MILLIONS of pounds of public money has been provided to the chief police officers’ unofficial trade union – but no-one in the service seems to have a clear idea how or why the practice actually began.
The members and staff of police authorities who are making the payments now were not in position when the process began and have been left scratching their heads when asked for an explanation of why the taxpayer has been funding the Chief Police Officers Staff Association (CPOSA) in the way it has for over a decade.
Police authority chief executives in the region also acknowledge they have never seen CPOSA annual accounts and have little way of knowing exactly how the money has been spent.
Fraser Sampson, chairman of the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives, said the issue was now under investigation. Mr Sampson, who is West Yorkshire Police Authority chief executive, inherited an arrangement already in place, like top officials in police authorities across the country, and admits he doesn’t know how or why it began.
He does, however, recognise the “odd” situation whereby police authorities – and by extension the public – will be funding highly-paid chief police officers, including North Yorkshire chief Grahame Maxwell and Cleveland counterpart Sean Price, in misconduct cases.
Mr Sampson said: “I don’t know the genesis of it. There is a difference between reimbursing a subscription for a staff association on the basis of the work it does for collective bargaining on behalf of its members and a very discrete element that could be used to pick up the legal fees for a dispute with the employer.
“How do you explain that you’ve got employers paying for legal insurance for individuals who may be involved in disputes with their employers that may come about because of those individuals’ decisions? That is odd.”
The payment of insurance for personal legal fees to CPOSA – at a rate of £2,197 per chief officer this year – appears to have become a convention without any clear basis even though all chief police officers and some senior civilian police staff receive the benefit through their membership of CPOSA.
In addition, some chief police officers, including those in West Yorkshire, have the payment of their £275 membership fee to CPOSA written into their contracts while others do not.
The only indication of a general sanction of the legal insurance payment came from the Metropolitan Police who said that in 1999 “the Home Office directed that the cost of this insurance could be met from official funds”.
But when asked to comment, the Home Office would only say the payments were a matter for individual police authorities.
To add to the questionable basis of the public paying CPOSA for personal legal costs, all police officers are already legally entitled to claim for such costs from their own police authorities.
Officers whose individual actions might be called into question at an inquest or an employment tribunal can claim for, and would be likely to receive, funding for costs in those circumstances.
The difference, as Mr Sampson acknowledged, is that assessing requests on a case-by-case basis allows for public accountability and is far removed from writing what might be seen as a blank cheque for chief officers.
It would also preclude the public from funding very expensive misconduct cases on behalf of chief officers.
But CPOSA’s vice president David Griffin, Humberside’s deputy chief constable, defended the payments and said: “It protects police authorities from potentially high legal costs where individual chief officers are subject of proceedings such as employment tribunals where they can be personally named as well as the organisation as these are met through CPOSA insurance cover.
“Although there is a discretionary power for police authorities to pay legal costs incurred by individuals on a case-by-case basis, CPOSA cover insures against this risk. It enables chief officers to more effectively carry out their role and make critical decisions without incurring the risk of potentially large legal costs in defending their decisions if they are subject of enquiries such as inquests, public inquiries and court proceedings, where they are deemed to have personal as well as corporate liability.”
Mr Griffin’s stance was backed by his employer, Humberside Police Authority and South Yorkshire Police Authority who said that without the personal legal cover chief officers “would become more risk averse.” In contrast, North Yorkshire and Cleveland joined West Yorkshire in raising concerns about the payments.