‘Tsunami’ of watchdog recommendations distracts officers from their work, say police tsars

Humberside police and crime commissioner Matthew Grove
Humberside police and crime commissioner Matthew Grove
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Police in Yorkshire are being distracted from their vital work, including tackling child sex abuse, by a ‘tsunami’ of recommendations arising from watchdog reports, according to the region’s crime commissioners.

Julia Mulligan, Matthew Grove and Mark Burns-Williamson have spoken out about the demands being imposed on officers by the “quite relentless” programme of inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The Government watchdog, tasked with independently assessing police across the country, was last year given an extra £9.4 million in funding at the expense of local force budgets.

But the extra inspections now being carried out, most of which come with a lengthy list of recommendations to put in place within a certain time period, are said to be putting a strain on the resources of the police forces they are scrutinising.

Last month, Humberside PCC Mr Grove said HMIC was “increasing the number of inspections and...heading towards treating police forces in the same manner as schools who are constantly looking over their shoulder at the next OFSTED inspection.”

He added: “This approach comes with a significant financial burden and could hamper the work of the police. There is a danger they will spend too much of their time looking inward at themselves when they should be protecting the public and supporting victims of crime.”

As well as reviews taking in 43 forces in the country, HMIC also looks as specific areas of concern for individual forces and scrutinises the value for money police are providing for tax-payers.

From this year, HMIC will be carrying out a programme of annual all‐force inspections, known as known as PEEL Assessments, described as a “comprehensive assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing in each force area”.

Its latest work is an analysis published this week on what provisions six forces, including Humberside Police, have in place to counter a number of specified threats to national security and public safety.

A report by North Yorkshire crime commissioner Julia Mulligan says her county’s force is due up to 27 inspections in this financial year, with a number relating to child sex abuse and related issues.

Each usually takes two or three days and involves “officer/staff interviews and focus groups” as well as “system/process inspections”, but work is also required both before and after the inspectors visit.

The report said five recent inspections had produced a total of 93 recommendations for the force to carry out, with one inspection of the force’s ‘core business’ resulting in 40 recommendations.

In its conclusion, it described an “increased workload” brought about by the HMIC process, which now includes timescales for when the recommendations should be implemented.

A meeting of the North Yorkshire police and crime panel last week heard that Detective Superintendent Heather Pearson, who is head of North Yorkshire Police’s Protecting Vulnerable Person’s Unit, was being taken away from her day job because of the regular inspections.

Police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan said the HMIC inspection regime was “extremely time-consuming and expensive”.

She told The Yorkshire Post that the force had to deal with in excess of 190 recommendations relating to protecting vulnerable people, from more than 20 different reports.

Mrs Mulligan said as well as HMIC, her force had to look at recommendations from publications such as the Alexis Jay report into Rotherham child abuse and reports by NSPCC and the College of Policing.

She said Ms Pearson had to make sure she was responding properly to a ‘whole tsunami’ of recommendations, and that officers at individual forces had to decide which applied to them.

She said: “It is important we are inspected properly in this area but we could do with some co-ordination. Particularly in a small force like North Yorkshire it is undoubtedly having an impact on those officers who are having to do this and their jobs.”

She said she “welcomed inspections” but that HMIC was “beginning to behave like a regulator as opposed to an inspector”. She said: “There is a balance here and there is a concern it is going in the wrong direction.”

North Yorkshire chief constable Dave Jones tweeted last week: “Scrutiny is vital but all regulatory bodies must be more joined up on approach and aware of demands being placed on the doers.”

Last month an HMIC report said South Yorkshire Police, which was heavily criticised in the Rotherham child sex abuse inquiry, was still not properly protecting many vulnerable young people. The force was given six weeks to address its failings.

And last week a 206-page report by the watchdog revealed shortcomings in how undercover police officers are deployed and monitored, with 49 recommendations made.

Mark Burns-Williamson, police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “What was surprising to a lot of people was that in last year’s budget the Government top sliced funding to give a £9.4 million increase to HMIC at the time where in West Yorkshire by 2017 we will have cut of 40 per cent of our budget. We have got to have an independent inspection regime but it has to reflect the pressure forces are under.

“In terms of recommendations that come out of these reports there is usually a long list of recommendations, because of the pressure we are under financially there will be a prioritisation of the recommendations as well.

“This week there is another 207-page report around under cover policing, the programme seems to be quite relentless at times.”

In response to the concerns, an HMIC spokesman said: “HMIC has done a great deal of work to ensure that its statutory functions are discharged in ways which will assist police and crime commissioners in their distinct role of holding chief constables to account.

“HMIC and PCCs have a common aim – to improve policing – and different sets of tools; this is the system of accountability established by Parliament, and it is coherent and workable.

“HMIC’s new programme of annual inspections is being designed with the full co-operation of PCCs, chief constables and others, to ensure it is targeted at what matters most and minimises and streamlines the requirements of forces to provide information.”