Earlier today I chaired a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Corporate Governance Committee. This is the body that oversees audit matters, health and safety issues, and risk management for the Metropolitan Police Service. The meetings are long, the papers voluminous, and the discussion often detailed and arcane. It is true to say that there has rarely been much press interest in the meetings. Today was different.
So why this time was a BBC television crew present? Over the weekend, the Observer carried an article by the “Investigations Editor” which seemed to be based on fearless investigatory work (consisting of accessing the Committee’s papers online and then speaking to an MPA Member). This referred to the ongoing work of the Authority’s Internal Audit Service in identifying concerns about misuse of American Express cards issued to officers by the Metropolitan Police. This was hardly a new story – as the “See Also” column on the BBC’s coverage indicates.
The key passage triggering the interest was in the Annual Report of the Director of Internal Audit which said:
“Corporate Credit Cards
In excess of a third of my investigative resource for 2008/09 has been
allocated to the enquiry into the misuse of AMEX cards. This diversion of
resource has impacted on other work that could not be undertaken as a result
and directly explains the drop in casework handled from last year. The
forensic audit team has now arrived at the end of their role in reviewing AMEX
expenditure. In excess of 300 police officers have been referred to the
Directorate of Professional Standards by my staff and forty-six of these have
become formal investigations overseen by the Independent Police Complaints
Commission. This has resulted in two prosecutions and convictions but most
cases are still under investigation. The software tool acquired in the course of
the year proved successful in identifying cases for referral to the Directorate of
Professional Standards – 100% of the cases selected required further
investigation or contained expenditure outside the MPS policy for use of
AMEX cards. As a result of the ending of the AMEX work arrangements are
in place to have the software tool re-programmed in order to process data
from the replacement Barclaycard contract on an on-going basis.”
The report highlights some excellent work by the Internal Audit Service. Individual cases are still being investigated. It is important to point out that the cases referred for further investigation include those in which the credit card use was to buy items that were entirely legitimately purchased but should not have been purchased through the corporate credit cards and those where there was private use but the money was refunded. Nonetheless, there are other cases where the explanations are not as strightforward (and in any event all the cases were against the conditions under which the officers were issued the cards).
The real issue is would these matters have come to light without an independent Police Authority (with responsibility for the internal audit function) overseeing the Metropolitan Police?
The American Express issue should also not be allowed to overshadow the main key conclusion of the Head of Internal Audit, namely that:
“the adequacy and effectiveness of internal control in the MPS falls below an acceptable standard. Key controls have either not been applied, applied inappropriately or not applied in time to provide an adequate and effective control environment.”
Controls have improved dramatically over the last ten years (when I became Chair of the MPA in 2000 the equyivalent report pointed out that at that time the Metropolitan Police had no system for telling whether bills had been paid more than once – they do now), but there is still more to do.