The Daily Mail has been running a welcome campaign this week exposing the extravagant nature of the expense allowances of senior police officers. 

Yesterday the paper reported that:

“On top of huge salaries, some are quietly claiming ‘allowances’ of up to £32,000 a year, including for day-to-day spending and household bills. Others are charging the public for private medical insurance – a privilege that most frontline officers never receive. And if they move jobs, highly paid chief constables routinely send removal bills to the taxpayer, including the cost of stamp duty, redecorating and new furniture. Incredibly, some senior officers are taking up to 64 days’ holiday a year – meaning they effectively work part-time – despite most earning more than the Prime Minister. Senior officers have taken the perks even as they complain bitterly over cuts and claim resources are so stretched that police cannot fight crime effectively….A failing chief constable has been claiming £30,000 a year in ‘allowances’, including money for his food and household bills; Another lives for free in an apartment in a castle as part of a relocation deal – on top of his £200,000-a-year salary; Dozens of officers have charged the taxpayer for moving house – even claiming for new curtains and ‘electrical re-connections’.”

Phil Gormley, the head of Police Scotland, is living rent-free in part of a castle with 90 acres of grounds, while Stephen Kavanagh, the Chief Constable of Essex, takes a £17,000 allowance.

Today the paper adds:

“At least 13 forces admitted hiring private drivers for senior officers. And 12 of them allow officers to claim first-class travel at public expense. A number of police chiefs charged the taxpayer for hotel accommodation for their drivers for up to three nights at a time, while they attended meetings or conferences. Most forces refused to say how many of their staff use first-class travel – so the true number of those claiming for the cost could be even higher. Former Merseyside chief constable Sir Jon Murphy, who stepped down from his £176,000-a-year role in June, had the use of two chauffeurs, despite claiming his force was so stretched for cash that in a major incident it ‘couldn’t cope’. He kept the drivers, who were also used by his senior team, as he laid off more than 1,300 police staff….”

These revelations are just the ones the answered the Daily Mail’s Freedom of Information requests. This morning the newspapers says that some refused:

“Nine forces refused to respond to the Mail’s questions on taxpayer-funded medical cover, 11 on relocation payments and eight on bonuses. Eleven forces also refused to reveal how many days’ holiday their chief constables had taken. It later emerged some forces were even refusing to hand over information about pay and perks to independent reviewers for a Government-commissioned report.”

The abuse of claiming for the cost of regular household bills and even Stamp Duty is reminiscent of the MPs expenses scandal.

Home Office regulations from 2003 allowed chief constables to set their own allowances – to be “a law unto themselves.” However they (or at least those in England and Wales) are now accountable to the Police and Crime Commissioners.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, says:

“Directly elected PCCs are rightly responsible for decisions about the pay and allowances of their chief officers, and we are clear that these should be transparent and open to scrutiny by the communities they serve.

“I am adamant that police forces cannot be opaque about such important matters, and I fully expect all forces to publish details of how they are spending taxpayer money.”

Yet I’m afraid the response from PCCs has been feeble. Generally they have remained silent – or tried to shrug off the matter as nothing to do with them. The independent PCC for Gloucestershire, Martin Surl, said:

“It is not the job of PCCs to tamper with regulations that are contained in legislation.”

But it would not be “tampering” with the regulations for Surl to say that in Gloucestershire he will not accept extravagant expenses and insist that there is full transparency on the police website. While the regulations might not require that if would be perfectly proper for Surl to do so – if he was minded to do his job properly.

While the rules should be changed to require transparency the PCCs should not be waiting for this. If the PCCs really feel they need more power to tackle the abuse then let they say so. The police are accountable to the PCCs. But let us also remember that the well paid PCCs are accountable to us.

It is for the relevant PCC to justify providing their chief constable with 64 days a year holiday, or two chauffeurs, or claiming for new household curtains. If they can not do so convincingly then they should stand aside.