Police Finances - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-97)

Chief Constable Peter Fahy and Chief Constable Chris Sims

11 January 2011

Q40   Chair: Mr Fahy, you were the subject of an exchange, or a press release that your police authority put out was the subject of an exchange, at Prime Minister's Questions at the end of last year in which the Prime Minister commented on what you were saying about the proposals to reduce your budget and pointed out that there were a large number of posts at Greater Manchester—I think 82 posts—that were currently being undertaken in your police force that he felt could well be done by either other people or fewer people. Would the public expect a lower level of service as a result of the proposals that you are going to have to implement in Greater Manchester?

Chief Constable Fahy: Obviously it's a very complex process which goes out over the next four years, and as you know the reductions that we are expected to make are particularly frontloaded, which carries its own challenges. The year 2012-2013 looks particularly difficult. We had already identified in Greater Manchester way before the election that we felt our headquarters operation was too big and we wanted to transfer some of that effort.

Q41   Chair: I understand that, but we will explore most of those other issues. If you could just stick to the question that I've put to you, will the public overall expect a lower level of service as a result of these proposals to cut your budget, yes or no?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think it is very difficult to give a simple answer to what is a complex issue when we are running such a complex organisation, which goes from counter-terrorism right the way through to PCSOs patrolling day to day. Yes, these are huge cuts; they are very significant cuts, particularly as you get to years three and four. There will be very difficult decisions about the service to the public, to some of our discretionary activity, but our approach is to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that the service to the public is not affected.

Q42   Chair: So the answer is yes, you expect that the services will not be as good as a result of these proposals.

Chief Constable Fahy: I think they will be different. The key thing is that there will be a need for a fundamental change in the way we deliver policing.

Q43   Chair: Chief Constable—Mr Sims? You were very vocal when we went to Cannock Chase.

Chief Constable Sims: It is a similar answer in that I absolutely believe that we can continue to provide the service and protection that our communities need, but taking out, as I will have to, some 2,250 posts does mean that the way that service is presented will necessarily be different. I know that both of us are working hard in our forces to protect the parts of the service that people want, and to challenge the parts that may be at the margins of what people expect policing to deliver. Over the next four years our job is absolutely to make sure that we can continue to protect and serve as we currently do.

Q44   Chair: Do you expect to lose 2,200 police officers or posts in the West Midlands?

Chief Constable Sims: That is a combination, Chair, of about 1,000 police officer posts and about 1,200 or so police staff posts.

Q45   Chair: What about in Greater Manchester? How many posts will you lose?

Chief Constable Fahy: Our prediction at the moment is around 2,800 by the end of the four-year period, roughly split 50-50 between police officers and police staff, as we call them, but with police staff taking the brunt in the early years.

Q46   Chair: What would be the breakdown? Mr Sims has told us it's going to be 1,200 to 1,000. We know from Metropolitan Police that they are going to lose 1,000 posts, so how many police officer posts and how many back office staff?

Chief Constable Fahy: As I said, roughly 50-50, so about 1,400 police staff, 1,400 police officers.

Q47   Chair: Because you're saying you can cope—you'd prefer not to cope but you can cope with this and provide the service in a different way—there is an argument to suggest that perhaps you were overfunded over the last 13 years, and you didn't actually need all this money.

Chief Constable Fahy: We were funded in different ways. There was a big emphasis on things like devolving more activities to the local level, structures like basic command units. There was a lot of partnership funding coming around and, as I say, I think there was already a recognition, certainly in GMP, that some of our headquarters operations had got too big. But things will be—although we'll do our best to try and preserve the service to the public—very, very difficult.

Q48   Chair: West Midlands, perhaps over-funded by the last Government?

Chief Constable Sims: As you would expect I won't agree with that, but I do think that the mission of policing expanded over that 10-year period, and took us into areas of service delivery that were absolutely desirable and are valued by our public, but we now have to accept in the climate that we're in we won't be able to sustain into the future. But I stress that they are at the margins of our core job of protecting and serving.

Q49   Chair: But, Mr Fahy, you all knew this was going to happen, didn't you? Whichever Government got elected you knew there was going to be a problem. Why didn't you make these savings in the good years? Why have you waited until now?

Chief Constable Fahy: Well, I have only been the Chief Constable for Greater Manchester for the last two years and we have been through a programme of efficiencies. We were well ahead and absolutely we anticipated that this was going to happen, and that is why we have very well developed plans about how we're going to get through this.

