One of the key ideas behind Let's Fix Britain is that
we can make things better through the personal, active involvement
of ordinary citizens. This could mean all kinds of things - there
are many ways to contribute - but one of the most powerful is by
becoming a member of one of the various public bodies which administer
With this in mind, I set out to become a member of the Bedfordshire
Police Authority, and this article describes my efforts.
If you're in a hurry, you might want to go straight to my conclusion.
What is a Police Authority?
The Police Authority is a committee of local councillors, magistrates
and independent members who oversee the affairs of the local police
force. Specifically, the authority:
Is responsible for appointing the Chief Constable and the Assistant
Chief Constables and is the disciplinary authority for those ranks
Is dedicated to maintaining an efficient and effective Police
Service for Bedfordshire
Is responsible for consultation with the community to help determine
priorities for future policing
Sets the budget for the Police Service
Sets local objectives and monitors performance against targets
set in consultation with the Chief Constable and the local community
Is responsible for reviewing efficiency and effectiveness through
the five year Best Value Programme
Publishes the Annual Policing Plan, the Performance Plan, an
Annual Report, an Efficiency Plan plus a Budget Document and Statement
Runs the Custody Visiting Scheme
Independent members are appointed through a selection process which
I was subject to.
The authority is there as a safeguard to a healthy society, and
good appointments to the authority are crucial to it's effectiveness.
For example, if the authority is populated by shrinking violets
and yes men, then it cannot be effective. I imagine it's desirable
that an appropriate balance must be struck on ethnic, religious,
and class axes, too - so I was very interested to observe the
process in action.
The Selection Process for Independent
An advertisement was placed in the local free paper, offering an
information session at police headquarters which I attended. At
that meeting, information packs were made available and the authority
head, Adrian Heffernan, gave a presentation on the authority and
I completed my application and sent it off.
On November 28th, a month after the application deadline I had
heard nothing, so I phoned the authority to ask for an update. I
spoke to Bridget Murphy, who told me I had been unsuccessful. She
also said that - in order to save money - the authority had no plans
to contact unsuccessful applicants; I said I felt that was discourteous
to people who had bothered to complete a lengthy application form,
and the saving would be small.
Anyway, I asked for feedback on why my application had failed,
so that I could perhaps try again more successfully in future. She
said she would look into the matter.
The following day, November 29th, I received a rejection letter
from Dick Wilkinson who is a clerk at the authority. The only remotely
useful content was this:
When we began the recruitment process in September we did not
realise the overwhelming response we would have. In October more
than 120 people attended the open forums we held and a further
82 contacted the Police Authority for an application pack.
process is now complete and we regret to inform you that you have
not been selected for interview on this occasion.
So, there had been a lot of applicants - but there
was nothing more useful than that for me.
I phoned Bridget, who told me that - following my
feedback, the panel decided they would send out rejection
letters. See - poking your nose in can help out sometimes,
and it's nice to see the authority prepared to re-think and change
in response to feedback.
I asked Bridget "So, can I still expect some
She said "Do you want more feedback
than what there is in the letter?".
Said I "Well, there's
no useful feedback in it".
She said she would put it to
the panel and get back to me.
A few days later, on December 2nd, I received
a letter from Bridget:
I have passed your message on to the Selection Panel and if they
have anything further to add to their letter of 29th November
[the one with no useful information in it] they will write to
This didn't fill me with a warm solid feeling that
the authority was open and accountable and would tenaciously seek
out a send on information about my application, but I'd wait and
On 17th January I received another letter, this time
from John Atkinson, Deputy Clerk, saying:
Your request was referred to the panel, but they have no further
comments to add to their letter of the 29th
November. As stated in that letter, the response to the recruitment
campaign was overwhelming and the Panel were pleased with the
standard of application they received. The Selection Panel have
now concluded their work relating to the selection process and
are therefore no longer sitting. In the circumstances, I cannot
pursue your request for feedback on your application and the reasons
for your rejection.
am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, but may I take this opportunity
to thank you for your interest and wish you success in the future.
