I am writing in connection with your email dated 8th November 2013, in which you requested the following information:
“In today’s statement published by the OPCC, the PCC is quoted as saying: “I was absolutely clear from the start that my personal office would be my home and this was checked and cleared by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk and my accountant. As far as I am concerned, this was all transparent and above board” Please may I have a copy of all documentation (emails, reports, notes of meetings or telephone calls etc) pertaining to that ‘checking and clearing’ by the OPCC.”
I have reviewed our records and I can advise that no information is held by the OPCCN as this was undertaken by verbal agreement.
(My added emphasis)
Now, you will probably recall the story that was broken a few weeks ago by BBC reporter Sally Chidzoy. Here are my blog posts (here and later here) and link to BBC News website. You will also recall the PCC's statement which was published by the OPCC in which Mr Bett said:
“On election I took advice on how and what I could claim and have followed that advice to the letter. I do not believe I have done anything wrong. I was absolutely clear from the start that my personal office would be my home and this was checked and cleared by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk and my accountant. As far as I am concerned this was all transparent and above board." (my added emphasis)
And since this matter surfaced the new Chief Executive, Mark Stokes has submitted a report (dated 14/11/13) to the Police & Crime Panel (link here for the report) in which he says:
It was the fundamental change in the role of the PCC as compared with the former Police Authority, with the geographical dimensions of the County and the need to cover and represent the whole of Norfolk, that led to a decision by the PCC, which was endorsed by the former Chief Executive of the OPCCN that his home/office would be designated as his office from November 2012 onwards as part of an election pledge to residents to the west of the county. The PCC’s tax advisors also considered this and advised that this was in compliance with HMRC tax guidance. (again my added emphasis)
and later in the report
The Secretary of State has a determination for the authorisation of PCC expenses which states that the PCC’s Chief Executive should subject all the Commissioners claims for expenses to rigorous verification and auditing. (my added emphasis)
and later the action point arising:
In order to provide reassurance to the public, the PCC instructed the Chief Executive to review all internal control procedures, including:
- Verification of the sums refundable
- Travel claims submitted.
- Assurance that claims for expenses have been subject to rigorous verification and auditing.
This process will be undertaken independently by the Internal Auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). (my added emphasis)
I have written back immediately to the Norfolk OPCC asking this:
Thank you for your response. So to be crystal clear, you are saying that there is no audit trail for this decision whatsoever as the discussions about the matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded in any way? Please can you confirm this? Many thanks.
What do you think of the OPCC's initial answer to my inquiry?
UPDATE 101213|1809: Reply from OPCCN just received:
In the interests of openness and transparency, the Commissioner instructed the new Chief Executive to undertake a full review of all processes relating to this matter. This is currently being undertaken by PwC, part of that work will review the audit trail and decision making process. The former Chief Executive is also assisting in this matter to ensure that all information is available. The findings are expected early in the New Year to be presented to the Police and Crime Panel. I trust that you will appreciate that this approach provides independent scrutiny, where your question can therefore be answered accordingly.
Thank you for your email.UPDATE 171213|0933: New reply from OPCCN just received:
However, I am now somewhat confused. I could interpret what you are saying as suggesting the possibility that the PwC review might uncover an audit trail of written material whereas you have stated in your earlier FoI reply: “I have reviewed our records and I can advise that no information is held by the OPCCN as this was undertaken by verbal agreement.”
I imagine that the PwC auditors will be interviewing people for their recollections of the nature of this verbal agreement (etc.) and therefore will be manufacturing an audit trail post hoc, as it were. You have stated categorically that there is no information held by the OPCCN (which of course, includes the PCC and all of his written notes, emails & records as well, in my opinion).
Please allow me to state at this point in time, given your reply to my FoI and the email below, that if PwC locate written records (and not just the verbal agreement) then I may have to refer this matter to the Information Commissioner for their adjudication. If that were to become the case, it might appear to the Information Commissioner that you were withholding information at this juncture. I am not 100% sure, but I would think that would be in breach of the Act.
As you will expect, I fully support the independent review that your new CEO has commissioned PwC to conduct, on instruction from the PCC. I am not seeking to replicate that review, naturally! However, I have asked for materials using the Freedom of Information Act and I would not expect any materials to be withheld merely because an independent review is elsewhere underway.
Therefore, may I simply ask again for an unqualified answer to my question: are you saying that there is no audit trail for this decision whatsoever as the discussions about the matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded in any way? A straightforward yes or no would be quite adequate. Thank you.
I received this clear answer from Norfolk OPCC yesterday:
Apologies for the delay in responding to your email. I have been out of the office since sending you my previous reply and therefore have only just picked up your response. With regard to your query, I can confirm that the discussions about this matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded by the OPCC.