CFOs should be at the heart of decision making in policing


By Alison Dewhirst, CIPFA Police and Fire Advisor

Police forces continue to face immense financial pressure as a result of the pandemic. Moving forward, chief financial officers (CFOs) in policing will have an ever-increasing role in supporting critical decisions that ensure communities are kept safe and best value for taxpayer money is achieved. As a result, we must ensure that police CFOs always have a seat at the leadership table. CIPFA's latest guidance on this issue was published in March.

One of the key elements of the role of CFO in policing is to provide sound advice on which chief constables and Police and Crime Commissioners can base their decisions on. To achieve this, it's imperative that CFOs have unfettered access to the chief constable or PCC, and can give their advice independent of any other office holders.

However, organisational structures do not always make this easy, especially in police forces. The CFO for the chief constable may report to a deputy chief constable, or to a director of resources from another profession, such as human resources. In structural terms, this puts them more than one step away from the chief. Alongside this, the CFO for the chief constable often holds a wider role with broader responsibilities, such as IT and procurement. This doesn't negate the need to uphold statutory duties to maintain proper financial affairs, report any unlawful expenditure or an unbalanced budget. However, it does create additional complexity in the need to balance the different aspects of their role.

It is not just CFOs who have finance-related duties – this is true not just in policing, but in other sectors as well. Chief constables have a statutory duty under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to secure value for money and their PCC must specifically hold them to account for this duty. Given these roles are seldom held by finance professionals, how can this be done without sound and impartial financial advice from their CFOs?

Given the economic outlook arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting pressure on public finances, the pendulum of government policy is starting to swing back towards improving productivity and efficiency. Any transformation programme for the force, collaboration with external partners, or estates strategy must rely on sound financial advice. The CFO must therefore always have a seat at the top table, not just to satisfy their own legal requirements, but those placed on the PCC and chief constable.

In the current climate, it is now more important than ever for CFOs to be at the very heart of decision making – for the good of their organisations and the communities they serve.

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