Who will watch the watchers?

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – Who will watch the watchers?”


Police Pension Authorities (PPA) have the administrative power and control of the implementation of the Police Injury Pension Regulations. They are the watchers. But some think they have more important things do, so neglect their duties in respect of the Regulations. In most forces the office of PPA is vested in the sole personage of the Chief Constable. Police injury pensioners would expect each PPA to apply their accumulated wisdom and police experience to the role. Wisdom and experience which are so very obviously lacking when the discretionary powers of a PPA are delegated, with abandonment of oversight, to lower members of staff. A rudderless ship is only a blink away from catastrophe. It is more than a mere conflict of interest if the chief financial officer or a HR manager take over the powers – it is a recipe for a disaster. Even worse should a Police and Crime Commissioner insert herself into policy making and seek to influence how the Regulations should be applied.

Whereas a PPA would normally be trusted to be fair in the application of the Regulations, when careless delegation exists the administration of injury pensions becomes twisted and corrupted; the foundation of the power itself and the authority it invokes is eroded. If a statutory power to oversee the administration of injury pensions is being abused in order to reduce the financial burden of the constabulary, then the post-holder of the power, and the power itself, are both compromised.

If the PPA is not watching, then who is watching the PPA? Who is there ready to step in when a PPA effectively walks off the bridge and lets the cook or cabin boy steer the ship? There is a fundamental flaw in handing police pension powers to the very person who stands to see their budget benefit should the Regulations be abused in order to try to save money. If the watcher is failing – who is there for the governed to turn to?  That is the crux of this post. Can the police do whatever they want, because they are the police?

No is the answer. With great power comes great responsibility (Voltaire).  The watcher is duty bound to administer injury pensions only as dictated by statute; that is the primary raison d’etre of a PPA.

In the stated case R v East Sussex County Council, Ex p Tandy [1998] AC 714, Lord Browne-Wilkinson indicated that to permit the Local Education Authority avoiding performing a statutory duty on the grounds that it prefers to spend the money in other ways would be to downgrade a statutory duty to a discretionary power.

In other words, no matter how the Chief Constable, the Director of Finance, or the Police and Crime Commissioner would rather spend ratepayers’ hard earned contributions, when it comes to police injury pensions the Police Pension Authority has an obligation first, last, and only, to the relevant pension Regulations. A Chief Constable must take off his police hat and don a different one. He must be capable of understanding that the role of PPA is distinct and different from his role as the head of the force.

But what happens if a PPA is obviously failing in its role?  Perhaps the post-holder is keeping the Captain’s seat warm whilst the true PPA is being investigated for serious misconduct allegations, and perhaps the temporary post holder has not got a grasp of what is happening on his watch.  Who can act as the guardian of the guardian and step in to resolve the maladministration and misery inflicted on disabled former officers?

It is for sure that the acting PPA has no will to stand tall and live up to the expectations of the role. What we have seen so far by Avon & Somerset is a text-book response of an inward-looking, self-serving, po-faced, morally bankrupt public organisation.  When they get things wrong the immediate reaction is to cover it up, and if challenged they resort to waffle and bluster. They never apologise, and nobody ever gets punished.

West Yorkshire Police (WYPA) is another fine example of where maladministration has flourished despite the supposedly restraining oversight of the PPA. The Pension Ombudsman (PO) has found (upheld or partly upheld) repeatedly against WYPA in the last 18 months:

Ref:PO-1407 Date:17 Apr 2014

Ref:PO-2799 Date:05 Aug 2014

Ref:PO-2301 Date:20 Mar 2015 *

Ref:PO-2705 Date:30 Mar 2015

Ref:PO-4078 Date:05 June 2015

*although not upheld by the PO this was on a technicality as the appellant had already received compensation and recompense before the decision – WYPA was still found to be guilty of maladministration

What does it take to impeach an organisation which has so many failures?  Is it the case that those retired out on injury awards have to continually ride this roller-coaster of being ‘had over’ by the PPA, turn to the PO to uphold the complaint, wait expectantly for a change in attitude and approach, only for the PPA to do it all again to others?

In a Utopia, the role of PPA would be taken from errant Chief Officers and the task handed to some other, more competent, agency to administer.

As with West Yorkshire so with Avon & Somerset: what does it take to for an external guardian to declare, ‘enough is enough’?

There are complaints pending with the Information Commissioner’s Office. There are complaints heading towards the Pensions Ombudsman. They have been questions raised with Members of Parliament. The Home secretary has been informed, the Federation knows about it, solicitors have been put on notice . . . but still Avon & Somerset pretend that they are righteous. The morals of senior management of Avon and Somerset are tainted by noble cause corruption. They have their righteous eyes on their duty to be prudent with the public purse, but fail to see that does not confer entitlement to abuse the Regulations or disabled former officers. It is sad to reflect that no-one at the insular ivory tower at Portishead thinks that keeping all those former officers in review purgatory for over a year is a bad thing.

Juvenal, an ancient Roman, satirically questioned what happens when guardians, whose job it is to enforce moral behaviour on certain women, get paid in kind to look the other way.

It is an age-old problem, so I will leave it to Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, who also voiced concerns about the guardians, to remind us that the solution is to properly train the guardians’ souls.

Who will watch the watchers?

One thought on “Who will watch the watchers?

  • 2015-07-03 at 9:12 pm

    Excellent piece Simon. Surely it’s time to treat those who have been left in limbo for so long, with compassion and fairly. When will they come to terms with what they have done is so wrong

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