'Scrap bonuses for top police officers'

BOSSES at Norfolk police last night called on the Home Office to scrap controversial cash bonuses for the top brass - which critics say encourage target chasing and undermine the integrity of forces.

BOSSES at Norfolk police last night called on the Home Office to scrap controversial cash bonuses for the top brass - which critics say encourage target chasing and undermine the integrity of forces.

Constabularies across the country have refused to reveal details of the pay-outs to the country's top 300 officers, although the total runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds each year. Chief constables can claim up to 15pc of their salary based on their force's performance, in a scheme dubbed “gravy beat”.

While Norfolk will not reveal individual payments, it has confirmed that �25,000 was paid to its four most senior officers last year. In contrast to the secretive attitude of most forces, police authority chief executive Chris Harding said he had “no problem being open and accountable in this regard”.

But the authority has opposed the bonuses since their inception, saying they are “alien to this aspect of public-sector work”.

Malcolm Sneesby, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation which represents the rank and file, said that if officers were seen to be pursuing targets for financial gain they would be open to criticism.

It comes a week after Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire police were forced to recount the number of serious violent crimes after they were named among forces which made errors in their statistics.

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Mr Sneesby said: “I am not aware that any of Norfolk's top officers would deliberately manipulate crime figures and particularly not for their own financial benefit. However, statistics can be presented in a number of different ways and that is the measure upon which these bonuses are based. The moment you start offering pecuniary rewards for performance you leave yourself open to criticism over the integrity of those statistics.”

Chief constable Ian McPherson did accept a bonus last year. The exact amount remains secret but, if he had qualified for a full bonus, this could have equated to almost �18,000.

His predecessor, temporary chief Carole Howlett who retired after spending two years on secondment from the Metropolitan police, declined the bonus as it was “not appropriate” for somebody in her position. Andy Hayman, who she replaced, left the force before the bonuses were introduced.

Retired Hampshire chief constable Paul Kernaghan said he also refused the payment, adding: “I found it deeply insulting that anyone would think I would work one iota harder simply to get a bonus of a few thousand pounds.”

Despite opposing the scheme, Mr Harding said that chief constable pay was far lower than, for example, chief officer positions at district and county councils - despite officers being held accountable on a regular basis. Norfolk in particular is at the lower end of the salary spectrum, with Mr McPherson being paid �119,000 annually compared to �172,000 in the West Midlands and �169,000 in Strathclyde. Under the legislation, the police authority cannot opt out of the scheme.

Chairman Stephen Bett said: “This is not something which sits comfortably with the role of policing and we have made that point clear to the Home Office. We would prefer to have flexibility over the salaries we offer... But we have to operate under the system that exists. In Norfolk, the bonuses are not simply based on targets and crime figures but on criteria set by the police authority relating to how well that individual is serving the force in achieving our aims and serving the public.”

The bonus scheme was introduced by former home secretary David Blunkett in 2004. Norfolk police was among those who objected at the time and it reiterated its position as part of the 2007 police pay review.

Mr Harding said: “We do not like the scheme but it exists and thus we encourage our chief officers to participate in it for so long as it does.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said president Sir Ken Jones had “strongly and consistently” criticised bonuses. He added: “Chiefs must only, in the final analysis, be answerable to the law... They are office holders under the Crown - not employees.”