Police leaders should not halt their reforms because of the better-than-expected spending review. They should grab this opportunity to continue the radical transformation of their organisations.
The real-terms protection of police funding was a welcome surprise for Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). But it is no excuse to stop the genuine innovation and transformation of the past six years.
If anything, the spending review should accelerate change. The funding settlement provides Chief Constables and PCCs with what might be a unique opportunity to see their reforms through: to make choices, to truly transform their organisations and to create a sustainable future. Whilst Brexit will cause much uncertainty, in our view it doesn’t fundamentally change the way forces need to transform.
Are the financial pressures over?
Forces now face a better financial future but there is still much uncertainty, especially given Brexit and the prospect of renewed funding pressure from an autumn statement. The current real-term protection of funding depends on PCCs increasing the council tax precept each year. Not all forces have fully met the financial settlement of the previous Parliament and proposals for a new funding formula will create losers as well as winners. Indeed, in her previous role as Home Secretary, Theresa May warned forces "It does not let you off the hook or mean you can slow the pace of change…every force will still need to make savings year on year”. When PCCs take on responsibility for the fire service this makes things even more complicated. The net position is unclear and will vary for each force but we believe the message from government is: We’re providing some space, so take this opportunity to transform and create a sustainable police service that meets future demand.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Demand for policing is growing, becoming more complex and resource intensive. Budgets are protected from inflation but not this growth. This means that forces cannot meet demand if they carry on doing things in the same way. Chief Constables and PCCs will need to continue to fundamentally redefine policing models to create capacity and focus on what is most important to communities. For PCCs particularly, this creates an interesting manifesto challenge. Many commentators see a tension between committing to traditional neighbourhood policing and ensuring resources are focused on the most serious harm. Incoming PCC’s have a fantastic opportunity to engage with the electorate, define what is valued and shape the type of police service people want to see in their area.
It’s all about demand…
Demand management and demand reduction must be central to policing. Most forces now use demand management techniques such as triage or risk based assessments. Assessing whether each situation requires a policing response presents a cultural challenge for forces. Officers and staff often perceive such changes to mean a lesser service for citizens.
Demand reduction is even more challenging. The root cause of much demand flows from the complex dependencies of individuals, families and locations. The underlying causes that officers cannot address in isolation require forces to redefine their relationship with public sector partners. Chief Officers and PCCs need to invest resources in the knowledge benefits may not be delivered for a few years, or that those benefits may be realised by another organisation (e.g. decommissioning of prison places as a result of police led offender management work). This asks for police leaders to have confidence in their partners’ ability to deliver and to recognise the contribution.
But this sort of integration presents the most exciting opportunity to really create a sustainable public service. The Local Authority funding settlement will take many near to financial distress and we believe this will push some mergers. This will provide the platform for integrated public services, with forces at the centre, especially in two-tier authority areas.
Forces will continue to work together more, with most in some type of strategic alliance. National programmes aimed at the overall provision of specialist policing (e.g. armed policing) will continue to influence this.
When PCCs become accountable for the fire and rescue service, police and fire control rooms, community outreach and back office functions will integrate. But forces need to be careful. We believe that this bluelight integration should happen in parallel with the integration of place-based services – not at its expense. If only bluelight integration goes ahead, it will be harder to determine and tackle the root causes of demand.
We believe forces need to bring new vigour to using and sharing data on individuals, families and locations. Decisions will be less reactive and services better designed by placing user needs at the core. For instance, New York’s Health and Human Services Connect programme (HSS-Connect) has joined up information across public sector agencies, enabling the city to redefine its services, empower its staff and give them the tools to do a better job. Here in the UK, places like Greater Manchester are using devolution to establish their own data integration and we expect most other places to follow suit.
And your talent
We predict a fundamental change to the nature of demand, policing models, and the relationship with partners. Forces will look to their learning and talent development strategies to deliver a workforce with the skills and capabilities to meet these changing needs while improving diversity and inclusion within the profession. The spending review allows leaders to invest in, shape and harness the talent that exists to shape a police service for the future.
For public service reformers, we believe policing is entering a golden era. Whilst funding is still under pressure, police leaders have the space to grasp the opportunities presented by devolution, by digital and from a real conversation with the public to define an exciting future, placing policing at the heart of communities and public services.