How transparent are PCCs on what they spend?

Whilst working on the latest CoPaCC Report this week, I’ve been spending some time looking for and analysing PCCs’ statutory declarations of their (and their forces’) “spending over £500”.

Following the Home Affairs Select Committee’s first report on PCC activity, most PCCs now realise that there are statutory obligations on them to be transparent in their dealings. And it seems to me that several are realising that it’s not just for statutory reasons that “transparency” is worthwhile. There are political gains to be had too. As John Tizard put it on Twitter, in response to my expressing frustration that not every PCC was yet fulfilling their statutory obligations…

John Tizard tweet

There are some PCCs that appear now to be working hard to be more transparent. All have some way to go, though. In this blog, I’ll identify a handful of “good practice” points (and one or two “poor practice”), and will shortly be making much more detail available to CoPaCC Report subscribers. Please note, though: in this blog, the identification of a specific element of a PCC’s approach as either good (or poor) practice does NOT mean that their approach to transparency is universally good (or poor). There is not (yet) any one PCC that is as transparent as really they all ought to be.

Let’s start with some examples of “good practice”. 

1. Making it easy to find the page you want on the PCC’s website. Some PCCs’ websites are frankly abysmal – I’ve blogged about this several times before. Other PCC website are good, and several are now clearly making strenuous efforts to get even better. Try this for yourself – just visit your local PCC’s website and see how quickly you can find the page that covers “Spending over £500”! If you’re not sure how to find your PCCs website – just go via the CoPaCC “Compare PCCs” page.

2. Setting out the material clearly and rationally, with the user’s needs in mind. Let’s assume you’re readily able to find the page that deals with “spending over £500”. Here’s an example of good practice from South Yorkshire…

Transparency on £500 - South Yorkshire

Clean-looking page, clearly labelled as “Spending over £500”, a recognition of the statutory reason for providing the data in this way, data provided SEPARATELY for both OPCC and the force, provided by month, reasonably up-to-date, an explanation of why some figures under £500 are there, and provision in both PDF and Excel formats.

3. Make sure the links you provide actually work! It’s very difficult to illustrate this as a screenshot either a positive or a negative. However, at the time of writing this blog, Avon & Somerset’s link to their “May 2013 Report” from their Spending Transparency page did not work. I suspect they’ll fix it quite quickly now – so if you visit the page, don’t be surprised if it now does work.

And now, some examples of poor practice…

1. Not publishing the information at all. Here’s the Derbyshire PCC’s page on “How your money is spent”. Nothing that clearly meets his statutory obligation to publish “spending over £500”. It’s not elsewhere either – using the search box (at least it’s there – not all PCCs provide!) and entering “£500” returns the message: “Your search did not match any content”. (Incidentally there’s also an example on this page that proofreading your website content is a good idea).

Transparency on £500 - Derbyshire

2. Not publishing the information when PCCs say they will. Here’s an example of one of my major frustrations at the moment – the equivalent of a statement that the data is “coming soon”. It’s here compounded by a statement that the data “will be available in early June”. I’m preparing this blog on 21st June – the Cleveland PCC has clearly missed his self-set “early June” deadline. Red lines and arrows are my additions…

Transparency on £500 - Cleveland

3. Providing the information in a format that is not user-friendly. Difficult to illustrate this in a picture here – but take a look at Gloucestershire’s March declaration and I hope you’ll see what I mean. Try to work out how much money was paid to any one supplier. You could do it with time – and probably only if you had a printer and a pair of scissors.

4. Redacting. Redaction is where PCCs (or forces, or indeed any body with a statutory obligation to publish information) claim that commercial or operational sensitivities mean they cannot disclose that information. It’s perfectly possible for PCCs to avoid redacting – I’m grateful to Miranda Carruthers-Watt, the Chief Executive of the Lancashire OPCC, for this tweet during a twitter conversation:

Transparency on £500 - MC-W

It’s good to have this reassurance that Lancashire OPCC don’t redact. But other OPCCs do, and certainly some police forces have a habit of using redaction a lot more than I suspect they should. I suspect there’s a significant opportunity here for PCCs to show their value – getting their forces to wean themselves off their redaction addiction. Over the past couple of days, I’ve grown all the more frustrated at how much this is used, and on significant spends, too. For example, Sussex Police’s April 2013 “spending over £500” declaration uses the term “redacted” 135 times, including on one payment of £878,974.26. (It also suggests the force made three payments to “Surrey Police Authority” – which no longer exists of course! But I digress.)  I’ll return to this in a future blog – maybe ranking PCCs and forces according to how heavily they redact key information.

So – in conclusion – which PCCs are not currently declaring their “spending over £500”?

I’ve set out some pointers for improvement here – and my material for CoPaCC subscribers will contain more detail, for PCCs, Panels and others to act upon. Over the past few days, I’ve also been doing my best to encourage those PCCs that haven’t yet published this information to do just that, for example through this tweet…

Transparency on £500 - BJR re DM

And, three days ago, I alerted all to my intention to use this blog to “name and shame” the worst performers…

Transparency on £500 - BJR re name and shame

Several PCCs have subsequently contacted me, and have also improved their websites.

So, which PCCs do I believe are STILL contravening the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011 by not publishing (in any reasonably timely form) information on their “spending over £500”? I have been unable to find relevant material on the websites of the following PCCs…

Cleveland, Derbyshire, Durham, Norfolk, North Wales, Nottinghamshire, South Wales

Do please contact me if you know better – i.e. the information IS (now) there and I have overlooked it. I will gladly update this blog accordingly.

UPDATE [21st June 2013, 11.30am]: I thought I’d add this screenshot from one PCC’s statement of “spending over £500”. It’s one of those occasions where the force and PCC produce a single combined list (this, incidentally, is most unhelpful to the PCC, for reasons I’ll set out separately). It provides an illustration, though, where the information provided is unhelpful to all – to the public, to the force AND to the PCC. Why? Because the spend is poorly categorised. The entry marked “Audit Fees” (my red arrow) is within a column headed “Description of Expenditure”. The suppliers are Capita Business Services Ltd (twice) and Capita Secure Resource Solutions Ltd. Neither provides audit services. A clear example of GIGO (do please follow the link – the Charles Babbage quote is brilliant). Yet an example of how transparency can be useful – maybe my highlighting this will encourage this force (and others) to be more careful in how they categorise their spending in future. It’s not just on crime stat recording that accuracy is important!

Transparency - Capita as audit fees

Which force? In the spirit of transparency: Wiltshire.

UPDATE [21st June 2013, 12.40pm]: Here’s another element that scarcely inspires confidence in the data. My red arrow is again pointing at the “Description of Expenditure” column – this time from West Midlands’ “spending over £500” declaration. Why exactly are they using a reference that explicitly states “do not use”?! (Incidentally, apologies for the text size – this also illustrates how little thought is given by many forces/OPCCs to the ‘user experience’ by the providers of this data).

Transparency - Capita do not use

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “How transparent are PCCs on what they spend?

  1. Pingback: The Cleveland PCC’s £500 “time-warp” | Bernard Rix - mostly re policing...

  2. Pingback: YOUR views on PCCs’ transparency: strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad… | Bernard Rix - mostly re policing...

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