Straw to bolster supervision of senior police officers

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THE HOME Secretary is to bolster the body that oversees the work of chief constables in response to growing concern about the quality of some candidates for the top posts and the unprecedented number of police chiefs who have faced criticism.

As revealed in The Independent in June ministers are worried about the lack of management skills of some senior officers and have questioned their ability to effectively control multi million pound budgets. Business leaders, managers, and more senior members of the ethnic community are to be encouraged to join police authorities in a recruitment drive expected to be launched next month.

Jack Straw is also concerned about the lack of talented applicants available to fill some vacancies for the top police jobs. In the past year about 40 per cent of chief constables have left their posts in England and Wales.

To help raise standards a working party has been set up to examine the training and selection of senior officers.

Ministers also want to boost the skill and power of the 42 police authorities by introducing greater financial and management experts onto the boards. They hope to encourage more captains of industry to take up the five posts of the 17 strong authorities reserved for "independent" members. Nine places are for county councillors and three are filled by magistrates.

Police authorities oversee the performance and strategic direction of forces in England and Wales as well as take a leading role in hiring and firing the chief constables.

The Association of Police Authorities, the umbrella body, will also be given a higher profile and more powerful advisory role. Angela Harris, deputy chairman of the APA speaking at a seminar last month criticised the current training system for "turning out an annual conveyor belt of future chief constables".

Alun Michael, the Home Office Minister said yesterday that police authorities will be given greater powers.

Plans to improve the way senior police officers are selected and trained are to be examined in a joint venture between the Home Office and policing bodies.

A working party of Home Office officials, representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities will meet for the first time next month to consider reforms to policing.

Under the proposals, chief constables would be required, for the first time, to attend courses for executives alongside senior managers from the business world and top civil servants.