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Bedfordshire Police Authority
- How not to Join it


Chris

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 our society.

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 of Accounts
  • 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 selection process in action.

The Selection Process for Independent Members

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 fielded questions.

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.

Our shortlisting 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 feedback?"
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 you again.

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 see.

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.

I 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 arrogance.

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.

WRONG ANSWER!

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 followed:

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 all?

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 the strongest.

Fair enough.

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!

H.S.C.K.Kandekore.

Conclusion

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 further action.

Placing highly energetic, competent, independent-minded people with solid healthy values into these public service positions is a major opportunity for fixing Britain.

 
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