Two former chief police officers have been asked to repay £100,000 they received in pay and perks which have now been deemed potentially unlawful.
This contrasts with neighbouring West Yorkshirte where the police and crime commissioner has not challenged £250,000 paid to former chief constable Sir Norman Bettison on top of his salary, over a five-year period.
North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has written to former chief constable Grahame Maxwell and his former deputy Adam Briggs to request repayment in a move which could have significant ramifications for forces up and down the country.
Julia Mulligan’s intervention follows an internal inquiry ordered in the wake of a Yorkshire Post investigation which revealed the widespread provision of lucrative extra benefits and pay to chief police officers outside of tightly restricted national regulations.
Her decision to seek repayment – may be followed with legal action.
Whereas West Yorkshire’s PCC Mark Burns-Williamson continues to stand by the payments to Sir Norman – which included some similar to those provided in North Yorkshire – and is not reviewing them.
Police pay is subject to national regulations set in 2003, supplemented by formal directions issued by the Home Secretary, but many former police authorities – which were replaced by the regime of PCCs a year ago – set up local pay and benefit packages for their chief officers.
Questions surrounding their lawfulness began to emerge a year ago when the district auditor for both North Yorkshire and Cleveland police authorities publicly reported they did not have a legal basis to be paid.
Earlier this year, the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner’s office subsequently launched legal action to recover hundreds of thousands of pounds paid to disgraced former chief constable Sean Price in annual retention and bonus payments. He was sacked for gross misconduct in October 2012.
Mrs Mulligan has now followed up by asking Mr Maxwell and Mr Briggs to repay a total of £99,866, identified as being potentially unlawful following an inquiry into payments to chief officers made over the past six years. Details of the specific elements of pay involved have not been disclosed but they are understood to included payment of “personal development” allowances and a car allowance.
A decision notice issued by the North Yorkshire PCC said: “Locally determined conditions of service have been quite commonly adapted in respect of Chief Police Officers, although it is clear that the former Police Authority in North Yorkshire managed more recently to limit the extent and cost of such payments.
“Out recent review concludes, however, that there have been several local allowances paid to Chief Police Officers, in the past, which do not appear with hindsight to have been within the power of the Police Authority to pay.”
It adds that members and officers of the former police authority agreed the payments in good faith.
Asked whether the North Yorkshire review had ramifications for other force areas, Mrs Mulligan said: “It definitely does. I’ve spoken to a number of commissioners who are facing similar circumstances and they are going through a similar process, considering what action they are going to take and seeking legal advice.
“In the light of what’s happened here, I absolutely would say PCCs do need to have a really good look at this and I do know that many of them are.”
If repayment is not forthcoming, the North Yorkshire PCC is seeking legal advice on potential further steps to recover the money.
In West Yorkshire, Sir Norman received an annual payment of £34,000 for a car or cars, despite also being provided with a chauffeur-driven car for all official duties. He also received £8,500 for “health and wellbeing” which was for private health insurance (including dental and optical cover) and gym membership – both benefits covering the chief constable and his immediate family. Benefits in the package also included £6,800 for “continuing personal development activities of your choice, either in the UK or overseas”.
The Yorkshire Post has previously revealed Mr Burns-Williamson, in his former role as chairman of West Yorkshire Police Authority, was scheduled to write to the Home Secretary in 2007 to seek approval for the payments but approval was never obtained.
The West Yorkshire PCC has previously contended the police authority had legal advice it could make the payments under a general public spending power contained in the Local Government Act 1972. However that legal route was specifically ruled out by Mark Kirkham, the former district auditor for both police authorities,
But a West Yorkshire PCC spokesman said: “So far as West Yorkshire is concerned, the Police and Crime Commissioner is satisfied that the payments made to Sir Norman Bettison were lawful, consistent with the legal advice received by the former Police Authority and at no additional cost to the taxpayer as compared with any other postholder in the office of Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.”
The Essex PCC, Nick Alston, said he was awaiting legal opinion on payments made to Roger Baker, former North Yorkshire deputy chief constable, who received some of the highest extra’ payments of any chief officer in the country as Essex chief constable.
Accounts for 2008/09 show Mr Baker received a bonus of £50,000, plus expense allowances amounting to £26,000, on top of his salary of £139,000. He left his post in July 2009 but still received a £60,000 bonus and expense allowances of £15,000.
Mr Alston said: “I am still awaiting the report of legal counsel as to whether these payments were lawful. As a matter of principle, if those payments were unlawful, then I will be seeking urgent professional opinion on the merits of recovering public money in such circumstances.”