not meet the standards expected of a public sector recruitment process. In fact, it raises a lack of compliance by PSNI with existing fair employment law.
60. The Committee recommends that PSNI should ensure that mechanisms are established for the regular review of temporary posts. If the need is no longer short-term, then PSNI should consider awarding the job on a fixed-term contract on the basis of open and fair competition, with selection demonstrably based on merit. Only contracts which have the approval and authority of the Policing Board, and which have been subject to proper options appraisals and business cases, should be awarded in the name of, and on behalf of, the Policing Board.
The rehiring of former police officers can be justified but not in every case
61. The C&AG’s report shows that between 2002 and 2012, nearly one fifth of all police officers who left early under the severance schemes were subsequently rehired as a temporary worker. In March 2012, 73 per cent of all agency staff in post were former officers. The Chief Constable told the Committee that the rehiring of former police officers, on occasions, was fully justified but also recognised the public concern at the scale of rehiring and that more of these opportunities were not available to the wider community.
62. The Committee accepts that temporary staff were and will from time to time continue to be required and that some of these people will need to bring policing experience and expertise. There is no suggestion that former officers should have been prevented from applying for any temporary posts. However, the Committee considers that the use of temporary staff has not been well-managed by PSNI and on occasion, the purpose of their use has been abused. The Chief Constable admits that it would be difficult to stand over every post, particularly those given to former police officers where policing skills were not required. The Deputy Chief Constable also conceded that it was hard to justify the preponderance of former police officers in certain roles, for example, drivers and safety camera operators. In the Committee’s view, these examples can lead to a perception of favouritism and have the capacity to undermine community confidence.
Although succession planning was a huge challenge it could have been managed better
63. The aim of the early severance schemes was to get uniformed officers to leave the service so that PSNI could move to 50:50 recruitment designed to create a more representative organisation. With such a massive turnover of staff it was inevitable that operational needs would require some officers to be retained beyond the date they wished to leave. However, the Chief Constable indicated that PSNI’s capacity to defer or “red circle” posts to prevent officers from departing was restricted and, as a consequence, retired officers returned as agency staff to provide the key skills that had been lost following their departure.
64. The Committee enquired whether PSNI had made full use of the deferral scheme and whether it had done enough to manage the situation that arose as a result of the Patten reforms. The Chief Constable told the Committee that, over the 10 years of Patten reforms, PSNI had gone through an unprecedented change programme, involving 8,000 people leaving, 80,000 staff movements and an uncertain budget. This included a major task in implementing the compulsory severance scheme for reserve officers. While the Deputy Chief Constable told the Committee that succession planning was a huge challenge during this time and that red-circling had been used as much as possible, there was also an acknowledgement that succession planning for key posts could have been handled better. To quote the Deputy Chief Constable, “with such a seismic change programme, it would have been a miracle if we had got through it with perfection”.
65. The Committee does not underestimate the difficulties faced by PSNI over this time and acknowledges that the HR Department came under severe pressure due to the level of staff turnover. Nevertheless, it is the Committee’s view that good succession planning becomes even more vital when such a large body of experienced staff leaves an organisation. Critical posts must remain filled by appropriately skilled staff long enough for them to transfer sufficient knowledge to their replacements. Succession planning was undoubtedly a huge challenge during a period of significant disruption and upheaval, but it should not have been such a low priority. Looking forward, the Committee heard evidence that PSNI now has a sustainable strategy for key posts. However, the challenge is to ensure that skills gaps do not open up in future and PSNI needs a specific strategy for the use of temporary staff as part of its wider workforce planning.
66. Without effective succession planning, the PSNI relied increasingly on ad-hoc, temporary appointments to fill the gaps that were created. The Committee heard evidence that, in some cases, the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust provided training to equip former officers to take up these positions. While this ensured continuity in some essential posts, it was also an opportunity to consider whether some police officer posts could be civilianised and filled permanently by police staff. This did not happen. The Committee heard that the PSNI had made much progress in civilianising posts in its early years, but progress had been halted after 2004 due to budget cuts which fell disproportionately on police staff posts. It appears to the Committee that the over-reliance on temporary staff to fill posts that could have gone to permanent civilian appointments was also a significant factor here. Over the last eleven years, between 2 and 3 per cent of police officers have been used in organisational support roles, and currently around 3 percent of officers work in the PSNI’s call handling unit. In the Committee’s view there remains considerable scope for further civilianisation within PSNI. The Deputy Chief Constable referred to the “more sustainable, longer term human resource plan” which has been developed with the Policing Board. The Committee expects that the civilianisation agenda must move forward once again and the Committee acknowledges this development.
67. The Committee recommends that PSNI works constructively with the Policing Board to develop and agree long-term people strategies, ensuring that skills gaps are closed, civilianisation advanced, in line with Policing Board requirements, and the need for temporary staff minimised. This requires targets and timetables for progress which are subject to regular review and fully disclosable to the public. The relationship between civilian support staff, PSNI and the Policing Board should be transparent at all times.
PSNI must publish plans to reduce its reliance on temporary staff
68. PSNI has reduced its demand for temporary staff from a peak of seven per cent of its workforce in 2007, to around four per cent in 2011 when a new process was introduced. The Chief Constable told the Committee that PSNI will continue to need some short-term temporary staff as additional work will be required in relation to legacy issues. Uncertainties also remain about future budget settlements as well as the continuity of additional monies that are provided by the Executive to reduce the threat from paramilitaries. The Committee welcomes assurances from the Chief Constable that mechanisms are in place to ensure that every post is justified, and there will be an appropriate flow of information to the Policing Board to allow it to effectively undertake its scrutiny and challenge role.