Continuous Improvement Arrangements in Policing

06 May 2014

Continuous Improvement Arrangements in Policing

DOJ: Continuous Improvement Arrangements in Policing

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

Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), has today published his report on ’Continuous Improvement arrangements in Policing’.    The report examines the Policing Plan for 2013-14 and the performance of the Policing Board and PSNI in the previous year.   


The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 requires the Northern Ireland Policing Board to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way in which its functions, and those of the Chief Constable, are exercised, having regard to economy, efficiency and effectiveness.  The Board is required to prepare and publish a performance plan for each financial year, including a section on how the continuous improvement arrangements are to be implemented.   The Board also has to prepare and publish a performance summary, in respect of the previous year.

Qualification of the C&AG’s Audit Opinion

In September 2013 the C&AG unusually qualified his audit opinion on the Policing Plan for 2012-13.  This was because the performance standards included in the Plan lacked sufficient clarity as to the degree of improvement required and the timeframe within which it was to be achieved and he therefore did not consider that those standards were reasonable.  Given that only limited progress has been made in developing meaningful performance targets he has now qualified his audit opinion on the 2013-14 Policing Plan on the same basis.  However, the C&AG welcomes the assurances from the Policing Board and PSNI that targets will be included in the 2014-15 Policing Plan which are specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-based.   

Main Findings

On the 2012-13 Performance Summar

  • The Policing Board’s Corporate Business Plan for 2012-13 included a total of 30 targets, spread across three main objectives.   Overall, the Board reported that 21 (70%) of its Outcomes/Targets/Activities for the year had been fully achieved, with a further 8 (27%) partially achieved.  
  • In its report on PSNI’s performance, the Board indicated that, of the 44 targets set for 2012-13, PSNI met or exceeded 40 (90%).   In the case of the remaining four target areas, there was some slippage compared to the previous year.
  • Based on the information provided in the Board’s Annual Report, it is difficult to form a conclusion as to PSNI’s overall performance over the period.   While the majority of targets were fully achieved, a significant proportion was not.  The Board’s Annual Report does not provide any commentary on the reasons for variations.  It is also difficult to obtain a proper appreciation of performance by looking at one year in isolation.
  • There has not always been a continuity of target areas, year on year, within Policing Plans.  It is difficult, therefore, to assess overall performance when looking at only a selection of types of crime in any given period.

On the 2013-14 Policing Plan

The Policing Plan for 2013-14 comprised 11 separate performance indicators with 29 associated performance standards.  As with the 2012-13 Plan performance measures relating to road safety have been expressed in quantitative terms.  Only an additional two The two additional quantitative measures which were introduced in the 2013-14 Plan were to reduce overall crime by 2 per cent and to increase the overall rate of crime outcomes achieved by 3 per cent. quantitative measures were introduced in the 2013-14 Plan and the remaining 40 performance measures did not specify the degree to which performance was to be improved; instead, they simply referred to an increase or decrease.

  • As in previous years PSNI has expressed reservations about the use of quantitative measures.  Whilst the Auditor General notes PSNI’s comments on target setting, it remains a fundamental principle of performance monitoring that targets should specify a minimum level of performance and define aspirations for improvement.  PSNI says it will aim for the highest reduction or increase possible for those measures included in the Plan, but what this will mean in practice and the basis on which performance will be judged acceptable or otherwise is not clear.    
  • The Auditor General acknowledges that setting numeric targets can be complex and does involve a degree of uncertainty.   However, he does not see that as a justification for not setting any target levels at all.   Specific targets help to highlight the level of performance expected and to create a clear sense of focus, priority and timeframe.  In the absence of target levels, there is a concern that the effectiveness of the Board’s scrutiny, and thereby accountability, will be diminished.