Tuesday, 12 October 2010

North Wales Police Authority: no response (updated)

Actually we do: 45% were in favour and 41% opposed
Just over a month ago I wrote about the North Wales Police Authority's shameful misrepresentation of the results of an statistically invalid internet survey which they conducted together with the South Wales Police Authority to supposedly gauge the Welsh public's opinion on elected police commissioners. Despite only 884 people taking part (and only 82 of them coming from North Wales) the NWPA then released their interim findings to the Daily Post, stating categorically that residents of North Wales didn't want a elected police commissioner -- except that they actually did, with 45 percent either in favour or somewhat in favour, compared to 41 percent who were against. In so doing the NWPA were clearly guilty of wilfully misrepresenting the results of a sham public consultation in order to oppose the new policy and protect both the status quo and their own sinecures.

In response a regular commenter to this blog then contacted both the NWPA and SWPA by letter asking them to comment on why they had released the results of a survey which breaks so many elements of good practise on polling, namely:

"(1) The sample is not representative of the population because it is self-selecting. In other words, only those who feel they have an opinion on the topic will trouble themselves to respond. There is some background information gathered about respondents, but this is not complete, and crucially lacks information on socio-economic background. There is therefore no robust means of correcting for the sample that you do gather.
(2) The poll asks for the respondents' sex, but the responses are not broken down by sex. In contrast, and perhaps in a nod to political correctness, the fraction of 'ethnic minority' backgrounds is quoted (but not how they 'vote' on the poll).
(3) The response rate per head of population is exceptionally low; Anglesey (population ca. 70,000), has only 7 respondents - 1 in 10,000. Even as a total, 884 responses is well below the accepted minimum representative (which it anyway is not) poll size of about 1000 respondents.
(4) You do not provide the margin of error (the confidence intervals) for the poll. If it were quoted, the confidence in the results would appear to be low.
(5) There may be bias in the questions asked, and so stray into a 'push-poll'. It is not clear who drew up the poll, but it is clear why it is was drawn. From the general content of the report so far, there seems to be a bias against the concept of elected commissioners within the NWPA."

The response almost one month later?

NWPA: no acknowledgement, no response.
SWPA: acknowledgement received, no further response.

So there you are: you can choose between (a) a number of unelected appointees/quangocrats who clearly do not feel they have to respond to reasonable questions from members of the general public; or (b) an elected commissioner who will be held directly accountable to residents for police priorities and performance. I know which option I would choose.

On a side note, the acknowledgement from the SWPA said that the letter would be passed on to the Chief Constable -- which begs the question of just how independent the Police Authorities really are. Why would the chief constable of South Wales need to be informed about a complaint regarding the methodology of an internet poll carried out by a body supposedly at arms length from the Police?


Prometheuswrites said...

It would appear that some public organisations have taken a hiatus from responding to information requests since the election.

I've also had trouble getting replies to several of my letters to public bodies and those that I have had merely restate the policy position and don't actually address the specific questions I've asked.

Irritating, as I don't want to have to trot out a FOI request as a default position.

The Great Councillini said...

Mine wasn't a FoIA request, but a criticism of the methodology used.

I wouldn't shy away from FoIA requests if I were you; it is your statutory right, given by Parliament, and unless you are acting unreasonably or vexatiously, the public body must respond. Remember, it is not a public body's right to know why you want the information, nor what purpose to which you will put it.

Think of it this way: by making requests and insisting compliance with statute law, you are improving matters for everyone, including the bodies themselves, who often need considerable improvements in how they handle FoIA requests.

Prometheuswrites said...

That's my problem with it though.
It's a statutory right so I shouldn't have to invoke it.

It's like someone saying "If I'd known you were aware that I had an obligation to give you that information then I'd have given it to you"

Education is statutory right for our children but I don't recall having to write and ask for it.

Councillini I'd love to agree with you about improving matters for everyone, but in my experience it leads to accusations of vexatiousness if you are tenacious enough to ask for further information; and I suspect draws institutional awareness to how to avoid matters they think are best left untouched.

I'm sorry if I sound cynical, but that's from the relucant lessons of experience.

I do note that monitoring organisations like the National Audit and the Ombudsmans office have brought out various documents highlighting the lack of implementation of policy by many bodies - even reports of lack of implimentation by the monitoring bodies themselves.

(see my post about 'black hole in national auditor's accounts' - something about pensions, I believe).

On the other hand you are entirely correct that highlighting problems gives the public body an opportunity to make improvements - but that relies on there being a tacit policy on the ground of making improvements.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Of late there has been some energetic 'debate' on most of your posting Druid. This one is not getting much of an outing. Maybe people aren't as excerised about it as you are?

Never mind, another crusade will come by soon.


Anonymous said...

