There is an interesting outcome of the current financial crisis hitting the police service and that is the area of IT standardisation. I have had many recent discussions where individuals feel that ‘buying the same systems’ enables collaboration and reduces costs. This approach risks the Service wandering blindly in to the procurement of inefficient systems just to meet the tick in the box and goes nowhere in sharing information on a collaborative basis.
On commencing the national Intelligence Database project in Scotland in 2001, the largest and most immediate piece of work which had to be conducted was to look at the myriad of intelligence handling processes which were going on within individual forces and working together to rationalise these in to a single and agreed model for intelligence management. The National Rules and Conventions were the outcome and yet the true work was to simplify and make as efficient as possible the process of intelligence management. This in itself without the IT system to back it up was a major step forward in reducing costs in processing.
The result of this process was to allow the procurement of one central system for intelligence, rather than all eight forces buying the same system. It was from this that the Service managed to save millions of pounds over the future years.
What seems to be missing from the current approach is the review of process. Buying five of the same within a region may save some cost savings through bulk buying, but one thing you can guarantee is that the current approach will lead to the same system being used in five different ways.
Regions need to wake up and start to review their processes on a collaborative basis as the first step along the road, prior to any discussion about buying the same system.
The Metropolitan Police paid Covert Human Intelligence Sources £1.9m in 2009/10, a small rise from the the £1.86m figure that was paid out in the previous year. The Independent also reported that a further £176k was spent on travel, accommodation and meals for police informant handlers.
Should the police be paying such sums of money to the crimals? Or does it reflect a truly cost-effective method of gathering and acting upon intelligence? The moral dilemma of paying informants to provide information on other criminals is always going to be present but if the alternative is to spend many more hundreds of thousands of pounds on undercover surveillance, then it must remain a crucial tool for modern-day policing.
Scotland’s Sunday Mail reported yesterday that the Scottish Witness Protection Unit protected 44 witnesses in 2009/10 – over three times the number witnesses protected in the previous year. This seems to highlight the growing importance of protecting vulnerable witnesses in the fight against organised crime gangs. The Sunday Mail article emphasises the shady nature of witness protection but accepts that the nature of the job requires the SWPU to work in the shadows. Despite this, the UK has some of the most professionally organised and legislated witness protection programmes in the world, serving to allow more witnesses to come forward to support the fight against serious organised crime.
“…but it is possible” – the words of Sir Dennis O’Connor as two reports on value for money in UK policing were published yesterday. HMIC’s report, Valuing the Police, found that only 11 percent of total police personnel are visible and available to the public at any one time and highlighted a need to improve shift patterns to more accurately match demand. It finds that too much time is increasingly spent on investigation and specialist functions while the number of police officers working in the community has fallen over the last four years.
A seperate report by the Audit Commission, HMIC and the Wales Audit Office, entitled “Sustaining value for money in the police service“, found that, crime has fallen by 45 percent since 1995, but this has been coupled with significant increases in police spending which has, according to the report, been poorly scrutinised and challenged.
The report shows that 80% of police spending is on the workforce which suggests that, if real cost and efficiency savings are to be made, police forces need to think carefully about the deployment of personnel resources, reducing unnecessary management and over-skilled back-office workers. The report goes on to challenge the police service to make savings of up to £1 billion (12% of current expenditure). £420m of this is accounted for through savings in procurement, back office, reducing overtime, workforce modernisation and reducing management overheads. But the report suggests that an additional £500m can be saved through productivity improvements - i.e. reducing the number of police officers or making them work harder… Whether such savings are truly achievable remains to be seen.
The Chief Inspector of Constabulary this morning has published a report detailing what everyone else has been thinking these past weeks. The fact of the matter is that anything over a 12% cut in police funding cannot be achieved without re-engineering the way in which UK police is organised and functions. The reality is that over the last 10 years we have created a police service which has been dogged by bureaucracy, red tape and, at times, a risk averse approach. All of this, as in any organisation that suffers the same level of hand tying, results in increased costs and increased inefficiency.
Sir Dennis O’Connor is therefore right that we should now look at the whole picture in terms of UK policing structure and service and go back to basics in terms of delivering core services. One solution to the problem may well be an acceleration of merging territorial based policing within regions and moving more specialised services to the centre. Do I dare to say a return of the Regional Crime Squad in disguise..? At least under this model, the public get their territorial and local based service whilst major crime investigation and other specialised services are concentrated where it counts. The biggest hurdle to cross now is that of investment. The merger process and setting up of central service incurs significant investment against long term savings. The question is will there be political commitment to spend now and save later? The plot thickens and it may well not come to any conclusion until after the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in October where the real devastation by cuts may eventually be revealed.
