Public Services Management: Policing police performance: Ray Mgadzah talks to Sir Leonard Peach, who has to answer for 130,000 officers and is responsible for some 9,000 complaints

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The Independent Online
TRANSPLANTING standard business practices into the public sector may be in vogue but Sir Leonard Peach, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), a champion of management efficiency through performance-related pay and quantification of objectives, has set a limit.

'It's not my intention to introduce performance-related pay at the PCA,' says Sir Leonard, who may be better known as the current chairman of the Policy Studies Institute and former chief executive of the National Health Service management board. 'At the PCA I have 14 members, including myself, who are on three-year contracts and 60 civil servants who are loaned to me with civil service terms and conditions. This is a small organisation: there is no necessity for performance-related pay,' Sir Leonard says.

During his NHS stint in the late 1980s Sir Leonard, then on secondment from IBM where he had scaled the career ladder to reach the post of personnel and corporate affairs director, revamped the management structure and paved the way for the NHS internal market reforms.

He may have ruled out performance-related pay at the PCA but there are likely to be some changes during his three-year tenure. Three separate but overlapping developments - the Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice System, an inquiry into police pay and responsibilities, and Home Office plans to reform police disciplinary procedures - may all shortly redefine the PCA's role and approach to supervising and reviewing investigations of serious complaints against the police.

Sir Leonard is the third PCA chairman to take charge since the authority was set up eight years ago, but he is the first to be drawn from the private sector. Sir Leonard says: 'We will have to examine the amount of resource devoted to the investigation of complaints to see whether we can improve the process and ease pressures on police manpower.'

He wants to extend performance management across a range of PCA functions. Staff will be given clear objectives by the setting of targets against which their performance is measured. The aim is to improve the quality of service offered by the authority - an organisation which has a pounds 3m budget for responsibilities over 130,000 police officers and a population of about 50 million. PCA members, who are drawn from outside the police force, supervise and review complaints with the help of civil servants. Sir Leonard says performance targets will act as a catalyst for improvements to the police service by helping to identify areas where changes are needed.

The focus of his activities will be a drive to ensure a speedy response to complaints; finding ways of exerting influence within relevant police service groups which can remedy the causes of a complaint; and giving people as much information as possible concerning the outcome of their complaints. Most complaints are ruled to be inconclusive while about 10 per cent of them are found in favour of the complainant.

Part of Sir Leonard's task is to ensure that the PCA begins to achieve targets already set before he joined. The target of 28 days for handling investigations as to whether an officer should face a disciplinary charge is still to be achieved. Last year it took an average of 32 days, compared with 47 days the previous year, to deal with such cases. Another benchmark is the target of 120 days for the PCA's supervision of police investigations. Last year about 80 cases out of nearly 700 lasted for more that 120 days.

According to the PCA's annual report, published yesterday, in 1992 the authority dealt with about 9,000 cases, compared with 8,000 the previous year. Some 700 were chosen for supervision, including 20 cases into alleged miscarriages of justice.

There has been a sharp increase, from 4,000 to 6,000, in the number of complaints in which the PCA granted disciplinary dispensations against full investigation of complaints. One of the key concerns to emerge this year focuses on this leap in dispensations, a function which was granted to the PCA in 1990. 'I have to be sure the dispensation is given for the right reason and that we are not misled in any way. I think we ought to know more,' Sir Leonard says.

A computer-based management information system is being installed to help with data storage and analysis, so that figures such as those showing a breakdown of reasons why a disciplinary dispensation was granted will in future be available for analysis. Ultimately the PCA will be able to establish, at the push of a button, how many complaints were received during a given period from - for example - people who alleged they had been bitten by police dogs.

Sir Leonard says complaints lodged against the police are a management tool which should play an important role in the quality service the police are now committed to providing. A complaint must not be seen as an nuisance which police must deal with, but as a catalyst for an investigation into the causes of the dissatisfaction with the service, a process which should result in the prescription of a remedy.

But an operational efficiency drive may not allay some concerns about the PCA, such as the claim by some welfare groups and solicitors that the authority is too close to the police since it relies on them to investigate complaints against fellow officers, albeit under the PCA's supervision, review and adjudication.

The PCA deals with 40 per cent of all police complaints and discipline matters. Sir Leonard reckons this, plus an increase in complaints, rules out the demand by some critics that the authority should have its own force for undertaking investigations. 'It would have to be a very big force. I see no reason for it,' he says.

Sir Leonard reckons the authority has the power it needs but adds: 'The one thing we would like to add to our name is 'independent'. We do have considerable difficulty in conveying to people that we are independent from the police.' His hope is that improved efficiency and a PCA name change may help achieve this.

(Photograph omitted)