UK: The cost of the Bill. (2 of 4)

UK: The cost of the Bill. (2 of 4) - Now 43, Clarke was born and brought up in London, but describes himself as "rootless". Unlike most superintendents, he rose through the ranks of the CID, serving spells with units like the Flying Squad and the Serious

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Now 43, Clarke was born and brought up in London, but describes himself as "rootless". Unlike most superintendents, he rose through the ranks of the CID, serving spells with units like the Flying Squad and the Serious Fraud Unit. Uncommon, too, is the fact that he began his police career on the beat 20 years ago in the same division that he now commands. He is very clean shaven, and his shirt looks like those held up on television by delighted housewives who vow never to return to their former washing powders. He is friendly, articulate and, judging from the rare moments when he allows his personal inclinations to intrude on his thoughts, a liberal man. Now he has the responsibility for managing 300 police officers and 80 civilian staff and has an annual budget of half a million pounds.

As a manager Clarke has a difficult role. He has to perform an awkward balancing act in dealing with the expectations of the local community. Although the vast majority of the station's costs are administered centrally by New Scotland Yard (in particular the payroll), he still has to control the division's gas, electricity, petrol and mileage allowances, publicity and, most importantly, overtime budgets. While rules govern these, Clarke says that they are flexible and that he has a fair degree of freedom to manoeuvre money between categories.

The role of manager is a comparatively new one for both Clarke and the police force. As he himself says: "Twenty years ago chief superintendents wouldn't have heard of the word 'management'." But things are changing now, he says, as the Government's drive for efficiency in the public sector extends to cover even that most favoured of areas - the police. The trend is towards cost watching, and the current range of locally controlled budgets is wider than it has ever been before.

In common with all of his contemporaries, Clarke has been through an extensive six-month management training course. This consisted of classroom courses at the police's Bramshill Staff College, with postings to Portugal and to industry - Kingfisher and British Telecom in Clarke's case. He looks wistfully at his industrial contemporaries. "They're lucky," he says. "They've got one target: profitability. I've got issues way beyond economics to bother about."

Of all his budgets, Clarke says that overtime is by far the most important area of expenditure, comprising about 60% of his costs, at £300,000 a year. He believes that its role is twofold. Firstly: "It shows that I'm the manager of the division - I see it as a way of devolving responsibility," he explains. Its secondary, practical use is as a "way of getting more police on the street for longer". But he confesses to dreading the task. Overtime is a horror to manage, he says - "I've got to foresee the unforeseeable - how can I predict what will happen at the end of the financial year? What if there's a major investigation or public order problems in February?"

If the aim of the budget is to devolve power to the divisions of the Metropolitan Police, it has a long way to go. The budget of £500,000 is comparatively small for a division with a total personnel of 380, and looks even more slender when the average pay for an officer is £20,000 to £25,000. If Clarke feels it to be inadequate, his subordinates are more forthright. "Overtime? Chance would be a fine thing," muttered one.

From his 10th floor office overlooking Victoria station Hunt says that local budgets will play an increasingly important role. "Managers will have a much greater say in allocating priorities and saying how the money should be spent," he says, but admits that this is still comparatively low. But the trend looks set to increase local control over expenditure, and perhaps even more than that. The latest Audit Commission report on the national police forces recommended that charging be introduced, particularly at football grounds. Clarke agrees: "Why should someone make a million out of a pop festival on Hackney Downs, but pay nothing for the policing - and we have to be there," he points out.

Similarly he feels that it is unfair for the residents of Hackney to have to help pay for the vast bulk of the costs of policing the neighbouring Tottenham and Arsenal football grounds. Clubs, he points out, currently only have to pay for the policing inside the ground, not the much greater use of manpower to shepherd the fans to and from matches.

There are important differences in this and other ways between Clarke's budget and those of local government. Crucially there is no capping. Although the Audit Commission's recommendations might appear to be a precursor to a tightening of the funding belt, it has a long way to go. In 1989 the Met was allocated £1,180 million, of which £313 million was to be raised from local councils in the form of the police rate. Expenditure overran, however, to the tune of £17 million.

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