The EDP reported yesterday that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have seized 3,800 illegal cigarettes, 86kg of tobacco and 150 cigarillos from market stalls in Norwich – further evidence of the scale of the illegal tabacco products problem in the UK. The cost to the government in lost tax revenue is considerable, with this haul alone representing tax evasion of around £12,000. HMRC officials also pointed out the risks of buying un-regulated tobacco products. The EDP notes that previous tests have shown counterfeit cigarettes to contain up to 60 percent more tar, 80 percent more nicotine and 133 percent more carbon monoxide as well as three times the levels of arsenic, five times the level of cadmium and six times the level of lead found in genuine brands.
There have been many reports recently of the potential for 25% cuts across the Home Office and Policing in the UK. But where should cuts be made and what is the impact?
The Home Secretary announced this week that the Government wish to protect frontline policing as a policy and through the cuts that need to be made there is a view that Frontline policing should even increase. So with this push for visibility of the police in the community, where can you cut?
Undoubtedly, the answer will be within areas of policing that conduct specialised tasks. There is no doubt that, with the Uniformed element of policing being somewhat protected, the axe will fall on those departments that have been looking at major crime, serious and organised crime, counter terrorism and other areas of specialised operations. John Yates of Scotland Yard has already warned of the threat posed by reducing the work being conducted on anti terrorist operations and no doubt that others will also cite areas of concern, such as serious and organised crime. It is still unfortunate that the true relationship between these specialised areas and the impact these have on communities is not fully appreciated. Reducing the effectiveness of these specialised areas will only have the impact of increasing issues in the community relating to drugs, violent crime, identity fraud and the myriad of other community based activities that go to funding these organisations. John Yates is also right in his assessment of the increased threat of terrorism. Terrorist organisations will be watching and looking for the weak points in countries where financial issues are reducing the state’s ability to respond.
So in conclusion, we have to be very careful where we focus cuts and make sure that we do not specifically focus on politically expedient areas such as frontline visibility. At the end of the day, the majority of the public are not particularly bothered as to whether they see a police officer on the beat or not. What they really care about is that an officer comes to their assistance quickly at that very rare time of most need.
The Scotsman has obtained figures from the tobacco industry which reveal significant increases in smuggling of illegal cigarettes. The article, published on Saturday, found that 31 per cent of packets in Scotland were illegal, up 10 per cent from 2009. The figures also show that the worst area in the UK is the north of England where 43 per cent were illegal, up 24 per cent. The Scotsman blames the cut in police staffing of Scotland’s west coast ports for the dramatic increase.
Speaking in 2008, Michael Prideaux, Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at British American Tobacco, estimated “the size of the global illicit trade in cigarettes to be approximately 390 billion sticks annually representing 6% of total world cigarette consumption. This denies worldwide governments approximately US$20 billion in annual tax revenue.”
With the budget potentially hitting Government Departments hard from 2011, what is the impact on Policing? With the Home Office currently receiving a budget of £9.6bn per annum to fund Policing and Immigration/Customs services and the Police currently working with a budget of £5.6bn, a 25% reduction could have an impact of £1.4bn per annum. So what are the options? Some will initially spotlight the NPIA as a possible casualty with its role as policy writer, national systems supporter and training deliverer. There is no doubt that many will ask what the value of the organisation is with its current costs towards £0.5bn per annum. However, the support for core systems and some level of national training will have to lie somewhere so it’s not quite so easy for this current organisation to dissolve completely. There must however be questions over the viabiltiy of some its current initiatives including ISIS. A good policy to look towards standardisation, but can and will Forces be able to afford change?
IT does play a part in this scramble to save money and most should now look as to how proper and efficient use of IT save time and money for frontline officers, possibly enabling the reduction in required numbers over time. However, these sort of cuts require significant strategies and not just re-organising the deck chairs! It has to be time where the service reviews the provision of back office services, including IT, HR, Finance, Fleet Management etc. more radically than before and looks at utilising Shared/CLOUD/Third Party services to deliver these.
We are moving in to a new chapter of policing in the UK where the landscape of service provision to the public will change forever.
Computer Weekly have reported Jos Creese, president of Socitm, as saying that George Osborne’s emergency UK budget fails to take account of the potential efficiency savings that could be realised by better use of IT. Speaking on behalf of ICT professionals in the public sector, Creese is quoted as saying, “arguably, technology is the only ‘silver bullet’ in the armoury of the new government”.