THE country’s most influential policing body has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to consultants without applying the spending controls it tells forces up and down the country to abide by, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Despite the severe cuts being implemented across the police service, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has handed out the contracts – often to former senior police officers – at pay rates as high as £1,100 a day without being able to detail why they were not openly advertised or who set the pay levels.
In contrast, ACPO has sent out a binding procurement strategy for the country’s 43 police forces including the key principle of forces “securing further supplier competition and price leverage”.
The revelations prompted strong criticism from Yorkshire Parliamentarians last night. Skipton and Ripon Tory MP Julian Smith said the appointments created the impression of a “gold-plated jobs for the boys club” and he would raise the issue with the Home Secretary.
Baroness Harris, former Lib Dem police spokeswoman in the House of Lords and a former chairman of North Yorkshire Police Authority, said the situation smacked of ACPO indulging in an unacceptable “old pals’ act”.
ACPO said it would be reviewing its procedures and police cuts had “sharply reduced” its use of consultants.
The payments – which totalled £205,982 in one case – were nearly all made to private companies set up by the consultants, raising a fresh question mark against the use of such payment mechanisms amid concerns they maybe used to avoid income tax.
However, the Government, which, along with police authorities, provides most of ACPO’s funding, admits it had no knowledge of the consultant contracts. Despite the funding and ACPO’s high-profile public role, the Home Office was unaware of the payments because ACPO is actually constituted as a private company.
Instead, they have been obtained through freedom of information requests made by the Yorkshire Post in the wake of ACPO joining the list of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The payments include £194,517 paid for the services of former Essex Chief Constable David Stevens, initially at a rate of £900 a day and subsequently £1,100 a day. The payments were made to his consultancy company, Devana Services.
Former Detective Superintendent Brian Shelby was paid £205,982 through his company, Pyrope Solutions, while former Cumbria Assistant Chief Constable Graham Sunderland received £182,223 through his company, Epic (GS).
In total, more than £800,000 was paid to 10 consultants, largely over the last three years, from ACPO’s central office. The total does not, however, include other consultants contracted by what ACPO terms as separate “business areas”. ACPO said it was unable to locate costs relating to all consultants within the timescale allowed under the FOI Act.
As a private company, ACPO is not subject to public sector contract rules which usually insist on competition to ensure fairness and best value.
An ACPO spokeswoman said the organisation did have its own financial regulations which required three alternative quotes for spending above £1,000 and a tendering for amounts above £50,000.
But pressed on how consultants were contracted, ACPO said its human resources department held virtually no information on the appointments. It was unable to detail who made the appointments or who set the pay rates.
Instead, a spokeswoman said: “The regulations state that where realistically feasible, alternative sources should be compared to obtain best value for money. Where temporary appointments were made based on a requirement for specialist knowledge and skills, this may not have been realistic or possible. In these cases payments would be commensurate withprevious experience or rates of pay in comparable police service roles.”
In a statement, ACPO added: “Temporary appointments such as these are the exception and have sharply reduced in line with financial pressures. ACPO will also review procedures for use of temporary staff to ensure they are up to date.”
But Mr Smith said he was “shocked” by the consultancy arrangements, adding APCO must be “fully transparent”.
“Further questions that need answering include the basis for paying these huge amounts of money, who authorised them and what process of procurement was used,” the MP said. “In addition, APCO needs to come clean as to how many other consultants were engaged in this way and not wait for investigations such as the one run by the Yorkshire Post to uncover them.
Mr Smith said he would be raising concerns with the Home Secretary and Sir Hugh Orde, president of APCO. He will also be contacting HM Revenue and Customs to ensure tax regulations have been complied with over payments to personal service companies.
He added: “This story yet again raises very serious questions about the status of APCO as a private company when it relies on so much taxpayer cash. It is surely the moment to call time on the current set-up and put in place a new structure that allows the spotlight to be shone on everything it does.
“Whether through appearance or reality, this story makes APCO look more like a gold-plated jobs for the boys club rather than the above reproach leadership organisation for our country’s police forces that it has to be.”
Baroness Harris said close connections within senior officer ranks were potentially unhealthy when awarding contracts. “If they feel that they know somebody who could do the job without having to go to all the expense of tendering maybe they feel it’s not necessary. If that is the case, it can’t be right. It should be open, that’s the whole point.” She added it was “entirely wrong” that ACPO was a private firm and said it had to be much more open and transparent.
The Home Office said: “Like all organisations reliant on public money, ACPO has a responsibility to spend appropriately. As part of the work to create a new police professional body, we are engaged in discussions with ACPO about their future role and funding.”