Q50   Mr Winnick: As I understand it, the West Midlands is more reliant on central Government grants than other police forces. Is that the situation?

Chief Constable Sims: Yes, that's correct.

Q51   Mr Winnick: Therefore there's bound to be a disadvantage compared to other police forces. That's a question.

Chief Constable Sims: Yes. What you are seeing is not an even set of cuts operating across the police service, but a very different set of impacts across different forces. West Midlands is absolutely at the top end, for reasons I'll explain briefly in a second, but there is a magnitude of difference between the smaller shire forces at one end, for example, Surrey. Surrey gets overused, but Surrey is right at the far end of one spectrum and we are almost at the other end. The difference is around a ratio of 3:1 in terms of the scale of the cuts, and the reasons for that, Chair, are twofold. First, it's a question of gearing, in the sense that we get our funding from two sources—from grant that comes from the Home Office and from taxation raised locally. The mix of those two varies hugely between forces.

Q52   Mr Winnick: West Midlands gets less locally.

Chief Constable Sims: Correct. West Midlands, as one of our MPs, we get 87% of our money as grant. We raise 13% of it as local taxation. In some forces that ratio is nearly 50:50, and therefore when a straight percentage cut is taken of grant the impact is hugely disproportionate. That is made worse by the fact that floors and ceilings are then put into the grant regime, which means that for West Midlands, as an example, our grant is £27 million lower than the formula would suggest it should be.

Q53   Mr Winnick: Thank you, Chief Constable. The expected loss of 1,050 police officers is bound to have an adverse impact, including for that matter in my constituency of Walsall North. Would that not be the position?

Chief Constable Sims: I repeat my statement before; it's not where we'd want to be. It means that I will not be providing as much quality as I would wish, but I reassure your constituents in North Walsall that the service that they expect in terms of emergency protection and core service will be there throughout this period.

Q54   Mr Winnick: Obviously you would do your best, like other chief constables. No one would expect otherwise. You're not going to throw your hands up in despair and say it is all finished. We understand that. But at the end of it all, however much you try with your colleagues in the West Midlands, this sort of reduction in Government grant is bound to have an adverse effect on the West Midlands.

Chief Constable Sims: There is an impact, of course there is.

Q55   Chair: Was that a yes or a no?

Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

  Chair: Steve McCabe. I am sorry, you have got another West Midlands MP. You seem to have attracted them.

Q56   Steve McCabe: Can I just put this to both of you, though? I think we're all pleased to hear that you're going to try and do your best to deliver the best you can and reassure the public with the resources that you've got. But if neither of you is able to tell this Committee in any kind of real terms what changes or reductions or diminishing of service the public can expect to see, it does tend to lend credence to the idea that there is fat there and that it has got to be cut. I'm astonished, given the amount of time you've had to think about this, and as I say I'm pleased to hear that you're doing everything to reassure the public, but if the truth is there's not going to be any discernible reduction in service surely that must mean that in the past you've had too much and you've been using it on non-essentials.

Chief Constable Sims: I feel I can't win on this argument. I know that I'm losing 1,000 posts before 31 March next year. That is planned in the sense that—as you raised, Chair—we've been looking at this for the last 18 months and we are doing it in a professional way that protects the part of the service that your constituents would expect. If you want to make the point that service will change as a result of those 1,000 posts going, of course it will. Of course it will.

Q57   Steve McCabe: What we're trying to understand is what will we see as being different? That's the point I can't hear.

Chief Constable Fahy: If I can give examples, I think there will be less discretionary activity by patrol officers, so more of their effort is going to be directed against particular problems. It will be things like schools-based officers and things like us following particular lines of inquiry that we know are probably not going to lead anywhere. A lot of this will be discussions with the public, things like why a front office—

Q58   Chair: Will there be closure of police stations?

Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely, but at the moment we've got police stations open where we know there are going to literally be one or two callers right the way through the night. Now I think the public—

Q59   Chair: Why are they still open, then?

Chief Constable Fahy: Well, because the public expects them to be and local politicians, with great respect, place a huge importance on them: "Why is this police station closing?" Well, it's not closing, the officers are still out there, the officers will work from that station but the front office is a different matter—so we do need support. The other issue has been political—if I can say it—almost an obsession with the number of police officers, which meant that we've kept that number artificially high. We have had lots of police officers doing administrative posts just to hit that number. It's that sort of thing that we are going to concentrate on, so the service can be provided, but from a mixed work force.