I hope that you will continue to take an interest in the work
of Bedfordshire Police.
Hmmm. Deeply disappointing. The tone seems designed
to impress and perhaps intimidate without conveying any real content.
I believe it has nothing to do with open democracy, and
everything to do with secretive self-important complacent
Bear in mind that I'm almost certainly the only candidate
who got this far (which is basically nowhere). The others will have
given up on receipt of the rejection (which they would not have
received were it not for my intervention). So the selection process
is entirely secret and unaccountable.
So, I phoned the authority the following day, January
18th. John Atkinson was in a meeting, so I left a message for him
to call me, then spoke again to Bridget, who was adamant that it
must be Mr. Atkinson I speak to, as he was the author of the letter
and is also their legal advisor. Adrian Heffernan, who is the authority
chairman, was unavailable on that day, and on the next day. When
I asked when he would be available, Bridget advised me
that Adrian would refer me back to John Atkinson in any case. I
pointed out that, as deputy clerk, John Atkinson would probably
not be in possession of any of the information about my rejection,
anyway. Bridget didn't know. Here's an extract from the call that
Chris: I was really trying
to get in touch with someone who was part of the selection
process and may be able to help me.
Bridget: But the problem is
the panel has finished now, so there won't be anybody to speak
to you about the panel's work other than what John put in
the letter to you.
Chris: But Adrian [authority
chair] will have been on the panel, won't he?
Bridget: Adrian was on the
panel but, as I said, the panel work has finished now, and
I think if he was going to speak to you personally, he would
have done so by now, because he was aware of your call and
it was passed to John Atkinson to deal with and that's who's
dealing with it now.
Chris: I see. Is there any
statutory requirement for this process to be transparent at
Bridget: That's something you'd
have to ask John Atkinson, because that's on the legal side.
I'm not up to that myself, I would ask him that.
Chris: OK, well, I guess I'll
just have to wait for his call then.
A real head-banger, but not at all unusual when trying to persuade
Public Bodies to serve the public who
finance them, and for whose benefit they exist.
Did you like the bit that went "If [Adrian] was going to speak
to you personally, he would have done so by now"? This is so
typical of the upside-down way that many public bodies have of looking
at things. Mr. Heffernan runs a public body. It's financed by us.
It exists to serve us. So if Mr. Heffernan decides he's not going
to speak to some irritating member of the public, one of his customers,
then I'd really rather like to have Mr. Heffernan removed from office
and replaced with someone who knows up from down. I worry that his
attitude in this incident evidences a similar attitude in the more
important work that he does for the community in chairing the police
authority, which directs our police force.
On January 20th, John Atkinson returned my call. It was another
difficult call. Even over the phone, John projected the personality
and demeanour of a legal fellow. I felt like I was a lowly surf,
possibly intellectually sub-normal, who simply didn't understand
that I was expected to lie down and die. I had been told there was
no feedback, and that was an end to it.
Through my courteous patient persistence, John warmed up and became
a little more helpful. He confirmed that I was the only person he
was aware of who had asked for feedback. He now understood why I
wanted to receive feedback. He confirmed that he was unable to find
any guidance on how transparent the selection process should be.
He suggested I write to a Mr. Hannibal Kandekore, who was the chairman
of the selection panel, appointed by the home secretary. I suggested
that this was unlikely to be useful since, presumably, Mr. Kandekore
had seen, and decided to ignore, all of my previous requests. John
couldn't comment. I asked directly what had gone wrong (i.e. why
had my requests for feedback been so comprehensively ignored). John
said "I think the assumption has to be that the selection panel
do not wish to provide any feedback, but that is my assumption".
John Atkinson agreed to write to Mr. Kandekore on my behalf, and
to forward any reply received to me.
On January 24th, I received a copy of Mr. Kandekore's letter to
John Atkinson, the relevant parts of which I reproduce below. Spelling
and grammar errors are duplicated. My comments added in red.
