In an environment of increasingly complex crime and changing demands, police forces are generally continuing to manage their resources well according to the latest report into police efficiency published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
This is the third annual efficiency report to examine how well police forces in England and Wales understand demand, use their resources and plan for the future. Two forces have been graded as ‘Outstanding’ this time around, 30 forces as ‘Good’ and ten forces as ‘Requiring improvement’. No force was deemed to be ‘Inadequate’. Two more forces than last year have been graded as ‘Requiring improvement’ although, as was the case in 2016, the majority of forces have been graded as ‘Good’.
Her Majesty’s Inspector Mike Cunningham, who led the inspection, said: “The findings from this inspection are positive, with the majority of forces able to demonstrate that they’ve absorbed budget reductions well and improved the efficiency with which they operate. We recognise the pressures police forces face are increasingly complex. The speed with which forces can improve efficiency relies on the continued resilience, adaptability and commitment of those working in policing. From speaking to staff and officers throughout every police force in England and Wales, we can see that policing is under significant stress. In the last year, we’ve seen bravery and professionalism exhibited in dreadful circumstances, showing that policing relies on the commitment and dedication of its workforce, whatever their rank or role, to help keep members of the public safe.”
Cunningham concluded: “Forces continue to have to make challenging financial decisions. However, the majority of police forces need to be much more ambitious in their plans for changing how policing services are offered in the future and to accelerate those plans, especially so when it comes to improving their digitally-enabled services.”
Increasingly more complex
The detailed report concludes that policing is becoming increasingly complex, both in terms of the types of crimes that the police deal with and the number of different organisations with which they have to work, as forces continually strive to provide the best service for the public.
Against this backdrop, the report recognises that policing has had to make – and will continue to have to make – very difficult decisions about where to focus its resources. The policing workforce has shrunk over the last few years and, in most forces, this has resulted in a better use of resources and a more focused policing model that’s more efficient.
The report highlights that every force faces different circumstances in terms of the problems it has to confront and its financial position. The findings from this inspection again show that, even when their financial position is particularly difficult, it’s possible for forces to gain a positive grade in relation to their efficiency.
Almost every force has an adequate understanding of its current demand, while the best forces use sophisticated models and a range of data to understand trends. The best forces have also completed sophisticated analyses to identify where the greatest risks to them lie in terms of under-reported or otherwise hidden demand. However, the majority of forces could do more to improve their understanding of this area.
Concern voiced by HMICFRS
HMICFRS remains “concerned” that few forces have taken sufficient steps to understand the skills they have – or indeed need – in their workforce. Although more forces have started to improve their understanding of this issue, most of them still focus on current skills, rather than on the skills they’re likely to need in the future. According to the report, this makes it harder for those forces to plan effectively for skills.
More and more forces are using some form of risk-based analysis to inform their allocation of resources, but some remain unable to allocate adequate resources to meet the needs of their demand model. There are many examples of forces using their resources flexibly. However, not many forces have carried out sufficient analysis to be confident of their ability to predict the overall effect of moving resources from one area of operations to another.
This is particularly true within force Control Rooms, which primarily deal with public 999 or 101 calls. At the time of inspection, some Control Rooms appeared to be struggling to meet demand, and particularly so in relation to 101 non-emergency calls. Many forces have found it difficult to retain Control Room staff, while a number of them rely too much on outdated technology. Some forces are considering different ways of managing demand through online tools, although only a small number of high-performing forces can demonstrate the effectiveness of these tools.
The HMICFRS report concludes that, while most police forces throughout the country have risen impressively to the challenges they face, policing remains under significant stress. On that basis, forces need to be more ambitious and innovative in terms of their plans for the future. The problems facing those forces that fail to do so could potentially prove overwhelming.