Q60   Mark Reckless: One question for Mr Sims and one for Mr Fahy. Mr Sims, I can understand that there would be an element of redistribution within a grant formula—perhaps for higher crime areas—but you said that West Midlands council taxpayers are only paying for 13% of their policing, whereas in Surrey I think it was nearer 50%, four times as high. Doesn't that suggest that the redistribution has got rather out of kilter and we're just seeing a bit of a re-equilibrium of that?

Chief Constable Sims: No. I think what it suggests is the need for fundamental reform of the funding of police. That is a political issue, not a policing issue, but I think a number of us have known for some time that it is not sustainable that a citizen in Guildford pays so much less than a citizen in Birmingham. I do think that position needs to be unwound over a period of time, but let me assure you that the formula reflects need. Need is determined by demographics and level of crime and it is need that drives the resources that I get. If what you're saying is that the structure of funding of police in need of some reform, I think it is.

Q61   Mark Reckless: But surely someone in Surrey is paying significantly more than someone in the West Midlands and isn't it possible that this formula pushing so much money towards the big city forces has perhaps allowed some forces to have greater costs than is necessary to do their job?

Chief Constable Sims: No.

Q62   Mark Reckless: Mr Fahy, I was interested in your comment that lines of inquiry were pursued that you didn't expect to lead anywhere, but earlier you said that the difficult decisions would be faced in years three and four. I just wondered why you said that when the cuts are more frontloaded towards years one and two.

Chief Constable Fahy: Because if you take the example of Greater Manchester Police we think out of the £133 million that we need to save, £100 million we can get from—to use management jargon—the back office and the middle office. It's when you start getting into the frontline savings where you have to start making those difficult decisions, about the way that police officers work, about the lines of inquiry, about the discretionary activity. It is there that we will need a much more radical approach to the way that we deliver policing. There has been discussion in the previous session about the inspection regime, but I think our big concern is the way that the management of risk is constantly ratcheted up. My big concern as well is that as other agencies see reductions in funding, we'll be faced with more and more issues. For instance, my officers spend a lot of time waiting at the doors of mental hospitals to try and get patients admitted. If the health authorities are reducing their spending they're going to spend more and more time doing that. It's that sort of issue. I think I raised in Staffordshire, at the session there, that a lot of our activities are repeat activity. It's going back to the same locations; it's the same group of repeat offenders going in and out of the criminal justice system. It is about a very different approach to that, a much greater focus on trying to reduce demand and particularly repeat demand, which is what we're going to have to do if we're to get out the other end of this and preserve that service to the public.

Q63   Mark Reckless: If you can make the cuts in years one and two without taking the difficult decisions doesn't that suggest that you were rather overfunded previously?

Chief Constable Fahy: These are very difficult decisions; there are obviously huge numbers of people who are facing redundancy and that is very painful for them. There is huge human cost, but it is about things like having to centralise activities, whereas in the past, up until about a year ago, the big push from us was to devolve more and more to the local level, to have separate HR units and separate training units. All forces are now madly centralising that. We were told we had to have basic command units and a number of the smaller forces are doing away with basic command units. That is more difficult in big cities where you've got the very strong boroughs, but it's that sort of thing that forces are looking at.

Q64   Mr Burley: A question on the numbers. I think, Mr Sims, you said that there are 1,000 police officer posts that you are losing in the West Midlands and I think 1,200 was your number. I just wonder if either of you gentlemen have done any analysis of what those individual officers are doing. Are they police officers patrolling the streets of Birmingham or are they police officers sitting in the stations doing statistical analysis for the Home Office?

Chief Constable Sims: There are two points here. The posts fall where the posts fall, because they are driven by retirement. I can only reduce the number of police officers at the point that people retire, so the 1,000 is not a sort of scientific number that I've come across. It is understanding that we are now as a force applying regulation A19, so we are requiring officers to retire at the 30-year point and knowing that that's going to be applied throughout the next four-year period and understanding that recruitment will be at zero, I know then that that is going to generate about 1,000 posts. Then I think the task is to understand how the organisation is reconfigured in the light of 1,000 officers less. My task, as you would expect, is to protect delivery at all costs, to protect front line, to protect neighbourhood, which has been such a success, and to keep our ability to deliver the policing that people want.

