The BBC Politics Show, which aired today, discussed the cuts facing police forces in England and Wales. We were contacted by the BBC earlier in the week to ask if we would contribute to the program, which featured Chris Sims, the Chief Constable of the West Midlands Force, responding to questions about the cuts. To see what we had to say, click the link above to the BBC iplayer which will be live for around 7 days, or click here.
The BBC put together a lengthy piece on policing, so as you might expect, our contribution that appeared was somewhat shorter than was actually filmed.
We were prepared to comment on any of the issues we have published on this site, however the BBC were attracted by our previous tagline "Too Many Chiefs" and indeed, this was used as part of their introduction to the feature.
Chris Sims answered questions about collaborative procurement of services, staffing levels and and force strutures. We were particularly pleased to hear him echo recent murmerings that Chief Officers are viewing positively the future possibilities of force mergers and regionalising forces. The sad fact though, is that despite the billions in potential savings from regional procurement, protecting frontline resources and increased efficiencies, the Government, as with previous administrations, have no apparent hunger for this option.
The reason is clear.
The Conservatives decided on the Locally Elected Commissioner strategy long before the election. In previous Government think tank reports, the regional policing concept was shelved on the basis that it would diminish the effects of localised policing. We disagree with this conclusion. When a member of the public calls the police, they don't look at a cap badge or insignia and refuse to be assisted because the officer isn't from their recognised force. Members of the public see a police officer, end of. The way BCU's are structured in forces, localised policing could remain unaffected by the overlaying of regional forces with all the associated benefits. Her Majesties Inspector of Constabulary have stated that upwards of £2.25billion in savings could be achieved by effective regionalisation.
However, the Government have set its heart on 43 Elected Commissioners being appointed to replace the existing police authorities, so regional police forces seem some way off. We're not entirely sure this has been well thought out. As our previous reports have shown, 10 regional forces as opposed to 43 at present, would bring major benefits:-
- The ACPO and SMT ranks could be reduced by as much as 75% (Basic salary costs are in the region of £230million)
- 10 regional HR departments (or even 1 central unit) would shave thousands of duplicated police staff roles, save millions and prevent the necessity for front line cuts. (Police staff costs were in the region of £2.6billion in 2009/10). This could be repeated for IT and other departments.
- 10 regional forces could save millions on an ongoing basis through centralised procurement of uniform, vehicles and other non staffing services. (Forces currently spend £2.7billion per year on non staffing costs).
- 10 regional forces would enable the more appropriate allocation of the reserve funds in force bank accounts (see previous article) amounting to £1.2billion which is coincidentally the amount forces are being asked to shave off their budget.
- 10 regional forces would require only 10 Locally Elected Police Commissioners instead of 43. Perhaps someone from the Government would explain why this rationale seems to have been overlooked or ignored? Or perhaps there are local authority jobs that are being protected rather than ensuring front line resources are ring fenced?
The pressures Chief Constables are under to deliver the Government cuts, is we fear, creating a somewhat short sighted approach. Without a more long term perspective that would save many millions or billions more, Chief Officers are forced to be parochial and consider only their own forces and how they will meet the Government demands. This could indeed have disasterous consequences to essential services, unecessarily in our view.
Perhaps this is a consequence of the 5 year administration system that compels a Government to want to be seen to be achieving something within that period, rather than implementing a longer term strategy that would be more effective?
Chief Officers with little or nothing to fear from the increased scrutiny of LEC's would no doubt welcome them. many though, will resist this course for fear it will throw the spotlight onto other mismanagement faux pas and activities we have highlighted from these pages. If Chris Sims is as pragmatic and visonary as his interview suggests, he is one such officer that should have little to fear from LEC's.
PARTS OF OUR FILMING, INTERVIEW AND RESEARCH THEY DIDN'T SHOW . . .
- From 1997 through to 2010, ACPO and SMT ranks increased by 16%
- Basic salaries alone for these ranks cost in excess of £230million
- Perks for these officers, bonuses, luxury vehicles etc amount to millions more
- Over the same period, the constable rank increased by only 11%
- Hence our strapline "Too Many Chiefs" - Turkeys don't vote for Christmas, so don't expect too much movement instigated by Chief Officers whose future may be in doubt.
- 43 police forces have £1.2billion in "rainy day" reserves - it's pouring down now chaps, use some of it please.
- STOP the scandal of paying £2.2million (2009/10) in Chief Officer bonuses
- STOP Chief and Senior Officers "Cooking the books" of crime statistics and detections. The game is up. We know the "Gaming" strategies that have been employed to reflect decreased crime and increased detections and that many have received thousands in bonus payments as a result. This practice serves no-one and only results in false efficiencies that impact on the budgets allocated. It is deceiving the tax paying public and infuriating the officers you force to implement such strategies. Bonuses paid on this basis are devisive and massively erode public and rank and file confidence. STOP IT NOW.
- Of the 144,000 or so warranted officers, only 10% are publicly visible. Internal roles must be scrutinised to asses the true value they provide, and if what contribution they make to the fundamentals of policing and the Government objective of "Cutting Crime".
- 80,000 police staff and 16,900 PCSO's cost around £2.6billion and 484million respectively. Cut these areas first before the essential rank and file officers.
Chief Officers will tell us that 80% of force budgets are eaten up with manpower, so this is where the cuts will be deepest. The top performing Chief Officers know who they are. If they were to present their case for regionalised/merged forces to the Government, the common sense of increased efficiencies and huge potential savings, would make such a proposal difficult to ignore. But hey, since when has bucket loads of common sense been allowed to get in the way of knee jerk decison making? There is a huge difference between "doing the thing right" and "doing the right thing". The choices and decisions being forced upon Chief Constables may result in them doing the thing right, but if political pressure and restraint means they are doing the "Wrong Thing" pretty well, it's a poor compensation for the unecessary loss of essential services.
If the Government do not have the hunger for regional forces, it is up to the Chief Officers to create that hunger. Show some vision and courage chaps, protect the frontline above all else and watch the morale, efficiency and confidence return.