Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.