  Sorry, Chair, just one sentence to finish if I may. In year one, that is all about cutting away at things like criminal justice, custody arrangements, call handling and so on. As you get into year two—for us the worst year is year two where we face finding about £38 million—it is absolutely the case that we will have to look at the reconfiguration of what you would understand as our front line.

Q65   Mr Burley: As your role is essentially a CEO, do you find it frustrating that you look at your force and the only way you can make reductions in police officer numbers is through the use of A19—by definition getting rid of your most experienced officers and the number being determined by the number of people who are at retirement age? Would you rather have that management ability to say, "I'd rather get rid of this guy in his 20s who hasn't got much experience and keep the guy who has got 30 years," but you can't because the office of constable prevents you from having that management ability?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think it's a frustration but on the other hand it's something that we support, in terms that ACPO does not support that there should be redundancy of police officers in that way. You have to bear in mind as well that the officers who have 30 years' service could retire at any time—can leave at any time. Therefore you can't rely on them in terms of that experience. My big concern as well is the fact that we are not recruiting for the next two or three years; we are not bringing in any fresh blood and there are going to be hardly any promotions, so that is going to be really difficult as an organisation.

Q66   Mr Burley: If you made people redundant you could then recruit and get fresh blood in.

Chief Constable Fahy: You could, and that's why we'll use A19 and that is why we'll look at things like—

Q67   Mr Burley: You've just said you don't support it. Even though you could do that you wouldn't want to?

Chief Constable Fahy: No, because you've also got to look at the good will, which we rely on, and the professionalism of our officers and the restrictions you put on their private lives, and the fact that they don't have the right to strike and all those issues. It is a difficult balance.

Q68   Lorraine Fullbrook: Two questions to both chief constables. Do both of your forces currently operate two-man patrol crews, and do you operate two-man or more prisoner transfer movements currently?

Chief Constable Sims: Officers, of course. We do in some circumstances. It's something that is risk-assessed against need. We do single-patrol in some places at some times. We do two-officer patrols in other circumstances. In terms of prisoner escort, a lot of that is outsourced activity anyway, but again it would be a question of risk-assessing the nature of the prisoner and the nature of the journey.

Chief Constable Fahy: Again the same answer, it is very much risk-assessed. Very tight control on what our officers are doing; we have satellite tracking of our vehicles, very close control about what they're doing. In our system we have what we call pacesetter meetings every four hours where we look at what officers are doing, what calls have come in, who's been arrested. That is the key to value for money. We spend most of our money on our staff, on our officers, so the key function the whole time is: what are they doing? Is it intelligence-led, are we grabbing hold of opportunities, and are we making sure that crimes are investigated quickly? We're getting out and grabbing those opportunities and identifying that repeat business and trying to solve the problem, not merely keep on reacting. You're absolutely right, that is the sort of approach.

Q69   Lorraine Fullbrook: But based on risk assessment you do currently operate single-officer patrol crews?

Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely.

Q70   Lorraine Fullbrook: A further comment to Chief Constable Fahy. Chief Constable, you said earlier that you currently have police officers performing back office functions and administration. Would you say that you're a classic example of 11% of police officers being on the beat?

Chief Constable Fahy: That is a very misleading figure in our view, because it related to just one part of policing and we cover all different streams of policing right the way from counter-terrorism down to visible patrol. For instance, I have quite a number of officers in my murder squad, if you want to use that term. They are available to you, to the public; if a murder occurred they would provide you with the most professional service. They are available to the public; they are not out there as bobbies on the beat and they are not in that 11%. But you're absolutely right, because of that issue about keeping up, what you regarded often was an artificial number of police officers. We start from a very inefficient position, particularly in the metropolitan forces, where we have large numbers of officers still in roles that do not require the skills, the powers and expertise of a police officer. It is through that route over the next four years where we will achieve quite a bit of savings.

  Chair: Nicola Blackwood has been sitting very patiently to ask question two.

Q71   Nicola Blackwood: Can you explain to me why different forces had such different reactions to the funding settlement, given that we knew that this was coming quite a significant time beforehand? I have a quote from Staffordshire Police saying that the funding settlement was broadly in line with expectations and a quote from West Midlands saying that the funding settlement was much worse news than you were hoping for. Why was there such disparity, in your opinion?

Chief Constable Sims: I think that quote is from my authority chair.

  Nicola Blackwood: It's attributed here to the police.

