THE public spending watchdog has stopped short of asking Justice Minister David Ford to get involved in police performance goals after he discovered the policing board has stopped setting the PSNI actual numerical targets, it’s been revealed.
The Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor General, Kieran Donnelly, looked at the Policing Board’s performance plans and summaries for 2011/12 and 2012/13 and found numerical based targets have disappeared.
The Board - of which Ryan Feeney, Gearóid Ó hEára and Ross Hussey are current members - is charged with drawing up a summary and plan each year.
Mr Donnelly said: “The performance indicators included within the Policing Plan 2012-13 are reasonable. However, 40 of the 44 performance standards included in the Plan lack sufficient clarity as to the degree of improvement required and the timeframe within which it is to be achieved.”
He added: “On that basis, I do not consider that those standards are reasonable and am qualifying my audit opinion accordingly.”
The Auditor went on to explain that the 2012/13 plan comprised 13 separate performance indicators with 44 associated performance measures.
But only four of these measures (those on road safety) were expressed in quantitative terms.
“The remaining 40 measures do not specify the degree to which performance is to be improved; instead, they simply refer to an ’increase’ or ‘decrease,’” stated Mr Donnelly.
“The decision to move away from numerical targets within the Plan, to a narrative-based performance assessment, represents a major shift in approach. PSNI has said that the revision is a result of continued difficulty with a ‘target driven approach’ to planning - it considers that setting realistic but challenging targets is difficult to achieve,” he added.
The PSNI also claimed setting numeric targets can, “in certain cases, have a detrimental effect on improving performance, particularly when there is a degree of guesswork and a small number of outputs.”
The police force said it will aim for the highest reduction and increase possible for those measures included in the 2012-13 Policing Plan.
Yet the auditor cautioned: “While I note PSNI’s comments on target setting, I have concerns about their approach. What precisely the ‘highest reduction/increase possible’ will mean in practice and the basis on which performance will be judged acceptable or otherwise, is not clear.
“I acknowledge that setting numeric targets can be difficult and does involve a degree of uncertainty,” he added. “However, I do not see that as a justification for not setting any target levels at all.”
Mr Donnelly decided not to ask the Justice Minister David Ford to intervene to enforce the Policing Board and PSNI’s responsibilities regarding efficiency and effectiveness under the Police Act 2000.