Monday 22nd July 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Financial Control the OPFCC way

Financial Control the OPFCC way

by TIM HICKS

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Introduction

Police, Fire & Crime Commissioners, Chief Police Officers and senior members of their support staff are required to publish their expenses. This is to meet the requirement for openness and accountability in policing.

In my last article, here, I covered financial control over North Yorkshire Police (NYP) Chief Officer’s expenses. In this article I cover financial control in the Office of the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire (OPFCC) and the bizarre situation prevailing with the Joint NYP/OPFCC Audit Committee.

Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Zoë Metcalfe

Commissioner Zoë Metcalfe’s expenses appeared to me to be reasonable and fully disclosed.

Mr Simon Dennis

Mr Simon Dennis is the Chief Executive of the OPFCC and is required to publish his expenses. His expenses appeared to me to be reasonable.

However, on 29th June 2022 Mr Dennis paid for £275.00 for tickets for the Great Yorkshire Show using a corporate credit card, which is disclosed in his expenses on the NYP website. This caused me some concern for the following reasons:

  • The OPFCC was an exhibitor at the show, so any OPFCC staff that needed to attend would have entry to the show without having to pay for admission. It would therefore appear that the beneficiaries of the tickets – whoever they were – were not needed to actually run the OPFCC stand. Once they had received a ticket, the beneficiaries were able to roam the site at will.
  • It is impossible to tell from the expenses sheet who received these tickets or the justification for this expenditure.

Being a fair minded individual and in accordance with the NUJ’s code of ethics, I raised these concerns with Commissioner Metcalfe by sending her a draft copy of an article covering this situation. I was very surprised to receive back this response almost immediately:

“Thank you for your email. As you know, we do not ordinarily respond to your requests or to your publications. That remains the position of this Office.

North Yorkshire Police maintain a like stance and on this occasion, may or may not choose to depart from it.

However, since you have published misleading information in respect of the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner we are exercising discretion from the perspective of the Office to provide you with the following response.”

    1. Your article is misleading about the Office of the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, specifically as follows.
    2. The Chief Executive did not claim the cost of tickets for the Great Yorkshire Show as part of an expenses claim in June 2022 or at all.
    3. As the published material clearly shows, a corporate credit card was used by the Office to purchase such tickets in June 2022. See Chief Executive Officer & Monitoring Officer’s Expenses 2022-2023 (northyorkshire-pfcc.gov.uk)
    4. Tickets were purchased for entry for members of OPFCC staff at a preferential advance purchase rate of £25 per ticket, for the purpose of staffing and operating the OPFCC stand at the event across the four-day event, in order to discharge our responsibilities for engaging with the public and providing information and advice on policing, fire, crime and victims services. [OPFCC statement here].
    5. You are incorrect to state that entry for such staff is free.
    6. You are therefore also incorrect to state that “individuals who were not OPFCC employees have nevertheless had their attendance at a social event paid for with OPFCC funds, through employee expenses.”
    7. Your comment that “the Commissioner should not be expending taxpayer’s [sic] money on corporate entertaining” is also incorrect. No such expenditure was incurred.
    8. You are invited to correct the article promptly.

Should you choose to publish this letter, please do so in full and without redaction.”

I would comment in passing that, for months, Commissioner Metcalfe has resolutely refused to comment on concerns I have raised about sexual abuse of female detainees in NYP custody suites. But as soon as I criticised Mr Dennis, I had a full and robust response almost instantaneously. Sadly, this must indicate the Commissioner’s priorities.

The Great Yorkshire Show is organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS), which confirmed the following details to the NYE:

YAS policy for allocating tickets to stand organisers for the Great Yorkshire Show is to allocate a certain number of free tickets to those people manning the stand, based on the size of the stand, to ensure they have enough people to man the stand. As an example, a 36 square metre stand would receive 16 free tickets to allow four people to man the stand for four days. A Great Yorkshire Show spokesperson said:

“Every exhibitor receives an allocated number of free tickets which will vary according to the size of the stand. Should the trade stand holder require more tickets to cover staffing, they can then purchase these at a reduced exhibitor rate.”

Returning to the above response from Commissioner Metcalfe, I would comment as follows:

  • I had not at that time published anything about this expenditure. I had only asked for a comment on a draft, so it is incorrect to say that I have published misleading information about the OPFCC, or indeed anything on this issue at that time.
  • As the OPFCC statement above confirms, the purchase is disclosed on the website as Chief Executive Officer and Monitoring Officer’s Expenses.
  • The Yorkshire Agricultural Show (YAS) has confirmed that entry for staff manning stands is in fact free.
  • In 2022, additional tickets for exhibitors were sold at £25.00 each, not the standard rate of £29.00. They are called Reduced Exhibitor Rate Tickets, not preferential advance purchase rate” tickets.

