Audit report critical of police custody suite delays


“A hugely critical” audit found that an appraisal of a suitable site for a new specialist police custody suite and accommodation costing £30million to £45m failed to realise it did not meet strict government requirements and saw projected costs soar to £139m.

The hunt by the City of London Corporation and the police force for possible new sites in the City started back in 2012.

They looked at using space at Guildhall Yard East, where the police force has a base, Walbrook Wharf and the police HQ at Wood Street.

It was estimated to cost £30m to £45m and would have been partly funded by selling off the former police hostel at Bernard Morgan House, Bishopsgate and Snow Hill. Other options included investing in the existing custody suites.

Eventually by 2015 estimated costs soared to £139m before a decision was made to build a combined court and custody suite at Fleet Street.

The police force is independently funded and regulated by the Home Office.

The City of London’s performance and management committee of the Police Authority Board considered the saga at their meeting on Friday (Nov 15).

Lay member Kenneth Ludlam said: “It’s been a major failure in project management so far and the corporation and police and could have wasted money all along the line. It seems to me that we need to keep the pressure on it.”

Acting commander Dave Evans said the issue “is probably occupying most airtime to the force.” But he said the current custody accommodation was “not fit for purpose”

External consultants were paid £43,000 to look at the options in 2012. Two years later a £2.4m contract was given to create a specialist design team to draw up designs for the options.

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However, an internal audit for the City of London Police and the Police Authority published this month, said “the City Police failed to provide robust challenge to the options pursued” in the police accommodation programme.

It said a tender document drawn up in 2014 “failed to set of (sic) the City’s detailed requirements in relation to producing detailed designs for the police accommodation programme.”

And the internal audit report highlighted a failure to take into account “the security requirements required for the accommodation.”

It pointed out that the proposed sites “are on main thoroughfares which make them vulnerable to terrorist attacks and impossible to secure the perimeter.”

The report said there was “no evidence that consideration was given to obvious security issues prior to committing resources to this option.” However, it said the City of London Police force had looked at the security issue “and did not consider that they posed a major obstacle”.

But the report said that the proposed site at Walbrook Wharf in Upper Thames Street did not meet Home Office criteria  which bans custody suites close to rivers or bridges “due to suicide”.

The internal audit concluded that if more money was spent on “more robust feasibility studies” Walbrook Wharf would have been ruled out sooner.

By 2015 the City Surveyor’s department drew up options for refurbishing Guildhall Yard East and building a new tower and filling in the courtyard at police HQ at Wood Street – a scheme which got the green light from councillors.

It was estimated it was likely to cost £95m but would be partly funded by £65m from disposing of buildings.

However the report said there was a problem at the Grade II listed Wood Street site, which did not have “the requisite bomb blast resistance in the event of a terror attack” which should have ruled it out.

By October 2017 costs had increased to £139m – less £71m expected from selling assets.

Finally a feasibility study was done for the new build at Fleet Street. This £278m project  – less £97m for selling off police assets – sees the City and Police join forces with the Courts and Tribunals Service for a purpose built court and custody suites.

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