We don't like writing about the Police, their long dark arms reach everywhere.........

The Red Flag said...

Anon 11:27 said "Hmm. Of late there has been some energetic 'debate' on most of your posting Druid"

I think possibly the problem is the title North Wales Police Authority: no response. The only observation you can make is 'no surprises there then'.


The Druid of Anglesey said...

Red Flag - I clearly need to brush up my headline writing!

The Great Councillini said...

"It's a statutory right so I shouldn't have to invoke"

Prometheus: I agree in principle, but it's not an ideal world, and even legal people in these organisatons often haven't bothered to take the time to properly understand the FoI Act - as letters from Anglesey's own solicitors demonstrate amply.

Do remember that public bodies are obliged to treat any named, addressed request for information as a FoIA request - it is not necessary under the Act for the enquirer to explicitly invoke the Act at all:

"To be valid under the Freedom of Information Act, requests do NOT:

* Have to be written on a special form
* Need to mention the Act
* Need to refer to 'Freedom of Information' in any way."

Reference (merely as the first hit from Google) Durham Constabulary web site.

Prometheuswrites said...


I agree with you entirely. I would point out the differences between documented policy and tacit policy, that is; the difference between what is stated in policy (Documented) and what is actually happening on the ground (Tacit).
(My thanks to Dr Cameron of Caernarfon for the use of these terms)

I quote the following as it highlights how we get into the situations where things go wrong on the ground (tacit policy).

“Each uneventful day that passes reinforces a steadily growing false sense of confidence that everything is all right – that I, we, my group must be OK because the way we did things today resulted in no adverse consequences.” by Scott Snook (Senior Lecturer in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School... )From Radio 4 -... 'Thinking Aloud' last Sunday.

If you're wondering how the UK & IOACC got to be in this woeful state this quote goes a fair way in explaining the precursors from earlier years.

The quote is taken from a miltitary context and was being applied to the problems encountered during the commercial drug trials in the UK last year that went so horribly wrong, due to accepted 'tacit' practices that came to be accepted over the years, because nothing had gone wrong before, (in this case, short interval trials, instead of the hour wait between administrations of each individual dose).

Just like the banks and financial 'services' buying and selling all that sub-prime debt.

Anonymous said...

The plot thickens! An expression of concern was sent to SWPA about the lack of response from either themselves or NWPA.

Surprisingly, they claim a response has been sent from the Chief Constable's Staff Officer. Yet no such response has been received. They also say now (of course) that the SWPA is 'preparing a response'. Well, having told them that the whole point of enquiring was for the benefit of blog readers, I suppose they would now, wouldn't they? Yet, I'm still waiting for the response. No doubt a staff statistician is sweating away, trying to make 41% opposed look like more than 45% in favour. I've no doubt they'll pull something like this out of the hat.

As Druid earlier posted, the Police Authorities have told us all we need to know in attempting to look accountable: they aren't.

Tal Michael, Chief Executive North Wales Police Authority said...

We haven't received this letter, but I can assure you we have not misrepresented anything. The basis of the survey was explicit: working with the other Police Authorities in Wales we have given an opportunity for the public to express a view. The timetable for consultation was very short, but this is the fault of the Home Office. We submitted interim results by the Home Office deadline, but then we re-opened the survey so that others can have an opportunity. We have now closed the survey and South Wales Police Authority will be analysing the results so that we can publish them.

There is a difference between consultation and research. “Opinion polls” or “Representative Surveys” use sampling techniques to find out what the general public think. Statistical theory suggests that by setting quotas for gender, age, work status, social class and spreading those selected for interview randomly across an area, we are able to question about 1,000 people across an area and find out what they think with a margin of error up to 2 or 3 percentage points either way.

Consultation is when we invite people to express a view. By its very nature, consultation attracts more responses from those people who take an interest in a particular subject. Those responding will not necessarily be representative of the wider public.

We never suggested that this was an opinion poll - we said we were inviting views on the Government's proposals. The all-Wales analysis undertaken by South Wales Police Authority does not twist the results - we said they showed that "According to the survey, 41 per cent were opposed to the introduction of a commissioner while less than 30 per cent were in favour". You have misinterpreted the results and said that 45 percent are either in favour or somewhat in favour. It would be equally valid to say that 56% of respondents were either against or somewhat against. We gave details of where respondents live, their gender and their ethnicity.

North Wales Police Authority has been clear about its own views on the Government's proposals. We are not opposed, but we do have serious concerns. We recognise that there is room for improvement and we are open to change, but we believe that changes should be focused on ensuring high quality, accountable policing, with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders in agreeing policing priorities and agree that this is best achieved through governance arrangements which promote a consensual, involving approach with appropriate safeguards. See www.nwalespa.org for full details.