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Police accountability: Landscape review

Today’s report from the National Audit Office has identified a number of gaps in the Home Office’s policing oversight framework, which could limit the public’s ability to hold elected police and crime commissioners to account. However, even though it has been in place for only a year, the new framework has the potential to be an improvement on the system it has replaced.

The Home Office introduced police and crime commissioners in November 2012 as a major reform to how police forces are governed. The Home Office set out an accountability framework for policing with the aim of balancing an increase in local autonomy with the Home Office’s own need to obtain assurance that police forces are securing value for money from the funding it gives them.

The NAO finds that gaps in this framework – such as the limited effectiveness of police and crime panels, and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s lack of authority to carry out routine inspections of commissioners or their offices – could limit the degree of assurance the Home Office can take from the new accountability structure. Because police and crime panels, who scrutinize commissioners, lack powers to act on the information they receive, there are few checks and balances on commissioners between elections.

The NAO report finds that the introduction of both commissioners, who hold chief constables  to account, and police and crime panels, who do the same for commissioners, has increased the potential for local tensions. Nationally, six commissioners share a chief financial officer with their force, raising a potential conflict of interest. Shared chief financial officers might struggle to provide unfettered advice to both the chief constable and commissioner when they disagree.

Those in the sector to whom the NAO spoke to believe that elected commissioners are potentially better able to hold police forces to account and drive value for money than the unelected police authorities they replaced. According to elected commissioners, so far there has been a significant increase in engagement with the public compared to the previous situation under police authorities.

The NAO also reports that commissioners are not publishing all the data that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 requires, limiting the public’s ability to hold commissioners to account. Furthermore, being able to take performance data at only face value limits the public’s ability to hold commissioners to account. The Home Office and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary are now working together to agree how to provide better information to the public.

 

“The new policing framework has been in place for only just over a year but already it is clear that there are gaps in the system with the potential to undermine accountability both to the Home Office and the public. More work is needed to ensure that all elements of the framework are working effectively to minimize risks to value for money.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. The Government introduced elected police and crime commissioners in November 2012, which was a major reform to how police forces are governed. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 created the post of an elected police and crime commissioner for 41 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. (The Metropolitan Police Service and City of London Police had different arrangements.) Previously, police authorities held chief constables to account, set the police precept component of council tax which helps fund the force, and controlled their police force's budgets. Commissioners in England and Wales control over £12.1 billion of police force funding.
  2. In 2013, the Department published an Accountability System Statement for Policing and Crime Reduction. This sets out a framework of checks and balances, statutory roles and scrutiny mechanisms that would allow it to give Parliament the required assurance, while meeting its objective to increase local autonomy and accountability. This framework is comprised of local commissioners, police forces, police and crime panels (local panels charged with scrutinizing commissioners' performance), auditors and national bodies like the Department and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  4. The National Audit Office scrutinizes public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 860 staff. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of almost £1.2 billion in 2012.

Contact

NAO Press Office
+44 (0)20 7798 7400 or email pressoffice@nao.org.uk

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