In 2015 I saw an advert through Neighbourhood Watch asking for members of the public to become an independent member of the Gwent Police Joint Audit Committee (JAC) which covers the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office and Gwent Police. It was perfect timing as I was looking to do something, in addition to my day job, that was for my community. I am a finance professional which is one of the areas of experience that is needed from the combined five independent members of JAC but is not a must for everyone. Other key skills and experience are, for example, IT, Governance, Strategy and Planning, Risk Management and People Management.
Having lived in the village of Magor at the time for 15 years, now 20 years, and in Monmouth previously for 10 years I had, and still do have, a deep attachment to Gwent and a desire to contribute to its economic success. Crime can have a devastating impact on victims and can be detrimental to business and the general lives of the community. I already thought that the police had an important role in society and contributing to improving lives, and in the last five years I have learnt just how significant this is and of course how challenging it can be.
I was successful in becoming an independent member in 2015, then in 2017 I became Deputy Chair and in March 2020 I became Chair. I can remain Chair for three years and can be an independent member for 10 years. The committee includes five independent members and our meetings are attended by the key members of the Gwent Police including the Police and Crime Commissioner, Chief Constable, Chief Executive, finance officers as well as external and internal audit representatives. We meet at least five times a year and have joint training at least once a year with the other three police forces in Wales.
But what do we do, I hear you ask?
Audit committees in any organisation have the responsibility of reviewing and ensuring the accuracy and validity of the annual report and financial statement. This is a published document and it is a one stop shop that captures what the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and Gwent Police have done with their resources in the year just gone. It is a key statutory document but a wealth of information for the public. The next report to be published will be for the year April 2019 to March 2020.
Each year we review the governance statements of the OPCC and Gwent Police. It is essential that these statements are active, up to date documents, describing not only how the operations of the OPCC and Gwent Police are overseen and managed but the outcomes that this achieves and the risks that are managed. This year the governance statement will obviously include how the OPCC and Gwent Police have responded to and will continue to respond to COVID-19, and the police’s role in managing risks to the public and within the force. This is where we work closely with the external auditors.
We also produce a report from the JAC committee that, as well as reviewing the work that has been undertaken over the previous year, sets out the areas of focus for the JAC for the coming year. It is reported directly to the Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable providing them with assurance that, based on the information the JAC have received, all is well in relation to their internal control arrangements. Included in the areas of focus are the aspects of the OPCC and Gwent Police where we undertake deep dives into our police forces activities to understand their challenges and successes, and cover areas from systems disaster recovery to human trafficking.
We also work closely with internal auditors. We agree an audit plan each year that focuses on the key areas of risk and internal audit look at how the OPCC and Gwent Police perform in these areas. Our role is to review how effective the OPCC and Gwent Police are, the risk management measures being taken, impacts on budget and value for money. We are there to be assured that the OPCC and Gwent Police are following their strategies and policies appropriately, or that they are taking steps to change their approach to improve and or meet new challenges. We are now doing more collaborative audits with the three other police forces in Wales, and this creates further opportunity for improvement and value for money.
In the last five years we have seen how OPCC and Gwent Police have reacted to new demands. Examples of which are:
- The growth in cyber-crime; retraining and recruiting police officers with new technology skills.
- Organised crime; no-longer the curse of London and other big cities, it has spilled out across the UK, and is bigger and more dangerous – skilled police, technology and international collaboration are key.
- Reduced money from central government; developing invest to save programmes, improving how things are done and saving millions of pounds.
- Crime prevention; working in collaboration across public sector organisations to support vulnerable people and creating positive environments.
- Communication; transparency is key, increasing data collection to enable greater understanding of how the police work and how they could improve, while not overburdening with more paper work.
Importantly for me, through our direct interactions with the OPCC and Gwent Police, external and internal audit and the insights provided in the deep dives, JAC is able to provide support, advice and suggestions to progress actions and develop areas of work to improve our governance arrangements. This has enabled the development of the Board Assurance Framework which is something JAC strived for and will help improve the transparency of areas that need to be improved. Another component of the support we provide is the allocation of lead roles aligned to each member of JAC’s area of expertise.
Janet Wademan, our most recent independent member of JAC for example, brought in excellent IT knowledge and has supported the disaster recovery work. I am glad to say that our role is anything but just ‘checking up’ on what the Police and Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable do.
I feel privileged to be able to gain deep insight into what the OPCC and Gwent Police do, and I see a force that knows they have challenges and rises to them, has great ambition to continually improve and is clearly committed to protecting the public and preventing crime.
Looking forward, the good news is there is more money for more workforce but there are also new demands. COVID-19 is the immediate one. JAC will continue to seek assurance on behalf of all Gwent residents that risks are being managed and resources being used well.