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Press release by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO), (2 October 2012)

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Press release by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) about the use of agency staff by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), (2 October 2012)


PSNI Agency Staff

Date of Issue: 2 October 2012

PSNI Use of Agency Staff

Police Service of Northern Ireland: Use of Agency Staff

Report to the Assembly by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland

In a report published today the Northern Ireland Audit Office has found that over £106 million has been spent by PSNI on agency staff since 2004. Their use increased following the Patten report after 2001 when around 5,500 regular and full-time reserve officers left the service. As a result, PSNI placed reliance on agency staff to cover skill shortages and vacancies in a variety of roles, both policing and non-policing. Over 1,000 retired officers have returned as agency staff, nearly 19% of all Patten retirees.

The Comptroller & Auditor General said ‘Given the unprecedented loss of skilled and experienced officers, there remains a business need for temporary staff. That some of them should bring policing skills with them also appears necessary. Temporary staff offer value for money but their use needs to be properly managed and controlled. Arrangements to achieve this have improved, but the way that the PSNI has gone about procuring, appointing and managing temporary staff has not always met the high standards of governance and accountability expected of public bodies in Northern Ireland.’

Today’s report examines the arrangements that PSNI has established for recruiting temporary staff focusing on value for money, accountability and governance. The main findings are:

On the award of the contract for recruiting temporary staff

  • The contract was not subject to competition before 2008. In 2004 PSNI signed a variation to a contract it already held with Grafton Recruitment to provide permanent staff. In awarding £44 million of work without competition, PSNI cannot demonstrate that best value was obtained.
  • In 2008, a four-year contract for the provision of temporary staff was awarded to Grafton Recruitment following a competitive tendering exercise. As the business case did not include the salary costs of temporary workers (which comprised over 90% of the contract value), the full costs were never properly assessed.
  • PSNI estimates the average cost of employing a temporary worker is £4,770 a year less than the cost of employing a permanent member of staff. With an average of almost 650 temporary workers engaged each year since 2005, PSNI estimates that it has saved at least £22 million over the last seven years.
  • Some temporary staff are paid by the PSNI, via Grafton, through limited companies, which can be a means of minimising personal tax obligations. NIAO is unaware of any other public sector body in Northern Ireland engaging in this practice. Similar arrangements in Great Britain have attracted criticism from both HM Treasury and the Westminster Public Accounts Committee.

On PSNI’s governance of the contract

  • Before 2011 there was no corporate policy or procedure governing the engagement of agency staff and decisions were taken at local discretion. As a result, the number of temporary posts increased from just over 100 in 2002 to over 800 by 2007 when, in our opinion, their use appeared out of control.
  • Many posts were not subject to adequate job evaluation. An internal review in one department identified that more than half the staff were being paid at a higher grade than the post warranted.
  • PSNI did not always have sufficient management information to understand the extent and costs of using temporary staff.
  • There is scope to clarify the accountability arrangements for temporary staff. PSNI has confirmed that although a legislative change would be required to allow the Police Ombudsman to investigate complaints against agency staff, there is an expectation that all staff would co-operate with the Ombudsman.
  • There is potential for conflicts of interest within the Historical Enquiries Team as former RUC officers are employed in five of the nine investigative units. Controls are in place to mitigate this risk.

On the use of temporary staff

  • Over 10 years PSNI has engaged 2,740 temporary agency staff, of which 1,071 (39% of all agency staff) were former police officers who had left the service with an early severance package. An average assignment lasted for 136 days. However, 166 lasted more than three years; 37 for more than five years and four longer than seven years.
  • Former police officers account for 56 per cent of the agency days procured, with an average length of assignment of 223 days. This was almost twice as long as an agency worker who had not previously been employed by PSNI.
  • Nearly one fifth of all police officers who left under Patten were subsequently recruited by PSNI as agency staff. Around half had a break of more than one year before returning, although 256 were re-employed within three months of leaving.
  • Agency staff filled a variety of roles. Many required specific policing skills, but others did not. For example, 85 per cent of agency days for the post of ‘driver’ and 62 per cent of agency days for ‘English Language Transcribers’ were provided by former PSNI officers.

On workforce and succession planning

  • PSNI’s ability to prevent officers from leaving under Patten was restricted but, in exceptional cases, it could delay key staff leaving. PSNI delayed only 139 between 2002 and 2011, equivalent to 2.5 per cent of leavers. Succession planning for key posts was inadequate during this period of massive change, when 5452 officers and 2323 staff left the service. PSNI said that ‘sophisticated succession planning was impossible’. Consequently, the use of agency staff increased.
  • PSNI has reduced its reliance on agency staff over the last five years, with numbers decreasing from around 800 in 2007 to 400 by March 2012.


Notes for Editors

1. The Comptroller and Auditor General is Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (the Audit Office). He, and the NIAO, are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of Government Departments and a range of other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to report to the Assembly on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and public bodies use their resources. His reports are published as Assembly papers.

2. This report is available from the Stationery Office throughout the United Kingdom. It is also available on the Audit Office website at The report is embargoed until 00.01 hrs on 3 October 2012.

3. Background briefing can be obtained from the Audit Office by contacting Neil Gray (028 9025 4345) or Billy Fitzsimons (028 9025 1092).


Report: Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO). (2012). The Police Service of Northern Ireland: Use of Agency Staff, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, (3 October 2012), [PDF; 709KB]. Belfast: The Stationery Office (TSO).


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