Chief Constable Sims: Okay. When the settlement finally arrived at us, yes, it was broadly in line with what we were thinking, but I suppose there was always a chance that Government would choose not to apply the floors and ceilings and to take account of the gearing effect that I described if it wanted to establish parity across the 43 forces. Instead it has chosen a route that clearly puts the bulk of the cuts at the big metropolitan forces.

Q72   Nicola Blackwood: Given that the outcome was in line with what you were expecting, could you both give me an assessment of how well your forces are prepared for that outcome in comparison with other forces? I understand there has been some unevenness in preparation between different forces.

Chief Constable Sims: Well, I can't answer for the 43, but we've been planning for this for 18 months. We started our work in June 2009. We have already gone through a big restructuring piece, which was aimed at creating an affordable structure. We have frozen police staff recruitment for nearly 15 months, I think, in order to give us some headroom in terms of numbers. We have a change programme that is addressing many of the issues that we've been discussing, so we feel that we have been absolutely on top of this.

  Initially, in the absence of any figures for the level of cuts to expect, our planning assumption was for a gap of about £50 million a year. We now know that the gap is in excess of £125 million. That hasn't suddenly dawned on us; it has been clear since the election that it was going to be roughly at that scale, but this is absolutely at the top end of any expectation that we would have had.

Q73   Nicola Blackwood: In the light of that could both of you give me some assessment of your action plan to try and make these savings and in particular how that will impact on the support functions and the operational functions?

Chief Constable Fahy: Again, like Chris, we've been preparing for this for the last two years. We've completely reorganised the way that we do local policing, achieved all sorts of efficiencies, improvements in performance and a better service to the public on things like setting appointment times—if you call us, when we'll turn up—those sorts of issues. We were already very well prepared looking at our whole headquarters operations. That's why way back in November we had our big meetings, and our staff know who are the ones at risk of losing their job. We're going through that consultation process at the moment. We know where we have to find our savings over the next two years, in terms of the balance between the back office and the middle office—to use that jargon again—so we are very well prepared. We have a very good understanding about what our officers are doing, about how they're spending their time, and the link between different tactics and performance, and we will use that sort of information as we have to make more difficult decisions about how officers work—crossing boundaries, using things like satellite tracking, reducing the number of custody units that are open, shutting front offices, and really concentrating our effort on the most persistent offenders. It's those sorts of issues, so we do feel very well prepared. The big risk is what happens with the world outside in terms of what other agencies do and this particular issue about the risk agenda—the fact that we feel we are held more and more responsible for more and more outcomes, particularly on the issue of what we call vulnerability. That is whether it is child abuse, elder abuse, people with mental health problems, or people with health problems, where just because an officer has had some contact we are then responsible for their care and if something tragic happens we then have a huge inspection.

Q74   Chair: So that means less time spent on preventative work.

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, absolutely. I think it's discretionary work, but examples are that we've learnt a lot around antisocial behaviour, we're putting a lot more work into gathering information, doing risk assessments, and local bobbies on the beat are doing that. We think we will provide a better service as a result of that, to identify repeat offenders and repeat victims.

Q75   Chair: But Nicola Blackwood raised the issue of savings and procurement. Your budget on procurement is what, Mr Sims?

Chief Constable Sims: I think we procure for about 9% of our budget, so it's about £60 million on procurable assets.

Q76   Chair: What is yours, Mr Fahy?

Chief Constable Fahy: It's about the same. We spend around 82% to 84% of our budget on staff, so what is outside staff is a small proportion of the budget.

Q77   Chair: Do you both for example buy different makes of vehicles?

Chief Constable Sims: We buy a lot of our vehicles locally because we've got a—

Q78   Chair: Yes, but is it a different make from Manchester, for example?

Chief Constable Sims: There'll be a crossover. Can I check—

Q79   Chair: But why can't you all just collaborate much more in order to get the best deal?

Chief Constable Sims: Because at the moment we source our vehicles considerably more cheaply than the national model would allow us to do, and that's the case with many, many other commodities. I do think procurement is a huge red herring in this debate. If we were to do everything we could on procurement, if we were to believe all the optimists out there, there is a potential 1% to be made. We need to move this debate—

Q80   Chair: 1% meaning what to your budget?

Chief Constable Sims: 1% meaning a few million—£4 million or £5 million—when I'm looking at £125 million savings. We need to move the debate on from procurement. In answer to your question, because 83% of my money is spent on staff, as soon as we are into the cuts of the order that we are in, the issue becomes the management of head count. So our preparation has been establishing a new structure that could cope with the reduced head count. It means going through detailed discussions in the force with trade unions and the Federation, and as I said earlier, we will move to lose around 1,000 posts before 31 March next year, which is the first stage of our work.

