Independent Police Complaints Commission - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1-19)


24 NOVEMBER 2008

  Q1 Chairman: Welcome to the Committee of Public Accounts where today we are considering the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the work of Jane Furniss, who is the Chief Executive of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. We also welcome a group of officials from China on a programme organised by the Great Britain-China Centre; you are very welcome, friends from China. Ms Furniss, if I could start by referring you to the number of complaints that are coming in. If we look at paragraph 3.2, which we can find on page 29 of the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report, we see there that the number of complaints recorded has seen an 83% increase from 15,800 in 2003-04 to 28,000 in 2007-08. To what do you attribute this large increase in complaints about the police or made to the police?

  Ms Furniss: I think one of the main reasons is that people now believe that if they complain that there is a system for dealing with it and that their complaint will be taken seriously and it will be investigated properly. In the past very often members of the public who tried to complain at the police station were discouraged from doing so. They were either discouraged because they were intimidated or because they were not given the proper papers to make their complaint. The way that the system has changed since the Independent Police Complaints Commission was created is that there is now a system for ensuring that people's complaints are taken seriously, so for example this year nearly 13,500 complaints will come directly to IPPC. People use the system, they understand that they can telephone us and get advice on how to make their complaint or indeed make it directly to us. I think the main reason is that access has improved and people's confidence in the system has improved so they think that making a complaint is worthwhile.

  Q2  Chairman: Could it also indicate that there are problems with the police or that there is rising public concern about the police?

  Ms Furniss: I think that is to an extent true though I am not sure that complaints necessarily tell us much about that. It is not an indicator that there is much worse police behaviour or greater misconduct.

  Q3  Chairman: But you would accept that perhaps there is that rising public concern?

  Ms Furniss: I think other studies suggest that people are less satisfied with the police than they were in the past, that they have probably higher expectations and that those expectations are not always met and that they are disappointed. The British Crime Survey suggests that something like 300,000 people who have had contact with the police describe themselves as very annoyed following it, so something like ten times the number of people who actually make a complaint. I am not sure we know the answer to your question actually just how much dissatisfaction there is and whether it is greater now than it was in the past.

  Q4  Chairman: Is anybody trying to look at this and work it out because it is quite interesting, is it not?

  Ms Furniss: Certainly there are studies being done by the Home Office on public confidence in the police, and I think our work helps to contribute to a sense of what the public think. All I am saying is that I do not think we have got the answer to the question nor do I think necessarily the complaints statistics answer it.

  Q5  Chairman: If I could ask you about your workload now. If we look at paragraph 1.16, which we find on page 14, we see that you are indeed operating above your capacity, so what work have you dropped as a result?

  Ms Furniss: The main way that we have dealt with the increased demand without additional resources is by re-organising internally the way that we allocate our work, so the first task from my point of view has been to make sure that the complaints are dealt with and that the appeals that we get and the investigations that we are doing are allocated nationally to make sure that we make maximum use of all the resources that we have got. One of the designs of the organisation at the start and a very important commitment that the Commission made at its beginning was to have a regional structure, to have a local way of dealing with the concerns of the public. This was a particular response to people's lack of confidence in the Police Complaints Authority which was London-based and had no regional or local offices and which felt very remote for people around the country. When the Commission was created one of the things it thought was very important was to have regional bases. The difficulty about that is how on earth a small organisation like ours of less than 400 people is able to deal with the public's concerns 24 hours a day, seven days a week from Cumbria to Land's End and from Kent to Northumbria and The Wash to Wales. How on earth do we do that with a relatively small number of people when we have to be able to respond in the middle of the night and at the weekend at any time when there is a complaint.

  Q6  Chairman: So have you dropped anything as a result?

  Ms Furniss: What we have done is re-organised our work internally and we have had to reduce some of the things I would want us to give higher priority to, in particular, as the Report indicated, we have reduced our commitment on quality assurance because of the fact that we have needed to deal with the workload coming in. That is not something that I feel at all happy about for the future.

  Q7  Chairman: So you have not dropped any particular aspect of work then? Nothing that you were investigating is not now investigated?

  Ms Furniss: No, we make decisions about priorities of particular investigations on a day-to-day basis. One of the things that we can control is which investigations we determine as independent and which ones we determine should be managed by us and actually investigated by the police. That is one of the ways we can control the workload.

  Q8  Chairman: In your answer you mentioned a couple of points about performance in the regions and also quality assurance, so let us ask you about that. If we look at paragraph 14 in this Report on page 6, we see that indeed performance against key targets varies significantly between the regions. How are you going to bring the performance of the worst region up to the performance of the best?

  Ms Furniss: I am really pleased to be able to say that we almost have. Over the last six months performance across all our targets has improved and for the London and South East region, which was the region that was performing the least well, we have allocated out the work from London to the rest of the country where we had some spare capacity.

  Q9  Chairman: So people complaining in London get exactly the same service as people complaining elsewhere, do they?

  Ms Furniss: Not quite but almost. By the New Year, by January we will have cleared the backlog from London and the South East. There was a backlog of about 145 appeals. That is down to 26 currently and by January it will be cleared. By the New Year we will also be in a position where all the work is allocated nationally and not regionally, so that the same service will be provided to all those making an appeal. We will be allocating it on a time basis not on a geographic basis. I am confident that by the end of the financial year/beginning of the next financial year we will be in a position where we will not have a backlog and appeals will all be being dealt with within the timescale that we have set for them.