Given that the number of free tickets issued is proportionate to the size of the stand and intended to ensure that the exhibitor has enough staff to man the stand, it would appear obvious that there was no need to purchase ten additional tickets.

The questions now arise:

  1. Why did the OPFCC buy ten extra tickets, when enough free tickets had already been allocated to man the OPFCC stand?
  2. Who were the beneficiaries of the tickets and on what dates did they attend the show?

I have written to Commissioner Metcalfe asking for this information and she has responded:

“We note your intention to publish our earlier communication in full as requested.

As the letter explains, several staff attended the event across the four days, to staff the OPFCC public engagement stall. The letter is self-explanatory and we have nothing to add to it.”

This, of course, does not explain why, having had enough free tickets to man the stall, it was necessary to purchase ten additional tickets for OPFCC staff – even though our readers are predominantly North Yorkshire taxpayers and have a right to have this information.

Spotlight on the Joint Independent Audit Committee (JIAC).

An important financial control in any organisation is the Audit Committee. The Joint Independent Audit Committee (JIAC) advises the Commissioner and Chief Constable on good governance principles and practices. It is supposed to provide independent scrutiny of the adequacy of NYP’s and the OPFCC’s corporate governance and risk management arrangements.

The Chief Constable and the Commissioner are both required to ensure that there is a robust control and governance framework in place. So it is alarming that the JIAC is now defunct.

The JIAC has to have not less than five members, including one member acting as chair. Currently it has four members:

  • Mr Stuart Green (Chair)
  • Mr Roman Pronyszyn
  • Ms Heather Cook
  • Mr Chris Rowland

Therefore, it is not properly established.

The JIAC has to have a quorum of three members at a meeting, but at the last meeting for which minutes were published on 20th June 2023. It could not muster enough members present to form a quorum. So it could not take any decisions – effectively rendering it non-operational and defunct.

That is bad enough, but the vacancies page on the OPFCC Website shows that the open vacancies for members of the JIAC are not being advertised. So it appears that Chief Constable Winward and Commissioner Metcalfe are happy to let this enormous and inexcusable failure in the NYP and OPFCC Corporate Governance continue indefinitely –  effectively removing an important financial control.

Overview

In my last article, on NYP Chief Officers expenses, here, I revealed that as a result of media scrutiny by the NYE, expenditure has apparently been reclaimed from Chief Constable Winward £209.96, DCC Hussain £11.30 and ACC Foskett £159.25 – a total benefit to the North Yorkshire taxpayer of £380.51. I am still pursuing repayments of expenses by two NYP Chief Officers of an additional £1,375.56.

An internet search of the NYP and OPFCC websites failed to identify any Expenses Policy. This would suggest that there isn’t one. If this is so, it is a major failure of financial control, which allows NYP officers to charge whatever they want to expenses. Hence perhaps the reason that Chief Officers have historically received expenses that should never have been claimed.

In the above article I also revealed that the expenses reports published on the NYP website are inaccurate and incomplete.

Now it transpires that the Audit Committee is virtually defunct.

This is indicative of organisations that are both incapable of meeting normal standards of financial control, resent scrutiny and are not committed to financial control.

North Yorkshire taxpayers pay £105,590 for a Head of Finance, £98,547 for a Chief Finance Officer (CFO) and an unknown amount for an Audit Committee. Chief Constable Winward receives a salary of £154,727, Commissioner Metcalfe receives a salary of £76,300, and Mr Dennis receives a salary of £94,346. Yet both NYP and the OPFCC are unable to meet normal standards of financial control, accountability and transparency that these individuals are supposed to deliver.

Worse, although Chief Constable Winward is supposed to uphold these standards, she is openly and publicly undermining them, by refusing to openly disclose information about her expenses – and the Commissioner is supporting her in this.

If NYP and the OPFCC were financial services organisations – which are tightly regulated – heads would roll over this. However, because the OPFCC and NYP are public bodies, where the standards are much lower, no one is held accountable. After all, it is only public money that is being wasted.

Commissioner Metcalfe, Chief Constable Winward, and the members of the Audit Committee have all received a draft of this article and been given the opportunity to comment.

They had not done so at the time of going to print. Should any comment be received subsequently, it will be published in a new article.


Right of Reply

If you are mentioned in this article and do not agree with the views expressed in it, or if you wish to correct any factual inaccuracy, please let me know using the letters@nyenquirer.uk email address and your views and a correction will be published if appropriate.


 

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