Value for money in policing: from efficiency to transformation

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The Government has made policing reform a key part of its public service reform agenda. Reform has praised the Home Office for pursuing a “model package” of reforms since the General Election in May 2010. It is making policing accountable in the right way to local electorates through the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. It has rightly commissioned Tom Winsor’s review of the police pay and conditions in order to give Chief Constables the opportunity to structure the workforce appropriately. It has argued successfully that the police should deliver value for money and that there is no simple link between resources and crime.

However, there is already much being done within the wider policing landscape. In order to showcase these examples, Reform convened a major policy conference, Value for money in policing: From efficiency to transformation, in partnership with KPMG, on 29 June. We brought together around 150 delegates, from government, policing, wider law enforcement, the media, business and the third sector to listen to presentations from a range of high profile speakers on the police service and debate case studies of successful service transformation from Greater Manchester Police, West Midlands Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

From efficiency to transformation

In recent years, the debate about police reform has centred on efficiency. Yet in an era of unprecedented budgetary restraint and increasingly complex demand, efficiency is no longer a sufficient response. As Rosemary Scully, Global Partner for Justice and Security at KPMG, argued: “It’s not just a case of doing things a little bit better, a little bit quicker, and maybe a little bit cheaper. It’s actually about going back to the first principles and thinking about what is it that we really need to be doing to meet the needs of our customers”. This philosophy was reiterated by the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, in her opening remarks: “Doing what’s always been done but just a little bit better won’t be enough. What is needed is a fundamental systems approach looking from top to bottom at the whole policing process – not just efficiency but transformation.”

It is this attitude that underpinned the three case studies on the day. Dave Thompson, Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, emphasised that Operation Paragon, the QUEST transformation programme implemented in conjunction with KPMG, focused explicitly on “local policing end to end”, a point echoed by Peter Fahy QPM, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police. As the conference demonstrated, the focus now must be on transformational service reform, not merely incremental efficiency improvement.

Cultural barriers to change

In order to achieve this transformation, a number of key factors were shown to be of fundamental importance. Chief among these was the importance of cultural change in order to drive and sustain service improvement. As Nicholas Fox, Lead Partner for UK Home Affairs at KPMG, remarked: “In any organisation – and this is certainly true in the police service – culture is the biggest barrier to change. And unless you can work with and overcome that, the programme will fail.” A number of the policing leaders argued that the culture within the police service is both “risk-averse” and has a tendency to “think of programme management as a laborious, painstaking and rather dry process”. As Sir Hugh Orde OBE QPM, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, argued: “Empowering our people is one thing. Getting them to understand that they have to take more risk and make more fine judgements against a much reduced central policy mechanism is one of the biggest challenges I think we face in policing.”

The importance of leadership

The role of leadership was shown to be crucial to driving this cultural shift. This was most clearly shown by Peter Fahy, who described how the concept of a “captain on the bridge”, by ensuring divisional commanders are involved in real-time decision-making and ensuring they are “willing to make that difficult decision to move staff, move resources, to control workload”, had delivered dramatic improvements to policing in Greater Manchester. As he argued, “leadership doesn’t come from having more and more leadership programmes and putting more and more of our people in classrooms…leadership comes from creating structures and processes which have clear lines of accountability and ownership”. Paul Evans, Executive Director for Intervention at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said that strong leadership must extend to the top of the organisation, as “how the Board, how the boss behaves, is exactly what happens on the shop floor.”

This was reinforced by the remarks of the expert panel later in the day. Sir Hugh Orde warned that it is important to “give our guys the confidence that as leaders we will protect them when they do the right thing…rather than do things in the right way, i.e. they stick to these massive bureaucracies.” Stephen Rimmer, Director-General of the Crime and Policing Group at the Home Office, stressed the Home Office’s leadership role in a period of change, arguing that the department is “very keen to engage with [forces] over the next few months as to how practically we can support the biggest generational challenge that this group of police leaders has got to face.

Rediscovering the role of policing

At the heart of the day’s discussion was the underlying question of the role of the police. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, argued that policing “should start with the knowledge of what the public actually want”. Mark Easton¸ the BBC’s Home Editor, reiterated the centrality of public concern to the policing mission: “efficient policing is clearly not simply about the absence of crime. In many people’s minds it’s about the absence of fear. Police constables are not just crime fighters, they are social psychologists. They are looking for ways to calm an anxious citizenry.” This key message was summed up well by Nicholas Fox: “We need to be radical. We need to be bold and ambitious in our plans. The answer is to ask a fundamentally different question. We’ve heard it today many times: it’s not how we are to do the same thing better but actually what is it that we need to be doing.”

The next few years hold some of the greatest challenges the police service and its law enforcement partners have ever had to face. In times of straitened finances and organisational change, efficiency is no longer enough. As Greater Manchester, West Midlands and SOCA show, forces can, and must, transform the way in which they deliver policing in order to improve value for money and deliver better outcomes for citizens.