March 10: Time to police officers’ pay

IT IS impossible to find any justification for the £85,000 bonus payments received by former North Yorkshire deputy chief constable Roger Baker while serving as Chief Constable of Essex.

Surely, then, it is in the interests of natural justice as well as those of the taxpayer that every effort is made to recover this cash, some of the highest extra payments ever received by a chief police officer, as the Essex police and crime commissioner, Nick Alston, is attempting to do.

Mr Baker’s payments, however, are merely the tip of a very large iceberg, a complex web of supposed loyalty payments, cooked up in backroom deals between police authorities and senior officers, which surely give the lie to any claim that the police have been starved of resources over recent years.

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And bearing in mind that two other commissioners have abandoned attempts to recover potentially unlawful payments made to senior officers – former Cleveland chief constable Sean Price and former North Yorkshire chief constable Grahame Maxwell and his deputy, Adam Briggs – it may be that Mr Alston, too, will soon realise that attempts to win back the £85,000 paid to Mr Baker are likely to end up costing far more than it may eventually recoup.

Of course, the best thing would be for Mr Baker to repay the money voluntarily. However, on the basis of bitter experience, that is not going to happen. In these circumstances, police commissioners should agree to cut their losses in the knowledge that proposed reforms are likely to mean that such a scandalous waste of resources can never be repeated.

A transparent structure for senior police officers’ pay and allowances, based on clear, well publicised guidelines rather than handshakes behind closed doors, is the very least that should be expected of public servants who, by the very nature of their job, are supposed to be exemplars of responsible behaviour.

Lessons learned

But more schools are needed

THOSE WHO assumed that Michael Gove’s departure as Education Secretary would mark the end of Conservative plans for radical schools reform have been put right by David Cameron.

The Prime Minister’s pledge to open at least another 500 free schools if the Tories are re-elected is a clear sign that he is determined to push ahead with his flagship education policy of raising standards through moving more and more schools out of local authority control.

Amid an increasingly lacklustre election campaign, with both main parties struggling to come up with any defining policies, this is a rare flash of ideological fire and a long overdue attempt by the Tories to disinguish themselves from Labour whose education policy remains, for the most part, as clear as mud.

Ideology, however, as free schools’ many critics might point out, is hardly the best basis for improving the prospects of the nation’s children. Education policy, after all, should be based not on rigid beliefs systems but on a pragmatic analysis of what works.

On the evidence so far available, however, it seems that free schools are indeed succeeding in one of their primary aims, that of driving up standards in nearby under-performing schools, according to the latest information from the Policy Exchange think-tank.

Indeed, even according to Labour, their only failure is that they are not being opened in sufficient numbers in those areas that need them most, where

there are insufficient state-school places.

In fact, the rate at which the school-age population is increasing is set to place intolerable pressure on the education system and the Conservatives’ schools revolution is not unfolding quickly enough to deal with this. The main problem with Mr Cameron’s announcement yesterday is that 500 free schools will simply not be enough.

The common good

Value of global family of nations

THOSE tempted to question the relevance of the Commonwealth in a modern age of large regional trading blocs such as the European Union have only to listen to the Queen’s address yesterday as she marked the annual Commonwealth Day.

This loose-knit organisation may well be a disparate group of 53 nations, scattered across the globe, ostensibly united only by the fact that the majority were once part of the British Empire, but the relationships between them, nurtured over decades, have built a level of trust and understanding which is now, as the Queen remarked, more important than ever.

Indeed, in a world of increased uncertainty, conflict and fraught relationships, a family of nations, committed to common goals and common standards, is itself arguably more important than ever.