KENT Police has had to repay the Home Office almost £10million after an error in the annual accounts went unnoticed by the force for nearly a decade.
The news comes at a time when the force, like many others, is battling to overcome budget cuts.
Police finances though remain in a ’strong’ position. Because of a coding mistake the police have been over claiming from the Government’s pension top-up grant each year since 2006.
Details of the error were carried in a report published last month and prepared under the Police Effectiveness, Efficiency and Legitimacy programme, known as PEEL.
The report, that comes from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC), warned that the repayment had reduced reserves and ‘may have an impact upon capital investment plans’ in the future.
The error was not referenced in a media release issued on PEEL by the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott who ‘praised’ the police and said: “The force was rated outstanding for understanding its demand, local priorities, national requirements and public expectations.’
The accounting error, that appeared on page 29 of a 36 page report, happened prior to Mr Scott being elected in May. The previous Commissioner was Ann Barnes.
Commissioners have overall responsibility for the police.
In response to a series of questions to his office from the Times, Mr Scott told this newspaper: “I was naturally concerned about this serious issue and have sought assurances from the force that everything is in order. In the future, my team and I will continue to scrutinise the force’s finances as appropriate.”
The commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer Rob Phillips, said: “The £9.8million was rightfully owed to the Home Office and once identified by us it was returned to the Home Office entirely from Kent Police’s reserves. This has not affected the force’s medium-term financial plan.
“It is too early to know what challenges Kent Police may face in the longer term spending period from 2020/21 to 2023/24 – but HMIC has recognised that Kent Police is good at planning for its future demand.
“Kent Police’s finances remain in a strong position to meet whatever challenges may arise in future.”
In answer to the question about how it was possible for an accounting error to go undetected for nearly ten years? Mr Phillips said:
‘In 2006, an incorrect code was entered onto a computerised system. Each year thereafter the code automatically carried over to the next year’s accounts until, to the force’s credit, Kent Police identified the error and notified the Home Office.”
Mr Phillips was not working at Kent Police when the error was made.