  Q10  Chairman: You mentioned quality control and indeed we see in paragraph 2.7 at page 25 it says: "We found that the IPPC had no formal quality control framework in place", so how can we know that you are carrying out this work properly?

  Ms Furniss: It is completely true that the quality assurance system that was designed and in place was not being used properly. At the moment the way that we assure the quality of our investigations is that for each investigation there is a senior investigator who is the person who is expert in how an investigation should be run. There is also a regional director who is responsible for ensuring that the staff are suitably qualified, trained and deployed in the right numbers, and a commissioner who acts on behalf of the public whose job is not to get involved in the detail of the investigation but to oversee the setting of the terms of reference, to oversee the way in which the community is engaged and the families are worked with (where that is relevant) and who receives the report at the end and determines what should happen next. Those are really important elements of our quality assurance. What I want to see for the future is that every investigation that takes more than a few days, and there are some that only take four or five working days, should have initially a review by the investigator themselves and then be peer-reviewed by others. We are in the process of training some of our investigators to be able to do that. I think what happened at the beginning of the organisation, for good reasons, for reasons of wanting to be thorough, was that people over-designed the review process so that it was a very lengthy, very arduous process.

  Q11  Chairman: So you reckon you have got the procedures in place to convince us and the public that you are monitoring what is done and it is at the highest level?

  Ms Furniss: I think we have got in process at the moment a reasonable line management process. I want that to be even better. I want us to be able to report that reviews have been done and what the outcomes of those have been.

  Q12  Chairman: Thank you. There is no point in doing all this work if we do not know what the police are doing about it, so we read in paragraph 3.8 on page 30 of the Report that: "However, the IPPC does not consider it part of its remit to monitor the implementation of its recommendations by individual police forces," so you do not even monitor it, nobody else is going to monitor it; how do we know that they are taking a blind bit of notice of all the work that you are carrying out?

  Ms Furniss: I think there are two parts to it. One is first of all us knowing whether the relevant police force locally or all police forces nationally have actually taken notice of the recommendation, know what the recommendation is and that we know what their response is, and then the second part is so what do they do about it? Can we demonstrate for the future that the recommendations lead to change which leads to either better performance or fewer incidents of whatever kind? On the first one I think we do have a responsibility to record better how a police force responds to our recommendations.

  Q13  Chairman: So you will do that in future? You will monitor what is going on with your recommendation because that is absolutely vital?

  Ms Furniss: Certainly. We are already doing that but we are doing it less thoroughly and in a way that is less easy for the auditors to audit than it ought to be. There are definite improvements we are making already and will do for the future.

  Q14  Chairman: Because I was amazed to see in paragraph 3.16 that to date the IPPC has not sought feedback from complainants or police officers who have been subject to an investigation by the IPPC, or from appellants.

  Ms Furniss: Sorry?

  Q15  Chairman: This is paragraph 3.16 where it states that there is no proper monitoring. This is a Report that you agreed and we know that it is right therefore, and it says that you have not sought feedback from complainants or police officers who have been subject to an investigation by the IPPC, or from appellants. This is absolutely vital, is it not?

  Ms Furniss: It is certainly extremely helpful to do so and we were intending to do that earlier this year when the National Audit Office agreed to do the survey that they did, so we held off doing our own as a result of that.

  Q16  Chairman: You are going to do it from now on, are you?

  Ms Furniss: We are. We have already started. In November we started doing appellant feedback surveys. We are piloting that in the North region. We will be doing it nationally from after Christmas and from January we will be surveying police officers and families and individuals in independent complaints.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Austin Mitchell?

  Q17  Mr Mitchell: I am not quite sure what has been dropped because it is clearly in a mess where you have inadequate financial resources and you are operating above capacity. The Chairman asked you what has been dropped and you said you were reordering priorities within the authority. Something must have had to give so what has been dropped?

  Ms Furniss: I do not think anything has been dropped, Mr Mitchell. What we have done is first of all quite a lot of my staff have worked excessive hours in order to complete the pieces of work. We have had to make priority choices within individual investigations, so on any referral where there is a need for an investigation we have to determine is this one we are going to do independently or one that we are going to manage.

  Q18  Mr Mitchell: You must have decided that some cases are not worth investigating. It must bias you in favour of discounting cases.

  Ms Furniss: The decision to investigate independently has to be made on a number of criteria: how serious the incident is; does it require an investigation by us, or could it be done with confidence by the police? And there may be competing criteria where we feel we have to do the investigation.

  Q19  Mr Mitchell: So you have not fiddled the requirements?

  Ms Furniss: No we have not fiddled the requirements. There are no strict criteria but, for example, anywhere a death has occurred, either as a result of police action or possibly as a result of inaction by the police, we would always regard those as ones we must do because clearly the public will be very concerned that someone has died possibly, the allegation is, as a result of police behaviour. There are others where we have a choice to make and availability of resources comes into that choice, as you would expect. We have to prioritise the more serious cases against the less serious cases.

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