“…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.
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.
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”.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed last week that they have arrested 900 suspects and seized £17.4m worth of drugs, £3.5m of black market goods including contraband cigarettes, £0.5m worth of vehicles and £350k in cash as a result of informants and intelligence-led operations over the last 12 months. As reported on the UTV News website, PSNI spent £405,000 on intelligence sources last year – the latest figures show that such activity clearly delivers impressive results and demonstrates the fact that, when used carefully and intelligently, informants are an invaluable tool in the fight against crime.
It has emerged following the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that, of the £367m savings that the Home Office will be required to make, £135m will come from UK police forces. This is on top of ambitious efficiency savings that the previous government had already imposed.
Despite the announcement, the President of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, Chief Supt Derek Barnett, has stated that police forces will “be able to implement the cuts without affecting front line services”. Whatever happens, pressure to eliminate waste and improve efficiency will be greater than ever.
It would seem that pressure is now being put onto many Police Forces to join IT departments and as a consequence combine systems that are being used by frontline operational police officers. Of course historically Police Forces have been quite protective of their resources but more recently Regional Collaboration is seen as the way forward. It is an interesting debate and on my travels I do hear many arguments for and against the concepts of Regional IT systems, I suspect the truth is, they are on the way and certainly here at ABM we are prepared to meet the challenges at all levels.
The Home Office has released a report entitled High Level Working Group Report on Police Value For Money. The report outlines how the UK’s police authorities and forces will meeting savings targets of at least £100 million in 2010/11 followed by £500m from 2013/2014 without negatively impacting upon the level of service provided to the public. This is a tall order on the basis that 80% of expenditure lies in personnel, but it is clear that approaches to purchasing decisions will have to be reconsidered. Spending on IT will come under particular scrutiny as the largest category within goods and services expenditure and the need for better collaborative working and regionalisation of services must be a key driver. ABM has continued to supply both enterprise and workgroup covert systems to policing for the last 15 years and the work which it has conducted in implementing a regional Intelligence system in Scotland must be seen as a model for the future. The key to the delivery of collaborative IT is to make sure that the collaboration delivers both better ‘value for money’ as well as enhanced operational performance. There are plenty of examples of how this works already and these examples must be built upon rather than “reinventing the wheel”.