Police commanders took their eye off the ball in allowing an “excessive” £106 million to be spent hiring agency staff, a Stormont committee has found.
A lack of central control and monitoring in the PSNI led to the considerable financial outlay on temporary workers, many of whom were retired officers who had only recently left service, the Public Accounts Committee concluded.
Committee members said they were not opposed to the PSNI’s policy of bringing in agency staff when appropriate but said the organisation had relied on the option too much in the last decade.
They also expressed concern there had been a lack of competitive tendering for the contract to fill the short-term posts.
The PAC committee yesterday published its own assessment of the findings of an NI Audit Office probe of the PSNI’s use of agency staff carried out in 2012.
The policy has been mired in controversy due to the fact many of the temporary workers employed with the PSNI were former officers who had retired from the organisation with hefty peace process pension payouts.
Auditors, in revealing the £106 million bill for the period 2004 to 2012, found that more than 1,000 officers who retired to make way for new recruits returned as temporary staff.
That accounted for almost a fifth of retirees under Lord Chris Patten’s scheme to overhaul the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) .
Some started days after leaving with inflated retirement payouts granted as part of the Patten reforms.
Many of those rehired as agency staff had specialist skills in areas such as intelligence, built up over years of dealing with republican and loyalist violence.
Some provided specific policing skills but others did not, including work by former officers as drivers or English language transcribers.
PSNI admit shortcomings
Responding to the PAC finding, the PSNI has accepted there were shortcomings in the “scrutiny and oversight” of arrangements for hiring agency staff - including more than 1,000 former officers who left under the Patten reforms.
In a statement, the PSNI said: “The report rightly sets the use of temporary staff within the context of unprecedented change and staff turnover brought about by the PSNI’s unwavering commitment to implementing the Patten reforms.
“Over the period between 2001 and 2011 around 8,000 officers and 2,323 police staff left the organisation. This change is without parallel in world policing. The PSNI has provided reassurances to the committee that any shortcomings have been addressed and, since January 2011, there has been ‘an extremely robust, centrally monitored process in place for the appointment of temporary staff’.”