Chair: Mark Reckless has some questions on specific grants—or one question.

Q81   Mark Reckless: Yes, I wondered whether you welcomed the removal of the ring-fencing of grant and the greater freedom with that, but I also wanted to ask you about the differences across the country. We have heard about Kent or Surrey and the issues there. Our Chief Constable in Kent sees the spending reductions as an opportunity to deliver a more efficient and effective force, but we have heard from you that there appear to be some real difficulties in year three in Greater Manchester and in year two perhaps in the West Midlands. One issue is the possibility of greater flexibility if you're able to make police officers redundant, but surely also the issue is that costs are a lot higher in Kent and in Surrey. Could you not have greater local pay bargaining for police officers? Perhaps you could keep more police on the streets if you just paid them in line with the local cost of living.

Chief Constable Fahy: Our experience of that is that it tends to ramp up costs, not bring costs down and we don't want a market in police officers, with firearms officers getting a bonus in one force and not in another. There is a south-east allowance that has on the whole been successful, although it causes problems. I was in Surrey when we started to lose huge numbers of officers into the Metropolitan Police because they were paying more money. I don't think overall that that would be efficient for policing. There needs to be real focus on this issue about work force and the way we reward people and I know there was discussion in the previous session about the Winsor Review. That has to be about how we incentivise our officers and our staff in general to produce higher quality, to take on more responsibility and use that professional discretion. We have a huge opportunity in the quality of our staff and their motivation and their desire to serve the public. On the whole, for all sorts of reasons, we've not been good at using that. As you say, the future gives us a great opportunity to do that.

Q82   Lorraine Fullbrook: A small question about the preparations you've been making for two years. Obviously when you started to make those preparations in order for cuts to be made you had no idea who was going to be in power. Who asked you to make those preparations two years ago?

Chief Constable Fahy: Nobody. You saw that the economic situation was changing and, I think as the Chairman said, it was inevitable. So it's just about the scale of the cuts that were going to hit us.

Q83   Lorraine Fullbrook: So you weren't specifically required by the Government to make preparations at that time? You were never asked to do that?

Chief Constable Fahy: No.

Q84   Lorraine Fullbrook: Moving on to the police and crime commissioners, how do you see introducing the new governance arrangements at the time of the introduction of the police and crime commissioners?

Q85   Chair: Before we go on to that, neither of you are standing for this post, are you?

Chief Constable Fahy: We are not allowed to. We wanted to, but we aren't.


Q86   Chair: We recommended you shouldn't. What do you mean, you're not allowed to? If you resigned, you could stand, couldn't you?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think there's a time limit; it's proposed there would be a time limit before people who have left the force can apply.

  Chair: We didn't realise the Government had accepted our recommendation.

Chief Constable Sims: I would be willing to manage Peter's campaign.

  Chair: Sorry, Ms Fullbrook.

Q87   Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you, Chairman. On the basis that the cuts are over a four-year period and the police and crime commissioners will be introduced, if you like, years three and four, what risks would you see in this introduction to the savings that you have to make?

Chief Constable Sims: A very particular one-off difficulty is that our most difficult year is 2012-13, and 2012-13 will I think require some difficult budgetary decisions that will be different in every force but they will be difficult everywhere. The timing is, I think, unfortunate because the budget will clearly need to be set before April, so the budget will be set by an outgoing police authority who will then not be part of the arrangement for managing that budget, and the commissioner will arrive in May and pick up 11 months of a budget that's been set by someone else. I do think that is going to require a lot of maturity from all parties. I know I can speak for West Midlands Police Authority; they are very, very conscious of that and want to make sure that they leave the sort of legacy that would be right and proper. But I do think that one moment is going to present some difficult handling.

Q88   Lorraine Fullbrook: But people in the private and public sector, from time immemorial, have picked up somebody else's budgets.

Chief Constable Fahy: This is a different form of governance and also there is a transfer of some of the responsibilities that were in the force on to the commissioner. Given the fact that it is a new post, there will clearly be political vibrancy and interest around that and we don't know what that will be like. For instance, some of the Home Office figures are dependent on there being an increase in the precept after the one-year freeze. Clearly, we have no idea whether a politician is likely to be elected on the basis of increasing the council tax or saying there'll be no increase in the council tax, so that sort of uncertainty absolutely will be in the system. It's not just a change of administration.

