Cutting back on the old bill

South Wales Police Chief Constable Barbara Wilding has had a busy week.
Her anger at her own police authority’s decision not to grant the 9.8 per cent rise in the council tax precept she demanded has put her into media overdrive.
Ms Wilding is due to step down from the role in December and told the South Wales Echo earlier this year that she was unlikely to “stay home and do nothing” as she would miss “having…influence… My husband says I should go into politics but that would be dreadful.”
Perhaps something semi-political, then? A job on a quango for instance? There must be some reason for all this activity.
During the last few days she has raised the possibility of cutting back policing of major events at the Millennium Stadium, the Ryder Cup and the M4.
One AM said “frankly, her attitude beggars belief.”
“The public is struggling to make ends meet, jobs are being lost across the region so it is not acceptable to ask people to pay three times the inflation rate,” said Plaid Cymru’s Chris Franks.
He might also have noted that Take That concerts and football matches are not the only items which have put strain on the force’s purse strings during the last few years.
There was, for instance, the embarrassing defeat the force suffered at the hands of one of its own officers at the High Court.
Neath Detective Timothy Hodgson, a “professional, efficient and effective” specialist in tackling complex fraud cases, retired in December 2006 after 30 years.
His case revolved around a programme called the 30-plus scheme, which is designed to encourage highly skilled officers to stay in the force after 30 years – the point at which they can take retirement.
Hodgson was accepted on the scheme but was forced out of the force months later.
With the support of the South Wales Police Federation he took his former employer to court – and won.
In June 2008 a High Court judge ruled that the force had acted unlawfully in not giving him a fair hearing before he was kicked out.
Fighting High Court cases is not cheap – and there were other officers too who were forced out.
Then there was the estimated £100,000 of taxpayers’ money thrown down the drain keeping another of the force’s own officers under surveillance after it wrongly suspected he was faking post traumatic stress disorder following a soccer riot in which he was hit by bricks and bottles.
The force used 11 officers to spy on PC Mark Pugh, a dog handler, even filming him as he put out the rubbish at home. He took his case to the Police Medical Appeal Board which confirmed his condition was genuine and awarded him a 100 per cent disability pension.
Its judgment stated: “It is the board’s view that the surveillance tapes in themselves did not constitute any form of credible psychiatric assessment.”
Going public with his findings in September 2008, Mr Pugh said: “I feel I have been treated very badly. I was astounded when I became aware of the level of surveillance on me. I have been told that it will have cost around £100,000 of public money.”
The case was defended in the press by Dougie Woods, the then director of human resources for South Wales Police, who said the force had a “duty to manage and ultimately reduce sickness levels”. He added: “I am sure that the public of South Wales would expect us to reduce sickness of officers and staff so that we continue to provide a value for money service and keep our communities safe.”
But what of Mr Woods himself?
Formerly a HR director at food manufacturers Coldwater Seafoods, Mr Woods took the £78,000-a-year police job early in 2007. However, in October 2008, he resigned suddenly after only 18 months.
Mr Woods was the third director of human resources with South Wales Police to be suspended from duty and then either resign or be dismissed within the space of a couple of years.
The South Wales Evening Post noted upon his departure: “Since he took the post he has been responsible for trying to save £11 million of force money over three years, regardless of the recent losses the force suffered due to the Icelandic banks collapse. His cuts have included retiring officers who have served on the beat for 30 years or more, as well as replacing officers who provide ‘back room’ tasks with civilians at cheaper cost.”
Disputes with its own staff aside, the force has also had to stump up a fortune for wrongful arrests. Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood discovered last year that during the previous two years South Wales Police had paid out £556,700 in compensation for wrongful arrests and other civil claims.
The pay-outs, which related to claims stretching back to 1997, dwarfed those made by the three other Welsh forces.
“It is a matter of concern that large sums of public money have been paid out by South Wales Police to resolve claims made by members of the public,” the AM noted.
Plenty of areas, then, for what organisations these days like to call efficiency savings.

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