An official report criticising the efficiency of a number of police forces and casting doubt on the ability of others to withstand a new round of budget cuts should be a “wake-up call to the Government and the country,” the Police Federation has warned.
Steve White, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has stated that the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC)-produced report demonstrates members of the public must be allowed the chance to state what it is they want their police service to do.
The report, entitled: ‘Police Efficiency 2015’, was published on Tuesday 21 October and unearths problems in the way the individual forces work together, as well as difficulties in procuring IT equipment that’s fit for purpose.
A poll conducted alongside the survey suggests that many members of the public believe the service they are receiving is now deteriorating.
Steve White explained: “This report should be a wake-up call for the Government and the country regarding the future delivery of policing. It makes clear that, despite Herculean efforts, the impact of budgets cuts on policing is now taking its toll.”
White continued: “This report should be the catalyst to energise a full and proper public debate on what the public want from their police service in the next five years. All options should be considered and particularly those around collaborations, which are clearly not delivering as well as they should.”
In conclusion, White stated: “Combined with deep concerns over Information Technology and the changing face of crime, this suggests a much more joined-up approach is required. How many forces need to fail, putting the public at risk, before something is done? The time is right to be considering a proper review of policing, what it delivers, how it delivers it, with whom it works with and how it’s funded going forward.”
Future efficiency “must improve” to meet financial pressures
The HMIC study looked at how well forces understand the demand for their service and how well they match their resources to that demand and goes on to provide an assessment of their efficiency.
The report is accompanied by separate reports on each force based on inspections carried out from March to June 2015, as well as data provided by forces on their spending plans for future years.
HMIC graded five forces as ‘outstanding’, 29 were ‘good’, eight as ‘requiring improvement’ while, for the first time, one force has been found to be ‘inadequate’.
HMIC’s Mike Cunningham, who led the inspection, said: “Since 2010, police forces have been through change on an unprecedented scale. It’s a tribute to the leadership of the police service and to officers, Police Community Support Officers and staff in all forces that the service has, on the whole, been able to absorb that change while measured crime has continued to fall and public satisfaction with the police has been maintained.”
Cunningham outlined: “The next five years will be more challenging for forces as they strive to make further reductions in budgets and workforce while also dealing with increasingly complex crime. Policing is entering uncharted waters.”
He believes that police forces have made great strides in assessing the current demand for their service, but that they need to improve their ability to forecast demand.
“Only by achieving this level of understanding can forces make informed decisions on how to make best use of their resources. Typically, forces think in terms of numbers of officers and staff when developing workforce plans, rather than their skills and capabilities that will be required in the future. They need to start building their capability now, informed by a clearer understanding of future demand.”
This news comes at a time of great financial uncertainty for the police service, with the outcome of the review of the police funding formula yet to be announced and the overall level of funding to be announced in the next Spending Review not due until November.
Current and future demands on policing
Most forces have a good understanding of the current demand for their service and they know their current capacity (ie the costs and numbers of their workforce). However, too many forces have a weak understanding of their current capabilities (that is, the skills their workforces have).
Forces have little understanding of their future demand and the capability they need to meet it. The future planning and modernisation that’s taking place in forces is driven by capacity – how much money forces will have and how many people they can afford to employ, rather than what forces are likely to have to do.
Police forces, states HMIC, need to improve their understanding of future demand and link it to their financial and organisational planning such that they’re in a fit shape to face their future challenge.
Forces’ IT needs to improve “considerably”. Indeed, HMIC has commented on this in previous reports. Too many systems are weak and ageing. Also, the service is not optimising the use of IT to make it efficient.
The robustness of police forces’ financial planning varies considerably and forces are planning large reductions in their reserves in the years ahead. The reductions in forces’ workforces are likely to lead to a further erosion in neighbourhood policing.
Template force management statement
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor said: “In order to ensure significant improvements in forces’ understanding of future demand, workforce capability and capacity, availability and means of deployment of resources, and what needs to be done to boost efficiency, HMIC is developing a template force management statement. Each force will be required to produce an annual statement covering all of these areas, projecting demand, capacity, capability and efficiency improvements for four-to-five years ahead. Force management statements will follow a national template, but be sensitive to and also reflective of local circumstances, including principally the Police and Crime Plan issued by the Police and Crime Commissioner.”
As forces’ budgets reduce further, without significant efficiency improvements some forces could become financially unsustainable or operationally unviable. HMIC believes it’s “conceptually possible” that even an efficient force could become financially unsustainable or operationally unviable if its funding does not match the plans of its Police and Crime Commissioner.
While forces are likely to face considerable pressures to maintain and improve service with reduced budgets, their most promising way of meeting those pressures will, states HMIC, come from significant advances in efficiency and a more skilful workforce led by leaders of high ability.