Q89   Lorraine Fullbrook: But surely these people will be elected on what they would like to deliver for the local people and the local people's needs in policing? They won't be elected on a council tax basis.

  Chief Constable Sims: But they are not going to be able to action that over 11 months. To clarify, it's not the management of the budget, which is devolved anyway, it's the decision-making on the budget at the point where the gap between what we're able to cut is going to be at its widest. That is going to be a very important year for decision-making on the scale of local tax. That decision is not going to be made by the person elected, but by the outgoing authority.

Q90   Chair: Can I just ask you a couple of questions? Then Mr Winnick has a question on issues that have been in the public domain over the last few days. Today there is an article in The Times about an operation that took place in your area, Mr Fahy. I quote from The Times, "Police knew in 2008 of claims that girls aged from 13 to 16, some of them from a children's home in Greater Manchester, were being used as drugged sexual toys by a network of men, many of them private hire taxi drivers. It appears that the file was closed and these individuals continued with their abuse." Can you tell the Committee anything about this?

Chief Constable Fahy: Obviously, it's a very concerning case. There clearly was an investigation at that point. We're looking into all the reasons behind that and clearly the IPCC will look into the reasons why that prosecution or that investigation cannot be brought to a conviction. But clearly it's part of a wider concern that we have about the whole issue—about young people in care and the number that go missing, the number of them who then become vulnerable on the streets of a big city like Greater Manchester.

Q91   Chair: So the matter is still being pursued?

Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely. There is a whole series of investigations. We have had a number of investigations, as is known, that we have brought to a successful prosecution, and indeed a number of arrests have been made in the case over the last few days.

Q92   Chair: The second issue is undercover police officers. Presumably Mr Winnick will question you more on the principle, but do you both have undercover officers at the moment, and are they an important part of the work that you all do?

Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely, and they are very tightly controlled and have very tight oversight from RIPA—the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act—and the commissioners who oversee that. It is something that is very tightly controlled and which does play an enormous contribution in some very, very difficult investigations into some very determined criminals.

Q93   Chair: Is it unusual for them to suddenly turn sides and act for the other side?

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, because it is so well managed and so tightly controlled and because there is a lot of concern about the welfare of those officers, the sort of case that we have had over the last couple of days is extremely rare.

Q94   Mr Winnick: The general perception over a long period of time is of course, and you have just confirmed it, that the police force have undercover agents and it would be strange if it was otherwise. Certainly, as I mentioned on the Floor of the House yesterday, one would expect it certainly in terrorism cases. What one wouldn't expect, and this is more in the form of a question, is that if it was a terrorist case which was being investigated, the undercover agent would do anything to incite acts of terrorism. That goes without saying. The allegation in this particular case is that before he changed sides the undercover police agent—apparently he was so employed over a period of seven years, if the information is correct— somehow crossed the line, and demonstrators who were involved said in effect that he was organising protests, occupation and the rest. Would you as chief constables expect that from an undercover agent?

Chief Constable Sims: No, and I do think we have to be careful about the case that you are talking about, because that's already subject to inquiry and I don't think we can simply take—

  Mr Winnick: Although it is not sub judice.

Chief Constable Sims: Let me talk in generality.

  Chair: If you could do so briefly, because we have other witnesses.

Chief Constable Sims: Well, just very briefly, the point that Peter made about the oversight arrangements for undercover police work includes at ACC level initial decision-making about deployment, of which proportionality is a big part of that decision-making, and then includes the management of the conduct of the person undertaking the duty. Big in the management of conduct is making sure that the line is not crossed between infiltration to gather intelligence and, as you say, the agent provocateur role that is absolutely not part of the system.

Q95   Mr Winnick: It seems to have been in this particular case.

Chief Constable Sims: I don't think we know that yet.

Mr Winnick: But you said that inquiries are going to take place.

Chief Constable Sims: Yes.

Q96   Mr Winnick: At what level?

Chief Constable Sims: I understand there's an IPCC investigation that the Chief in Nottinghamshire has prompted, and I'm sure there'll be others.

Q97   Chair: Mr Sims and Mr Fahy, thank you very much for coming. I'm sure you have huge amounts of work to do today and on other days in preparing your budgets. We're very grateful to you. Thank you for coming in to see us.


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