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.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The audit, the critique and the PCC

Below, I have outlined my concerns and questions about the audit that has just been published by the Thames Valley Police & Crime Panel in advance of their meeting this Friday. It is rather long, but I think it deserves some open and transparent analysis. (There is a headline summary here.)

Please let me know if you think I am being unfair or unjustifiably picky. Also, if you are the auditor reading this, your answers to some of my questions would be very helpful. Thanks.

Audit of the police and crime commissioner’s expenses – Audit findings, recommendations and response of the PCC
My commentary:
  • How much did this audit cost, by the way? 
  • The audit – as established by the agreed scope / TOR have glossed over the whole basis for setting up the office in Hungerford altogether in my opinion. Given the concerns, widely expressed, that the office was merely a ‘sham’ in order to allow for some expenses to be claimed – this is surprising. Why has this not been fully investigated? Surely the PCC would wish to be exceptionally transparent on this matter given the damaging headlines?
  • Page 2 / item 8: The key features of this Policy are: It adopts the HMRC regulations and guidance as its basis… so does this mean that it did not before?!
  • Same item: No expense claims will be payable for the cost of home-to-work commute (‘private’) journeys between his home and his permanent workplace at Kidlington or his temporary workplace at Hungerford (or journeys between these two offices)… but what about journeys between Hungerford and Kidlington? Or is that no longer an issue given the change of status of the Hungerford office (see below)?
  • Same item: He will be repaying £142.20 for six non-compliant claims
  • Same item: Clear terms and conditions will be developed under which the use of the hire car, together with the services of the dedicated Support Officer, will be made available to the PCC to avoid a tax liability arising inadvertently… Hire car? I thought the car was owned by TVP? And were there not clear T&Cs before? I am confused
  • The auditor has gone over past journeys between November and March: the PCC has not and will not claim for journeys that he could have claimed for… ?? Hmm! (Item 2.1.9 / page 11: Up until 7th February 2013 all claims made by the PCC, when he went directly from home to an external meeting (i.e. when the meeting was not at Kidlington), had 74 miles deducted as this was the return mileage from his home to the Kidlington office… all of 4 – yes that is four – journeys…)
  • The Chauffeur has resigned. (His domestic circumstances have changed it is stated…) Did he sign a confidentiality agreement before he left, I wonder? 
  • Item 12 / page 3: As the PCC has previously stated, it is not practical for him to drive himself around the Thames Valley, given the considerable distance required and over a working day that is often 12 hours or longer. Is this going to go unchallenged? What about other PCCs who have far bigger patches to cover like North Yorkshire, Devon&Cornwall or Dyfed Powys? Are they claiming similar? Will the PCP challenge him on this? (I did a quick phone around on 5th July:
    • Devon & Cornwall “he drives himself” (3961 square miles)
    • Dyfed Powys “he drives himself” (4188 square miles)
    • North Yorkshire “she drives herself” (3200 square miles)
    • Why is Mr Stansfeld different to these three Conservative PCCs with much larger patches than Thames Valley? (2200 square miles)
  • Item 13/page 4: there is an option iv – he drives himself and organises his diary accordingly like most ordinary workers / commuters!
  • Item 5.1 / page 6: This audit is an ad-hoc review carried out at the request of the Office of the PCC… ad hoc??
  • Item 1.2 / page 9: It should be noted that the findings below do not constitute tax advice and are an interpretation only of the evidence supplied as part of the audit… who selected the evidence supplied? How proactive was the auditor?
  • Item 1.4 / page 10: In addition, from March 2013 the PCC has had the use of a TVP vehicle and, from April 2013, a part-time Support Officer whose duties include driving the PCC… so he had the car before he had the driver….?
  • Item 2.1.2 / page 10: This audit has focused on the mileage claims made by the PCC… and thereby missing a big point: why the second office at all? 
  • Same item: For the purposes of this section it has been assumed that both the Hungerford and Kidlington offices meet the HMRC definition of a permanent workplace… note ‘assumed’ because later on… 
  • Item 2.4.6 / page 16: Summary of findings: There is insufficient evidence to form a view if the Hungerford office is in fact a second permanent workplace or a temporary workplace where the PCC performs tasks of “limited duration”. There is no internal record available to substantiate the use of the Hungerford office or review process to check whether the HMRC guidance is being complied with. As such, HMRC could assess some of the expense claims as ordinary commuting, instead of a business journey which would result in an additional tax liability for the PCC… my added highlights. Additional tax liability…?
  • Item 2.1.3 / Page 10: The PCC returns this to Lin after he has completed his appointments with the mileage incurred written on the form… and The PCC signs the form, it is authorised (see paragraph 2.3.1 for details) and sent to Force Corporate Finance for payment… Now contrast this with his verbal statement now transcripted on the TVPCC website where he said “I do not even do my own expenses, they are done by the office staff”. Who writes the mileage on the form? Who signs it?
  • Item 2.1.11 / page 12: Arrangements are made to recoup the expenses paid relating to any home to office mileage which has been incorrectly claimed… note the word incorrectly
  • Item 2.2.3 / page 12: Paul Hammond (Chief Executive) confirmed that no written instruction had been given to the PCC regarding the private use of the vehicle, but stated that he had verbally advised him of the rules to follow to avoid a taxable benefit. The PCC confirmed this to be the case. Both confirmed that this advice was not given at the time the vehicle was initially available… my highlight – he was not told about not privately using the car initially. When was he told? And why did the CE overlook this?
  • Item 2.2.4 / page 12: Journeys direct to/from home to either workplace (Hungerford or Kidlington): This is treated as a normal commute and is private (however, the advice has not been clear on what the tax treatment is if the PCC is working in the car… so what is the situation? Is his commute to Kidlington with chauffeur driving him a taxable benefit or not? At night, when he is being driven home in the dark, after an exhausting day, will he be reading papers then? How does HMRC ordinarily assess such matters?
  • Item 2.2.6 / page 13: The PCC stated that there was no private use of the vehicle. He did advise that when he initially had access to the vehicle (and before the Support Officer was employed), he did for a short time have the vehicle at his home and it was parked on his drive. He also stated that at that time he may have used the car to commute from home to Kidlington… my highlight. Could he have used it for other purposes too? What about now? Who is insured to drive the car? When was this matter sorted with whose authorisation? Did the auditor seek information about the insurances on the vehicle and who signed these off?
  • Item 2.2.9 / page 13: A log book is kept in the vehicle, but the information completed is insufficient to demonstrate there has been no private use… huh?!
  • Item 2.2.11 / page 13: In addition, the PCC did confirm that there have been occasions when the car was kept at his home and has been used for a home to work journey, so there has in fact been some private use… huh? See 2.2.6, above.
  • No mention of vehicle insurance – easy way to stop PCC using car privately is not to insure to him to do so… surely? Who pays for the insurance and how much?
  • Item 2.4.6 / page 16: There is no internal record available to substantiate the use of the Hungerford office or review process to check whether the HMRC guidance is being complied with… but next para refers to “fob access records” – so do these already exist? If so did the auditor not ask for this information? I presume the HMRC could if they wish…?
  • No challenge to the need for the Hungerford Office, no uncovering of the email correspondence around the business rationale for having a second office – still… >makes mental note<
  • Item 2.4 / Page 21: NO LONGER APPLICABLE FOR TAX PURPOSES… But the question remains as to the real value of the second office. Just because he will now not charge any expenses via Hungerford Office does not mean scrutiny should stop!

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