A system used by the PSNI to hire temporary staff — at a cost to the public purse of more than £100m — was “out of control”, a scathing watchdog report has revealed.
To help fill the void left by police officers who retired under Patten, 2,740 temporary workers were employed by the PSNI over the past decade — almost 40% of whom were former officers who had left through the severance scheme.
In a critical report released today by the Audit Office — The Police Service of Northern Ireland: Use of Agency Staff — it was claimed that “inadequate planning” and a lack of governance saw the use of temporary workers soar from 2002 and 2007 without proper consideration on whether a full-time post was warranted.
The auditor general also raised concern that a contract for recruiting temporary staff was awarded to Grafton Recruitment in 2004 without being subject to competition.
Almost 20% of police officers who retired under the Patten severance scheme walked back into civilian jobs within the PSNI, according to the report.
Some of the 1,000 former officers were back working within a matter of days.
One superintendent was re-employed as a consultant — paid £275 a day — to work on a project he had been involved in before he took voluntary redundancy.
He was hired without his job going out to open tender. The PSNI said this was due to national security concerns.
If the officers had returned to work as police officers they would have had to repay their severance lump sum. But this did not apply if they rejoined as civilian staff.
The Chief Constable recently told Stormont’s justice committee that it would be illegal to discriminate against someone based on their previous job.
The ex-officers were re-employed as temporary agency staff; however, some were employed for longer than five years, according to the report.
More than £106m has been spent by the PSNI on agency staff since 2004, the audit report revealed.
The PSNI said that the use of temporary civilian workers has helped make savings of £22m over the last seven years.
However, the auditor general said that the way the PSNI had gone about procuring, appointing and managing temporary staff “has not always met the high standards of governance and accountability expected of public bodies in Northern Ireland”.
In 2001, 5,500 regular and full-time reserve officers retired from the PSNI under Patten.
This resulted in a large loss of skilled and experienced officers and the PSNI relied on agency staff to cover skills shortages and vacancies in a number of policing and non-policing roles.
But auditors found that succession planning for key posts was “inadequate during this period of massive change” and consequently the use of agency staff increased.
By March 2007 the use of temporary staff was “out of control”, the audit report found.
The report said that at that time there was no established corporate policy, no procedure governing the recruitment of agency staff and no strategic oversight. This lack of control saw the number of temporary staff rapidly expand from just over 100 in 2002 to more than 800 in 2007.
It also meant that many roles created were not subject to sufficient job evaluation to ensure there was an appropriate amount of work required to constitute a full-time role, the report found.
The PSNI was also criticised for awarding Grafton Recruitment the contract for recruiting temporary staff without going to open tender. The contract was not subject to competition until 2008 and the report said that in awarding £44m of work without competition, the PSNI “cannot demonstrate the best value was obtained”.
The contract, which was a variation on an existing contract with Grafton, was signed on the PSNI’s behalf by a recruitment manager who did not have the authority to do so. Approval should have been sought from the Deputy Chief Constable, the report said.
Concern was also raised that more than 60 temporary workers — who are working within the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team — are paid through limited companies which can be a means of minimising tax obligations.
The report said that while this is not unlawful “we are unaware of any other public sector body in Northern Ireland currently engaged in this practice”.
In March, there were 391 temporary staff in post, and the PSNI plans to reduce that reliance on agency staff even further.
A PSNI spokeswoman said: “The PSNI welcome the findings of the Northern Ireland Audit Office report. Importantly, in addition to highlighting some areas for improvement, the report recognises the clear business need for the PSNI to use temporary staff in an uncertain financial climate, the value for money provided and also the necessity for some of those workers to require previous policing experience.
“The appropriate place to discuss the detail of the report is with the Policing Board and the Public Accounts Committee and we look forward to having that opportunity in the coming days.”
Police ‘forced to re-employ veterans with experience’
By Deborah McAleese
The implementation of Patten resulted in the loss of some of the PSNI’s most experienced officers within a short period of time.
Due to skills and experience lost, the resurgent terrorist threat, the need to maintain frontline policing and fulfil legacy commitments, the PSNI considered it was essential to use temporary agency staff in order to maintain operational effectiveness.
Many of these temporary posts needed to be filled by former police officers because of their policing skills and knowledge. As a result, almost 20% of officers (1,000) who retired under Patten ended up returning to the PSNI as temporary agency staff through a recruitment agency.
As they were temporary positions, the jobs were not subject to the 50-50 recruitment rule, which was introduced under Patten to increase the number of Catholic police officers.
The issue has been a source of discontent for Sinn Fein who asked the audit committee to investigate. Sinn Fein said the rehiring of these former officers raised concerns about accountability.
But Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file officers, said that at that time there had been a “collective determination by Government and political parties to portray Northern Ireland as being entirely at peace”.
He added that the “consequences of this over-eagerness was an under-resourced police service with no choice but to rehire experienced officers”.
More than 160 former officers are currently employed as temporary staff within the PSNI’s crime operations department, which is responsible for conducting all investigations into organised and serious crime, including murder and terrorism.
As a consequence of voluntary severance the department experienced staff turnover of almost 30% between 2005 and 2011.
Former officers are also currently employed as temporary staff within the Retrospective Murder Review Unit, which was established to re-examine unsolved murders not attributed to the Troubles. These agency staff helped convict a man last year of the 1989 murder of elderly widow Annabella Symington in her Stranmillis home.
Not all the posts required policing skills. Many former officers were re-employed as drivers or in administration roles.
The PSNI has defended the use of former officers and said that it is “competency for a particular role that is relevant, not history”.
And, in February, the Chief Constable Matt Baggott told Stormont’s justice committee that if he were to “create a lack of opportunity for someone based on their previous job, I suspect I would be acting potentially unlawfully”.
Temporary workers currently account for just under 4% of the PSNI’s total workforce.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office said that temporary staff can offer value for money but warned “their use needs to be properly managed and controlled”.
Jonathan Craig, chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s finance committee, said the report demonstrates “indefensible” failings by the PSNI over its use of agency staff.
“You can’t defend the indefensible. The current Chief Constable inherited this problem. Thankfully it is not being abused to the extent that it was, but we cannot take our eye off this. There are some people within the PSNI who may have a lot to answer for.”
Union mounts legal challenge to outsourcing of 1,000 support roles
By Amanda Poole
The largest public sector union in Northern Ireland is taking legal action against the PSNI following the award of a £180m contract to a private security company.
The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) says PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has no right to award the major contract to Resource NI for 1,000 police support roles.
Nipsa has 46,000 members across Northern Ireland, with 1,200 of them working within the PSNI.
Its assistant secretary, Ryan McKinney, said: “We are seeking leave for a judicial review of the decision of the chief constable of the PSNI to award an £180m contract to a private security company, Resource NI.
“Our legal advice is that the Chief Constable has no legal authority to outsource police support roles and therefore is acting unlawfully by entering into this contract.”
Mr McKinney said members have reported to the union many instances of the PSNI facilitating the return of ex-police officers, who have received a Patton severance package, to civilian jobs.
“Those ex-police officers have been returning to civilian roles under the guise of agency workers and under contracts like this,” Mr McKinney said.
“This has created a lot of resentment within the PSNI.
“In the wake of the G4S debacle in the run-up to the Olympics, there needs to be a fully open informed debate on the issue of privatisation of policing.”
A police spokesman said last night: “We will allow the judicial process to take its course.”