By Julian Smith MP - 24th April 2012
Julian Smith MP says that although operational independence of the police from politicians is vitally important, "accountability and full transparency" are crucial.
Police officers do fantastic work on the streets of my constituency and across this country and it is right that we give them our support. But we also need to hold the senior leadership to account and for them to be beyond reproach. From my work, and the investigative journalism of the Yorkshire Post newspaper, I am concerned about what is going on at ACPO.
ACPO was incorporated as a private limited company in 1997 and it is that status that causes tension and concern. Though the operational independence of the police from politicians is vitally important, it is also important that there be accountability and full transparency. That is something that, because of the private company status, is not currently there.
The organisation is primarily funded by the taxpayer – it receives hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Home Office and hundreds of thousands of pounds from the budgets of Police Authorities around the country. Millions more come via special projects that it undertakes on national policing issues. In spite of it being a private company, staff are also entitled to generous civil service pensions.
As a private company it was initially not open to the scrutiny of Freedom of Information legislation. Under the last government this situation was allowed to fester. But given the amount of taxpayers' money going into the organisation, this was wrong and the government rightly acted to end this anomaly last year.
ACPO was subjected to FOI for the first time. But this does not appear to have opened up the organisation as the government had hoped. ACPO is being dragged kicking and screaming to transparency.
Last month Rob Waugh of the Yorkshire Post, via Freedom of Information requests, found that hundreds of thousands of pounds was being paid in contracts to consultants who were often former senior police officers.
And more worryingly – he discovered that in many cases these consultants were employed without applying any of the procurement processes and controls that ACPO tells individual police forces to follow. And, many of the payments made were through personal service companies.
According to the Yorkshire Post, in total, more than £800,000 was paid to 10 consultants, largely over the last three years, from ACPO's central office. The payments include over £190,000 for the services of a former Chief Constable of Essex at a rate of around one thousand pounds a day with payments made through a consultancy company. In addition, one former Detective Superintendent received over £200,000 through his company. And a former Assistant Chief Constable on Cumbria was also paid through his company a sum of over £180,000.
ACPO has its own guidelines which require three quotes for spending over one thousand pounds and tendering for amounts of £50,000 but the Yorkshire Post was, alarmingly, unable to find any evidence that these were followed in any of these cases.
I wrote to Sir Hugh Orde, President of ACPO, following this investigation and asked for the full details. He has subsequently ordered a review but still not revealed detailed information on these payments.
In today's debate in Westminster Hall I will be calling for this to happen as soon as possible and looking in more detail at some of the other concerning practices I have found throughout ACPO.
Julian Smithhas been Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon since 2010.