This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

More light, less heat

The Police & Crime Panel today decided that there should be an independent audit of the two offices / expenses matters that has been "distracting" the PCC over recent days. This is a good decision, and I look forward to the outcome. (For the record, if you are the auditor hired to carry out this task reading this, I would be happy to help!)

But what emerged today from the meeting makes interesting reading, I think.

(I qualify what I am about to report with a warning note: it may not be 100% accurate. Unfortunately the meeting was held in a committee room without a public address system or induction loop. So my colleague Roy and I found it pretty hard to hear all of what was being said. I would add that the only two people who we could hear crystal clearly were the Chief and Deputy Chief Constables who spoke clearly and with great, wise authority. I hope the next time the PCP meets in public session they do so in a place with a proper sound system.)

Mr Stansfeld justified his need for a second office on the basis that he needed to access confidential documents and emails easily. He said he could have done this on a secure laptop as he judged it would not be wise to print them to read at home. Hence he needed the office at Hungerford in order to be able to print off and read confidential documents securely.

I say
  1. It is possible to read documents on screen. He could even have a large screen installed. 
  2. Moreover (and this is critical) if he only prints, reads and then leaves the documents behind in the Hungerford police station office then that is more secure than doing the same at home. (Although the most secure arrangement is to leave documents on an encrypted laptop, as even a police station can be burgled or someone else might access the documents in hard copy.) But if he takes the printed documents out of the police station then that is no more secure than printing them off at home. At which point the need for the second office, on this basis, evaporates.
  3. This is a different reason to the one he gave to the Oxford Mail interview just a few days ago where he is reported to have said "he needed to have the base at Hungerford to access the force’s computer system and store secure documents and that it would be “very expensive” to set up a secure computer at his home". There was no mention of a secure laptop being very expensive today. Could this be in reaction to a FoI inquiry I submitted two days ago asking about whether he had ever been offered or supplied with a secure laptop? The grounds for the second office appear to be shifting sands. What do you think?
  4. If it is established that Mr Stansfeld does not leave all the documents in Hungerford police station, what will his reason be then?
Mr Stansfeld said that he was not a young man and getting around Thames Valley, locating car parks in strange places and doing over 600 miles in a week meant he was getting very tired. His driver will help with all that and take notes at meetings for him too. And Thames Valley is the biggest non metropolitan police force, he said.

I say
  1. He knew the territory before he applied to become a candidate. After all he sat on the police authority for several years. 
  2. He is not the only person who needs to cover the patch. What would Mr Stansfeld say if (for example) the Chief Executive of the Thames Valley Probation Service made the same case? Would he back him having a driver for three days a week? He can say so here...
  3. Thames Valley is the biggest non met force by numbers of officers NOT by geography. Thames Valley (as the meeting mentioned) is 2200 square miles. Dyfed Powys, for example, is 4188 square miles (almost twice the size and with slow road links). To my knowledge, the Dyfed Powys PCC has not sought to have a driver.
  4. I would estimate that nowhere in Thames Valley is much further than about one hour's drive from police HQ in Kidlington, Oxford.
  5. In the 20 working days in March he claimed for 1334 miles. That is under 70 miles a day, or on average 334 miles per week. How does that compare to your mileage, dear reader?
  6. If his driver is only employed for three days a week, what happens on the other two days? Will Mr Stansfeld have to arrange his schedule around his driver?
  7. If Mr Stansfeld needs more time to do the job (and I do sympathise with the scale of the task - really I do), why not stop being a councillor in West Berkshire?
The Chief Executive of the Office of the Police Commissioner reported that on investigation and with assistance from specialist advisers, they have now discovered that the expenses being charged did not quite comply with HMRC rules. (Avid readers will know that I specifically raised this before and was told that the expenses regime did comply.) Mr Stansfeld also stated (and the Chief Exec concurred) that he delegated the task of doing his expenses to his staff. On questioning, he was not sure how many times he had visited the Hungerford office.

I say
  1. If staff at the OPCC were just following existing procedures, how many other people may have been submitting erroneous claims? Is the PCC and/or the CEO on the case?
  2. Did they read the guidelines I sent them (via a link) before they replied to me?
  3. I understand that the expenses form filling can be delegated, but the act of signing the form cannot be. He could easily have said, "don't bother with those miles from Home to Kidlington, I won't be putting those against expenses". Could he not?
  4. After all this, will the PCC be keeping a closer record of his whereabouts. I presume the driver at least will keep a log?
  5. Does Hungerford police station have an electronic access system? In which case it will be possible to ascertain when he visited, I would imagine. 
There is more to say about the meeting this morning but this blog is already long enough. And wine calls! Although as a Chauffeur, I suppose I ought to be drinking whisky with my driving gloves on...


Meanwhile, please enjoy my few minutes of fame on the local news tonight! Click here. 3 minutes and 16 seconds in... yours truly!

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