I was chairman of the selection Panel and therefore had full
control of the Panels' decisions with regard to the selection
of the candidates who were invited to attend for interviews.
I believe that [Chris] was present at one of the two presentation
evenings at which members of the Panel gave the Audience some
information as to how the Panel would go about the selection
process. I told the Audience that it was my duty to ensure
that those selected would be representative of the County
of Bedfordshire as a whole. I was asked how I would achieve
that objective. I responded by saying that the Panel would
use the four Electoral Districts to ensure that each Electoral
District had a representative on the Police Authority.
All true and all irrelevant.
[Chris] emerge from North Bedfordshire Electoral District
from which we received the most applications. The majority
of applicants were white males with high standard of education
qualifications, occupational skills and other cross cultural
competencies reflecting a knowledge of the social, racial
and cultural diversities of the county as a whole.
So I'm penalised for being in a majority
- this may well be reasonable.
The Panel had a good look at [Chris's] application form which
he showed his employment history, technical and other skills.
There was however some significant short falls in his evidence
of Community involvement and his awareness of racial and cultural
diversities in the County in particular how these situations
would reflect on the need for Police service.
Some real feedback. Finally!
He stated that he was involved on a 'Lets Fix Britain' Organisation
with an objective to put right certain things in society.
What we were really looking for was a local social involvement.
An understanding of local issues and to some extent Policing
issues. All these were discussed at the open evenings.
Again, solid feedback.
We also looked at what [Chris] put in his application as
to what he has been doing from (from from 1998 -2002.) At
the time he was self-employed Life Coach & Management
Mentor but added that he was not yet practicing. I seemed
a little paradoxical. He was also a Proprietor of a business
based on one of his own Web-site creations. Also from 1999
-2001 he was a freelance lecturer in IT related subjects.
There's nothing paradoxical here, I
just had several occupations - I ran an online shop, I lectured
freelance at a local college, I did some IT consulting and
I was training to become a life coach.
There were several other applicants whose applications were
more to the point and in particular showing substantial community
involvement and other occupational relevance. Regrettably
we could not have short listed all the applicants that appeared
in our eyes to have met all or some of the Persons specification.
[Chris] was not one of those applicants that appeared amongst
I am sure that my colleagues would join me in wishing [Chris]
the best prospects in his future endeavours.
Of course you do. That's why you persistently
ignored my requests for this information until I got ugly!
I was prepared to devote a significant part of my life to serve
my community as a member of the local police authority. This is
good citizenship of the kind I want LFB to promote. I took the time
to apply for the post, and was treated shabbily in three respects.
Firstly, I was not informed of my failure to pass the first phase
of selection, which I consider to be rude.
Secondly, my attempts to get some feedback on my application were
blocked in foolish and arrogant ways until I pushed indecently hard.
Thirdly, I finally did get the feedback, but whilst some was useful,
some was confused. The standard of writing and reasoning from Mr.
Kandekore's letter, does not fill me with confidence in him in his
role as chairman of the selection panel.
I think the authority exudes an attitude which is typical of so
many public bodies who are financed by us, and who exist entirely
to serve us. They have lost sight of these fundamentals. The tail
is wagging the dog. They are reluctant to be held acocuntable -
we are expected to be quietly obedient. This is wrong.
I wrote this article with several objectives in mind.
Frankly, I want those involved at the authority to read this article
and feel bad about their conduct. Perhaps they can see some room
for improvement in their methods and their personal conduct.
I want to encourage others to try for these roles - perhaps you'll
have a nicer time of it than I did. If not the police authority
then why not become a magistrate or sit on your local school governors
panel - or become a councillor.
If you have already done so, please consider writing us an article
to encourage others to do so.
If your experience was as unpleasant as mine, please write and
tell us about that too. If a pattern emerges, perhaps we can take
Placing highly energetic, competent, independent-minded people
with solid healthy values into these public service positions is
a major opportunity for fixing Britain.