Thursday, 18 December 2014

MET COMMISSIONER CALLS FOR RADICAL MERGER OF POLICE FORCES


15.12.14

Met commissioner calls for radical merger of police forces

Britain’s most senior police officer has warned that cuts to police and other public services will put public safety at risk unless the next government pushes through ‘radical structural reforms’ to cut back-office costs. 
 
Writing in the Guardian, Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe stated that regardless of the general election outcome, “we are all looking at years of more austerity and shrinking budgets”. 

And, in a move that clashes with government policy, he calls for the culling of more than 30 forces in England and Wales, to create nine super-forces, based on regional boundaries. 

Sir Bernard noted that there are 43 police forces in England and Wales, but stated that criminals do not respect ‘county boundaries’. 

“We need to be as flexible and aggressive as they are. We do not need the boundaries that currently mark out the territory of chief constables or police and crime commissioners,” he said. “Fewer forces would help us make the vital transition to digital policing. How many forces do we need? No more than nine, certainly, based on regions.” 

His comments come just before the home secretary, Theresa May, is to give evidence in front of the Home Affairs Committee on her role. 

Public safety isn’t just a challenge for policing. A range of partners is involved: emergency services, criminal justice, local authorities, the third sector, business and, critically, the public itself.

By 2020 the Met will need to have made £1.4bn of savings over a decade – about a third of our budget. We have saved hundreds of millions already, but from 2016 it will become a much harder task. Our partners face their own cost pressures, and the big concern is that if we don’t work together, with a shared view of the risks, public safety will suffer.

Why? Take CCTV. A factor in falling crime rates has been good video coverage of much of London. But most of these cameras are funded by local authorities. As they face more cuts there is active discussion about whether they can afford to keep CCTV going. Or take domestic abuse – a big enforcement challenge for the Met. It’s hard to get people to testify against their partners, and they often withdraw complaints once our officers have arrived and the violence has stopped – for a while. But society’s ability to reduce it goes beyond policing. It’s about a range of agencies – from social services to mental health – being able to intervene early and support families. If we retrench in isolation, the risks to public safety can only increase.

We have to have a shared view of the risks to public safety, from countering terrorism to child protection. We must be open about these risks with the public, politicians and the media, so we can together make informed choices about our priorities. We should share support services where possible, and make them as efficient as the best of the private sector. That means opening up all but core policing functions to competition. For example, why in London do we need three emergency services separately handling 999 calls and making similar deployments? Bring them together and it would be cheaper to run and more effective. With each blue light service responsible to a different ministry, there are obstacles to change. Will the next government be brave enough to bring together public safety services? Yes, it is a risk. But there’s a bigger risk to public safety if we don’t take radical action.

If that calls for courage, what about the structure of policing? In England and Wales there are 43 forces. The smallest has 600 officers, the largest, the Met, 32,000. They are based on 1974 local government boundaries, and in many cases emergency services are now the only county-wide services.

Do criminals respect these county boundaries? No, they don’t. They seek markets with high population densities to sell drugs and steal property. They pass local and national borders with ease. We need to be as flexible and aggressive as they are. We do not need the boundaries that currently mark out the territory of chief constables or police and crime commissioners.

Fewer forces would help us make the vital transition to digital policing. Law enforcement is being disrupted by digital just as much as businesses or government services. Cyber-crime makes the notion of jurisdiction less and less meaningful. In a cashless society of 2020, data will be the new currency. Electronic fraudsters will replace the stocking and shotgun robbers of the past.

We must act fast. Police spend around £1bn a year on information technology, yet there is no real digital strategy. Each force still has its own command and control, intelligence and crime systems. The IT companies are neither challenged nor engaged sufficiently by the joint endeavours and buying power of the police. We need a common infrastructure and to utilise cloud memory rather than serried ranks of hard drives. We need software based on apps rather than process pages. And we need many fewer contracts where the incentive is to save the public money rather than spend it. Get this right and we can have simpler, more effective processes. Bring us together and we can develop a common digital mission: prevent crime, catch offenders, help victims. How many forces do we need? No more than nine, certainly, based on regions.

In Scotland they have survived such a radical transition, and their furthest police post is as distant from their HQ as London is from Berwick or Cornwall. Holland has done it too. It can be done without diminishing local accountability. Policing is better for being managed and delivered locally.

And there is more to reform than structures. I am working with some of London’s universities to develop policing for teaching and research. It would help us develop evidence-led, professionalised policing and produce well-qualified recruits ready to apply digital and other skills to law enforcement. A policing faculty that included cyber-security could access a commercial income stream wider than the £12bn presently spent on policing.

Whatever we do, however we change, our people will be at the heart of it: public servants motivated by public safety, and our values of professionalism, integrity, courage and compassion. The Office of Constable has a proud and noble tradition, acting without fear or favour. We will not lose these values, but we must adapt to take on the challenge of keeping the public safe and secure.

Thin Blue Line Comment

As regular readers will know, we have been beating the fewer forces, regional or national service drum for many years now. We cannot help but wonder why BHH and any of the other new found supporters of mergers did not have the courage and vision to make the proposals earlier. Now he is in the top job, it seems unlikely that his position would be weakened by any mergers that might take place. It is lamentable that Chief Officers will only put forward radical innovative views when the consequences do not threaten the individuals career progression.

If you were the Chief Constable of a smaller force for example, are you likely to support reducing 43 forces down to 9 or 10, thereby threatening your fiefdom, career and political progression? The answer to this is only yes if you can put the public and the service above your own career aspirations. Unfortunately, the bulk of ACPO ranks have shown themselves to be self-serving and greedy, so the jury is out on whether or not the proposal will receive the majority support.

FORCE MERGERS

We have commented in detail in our previous reports that the time has come to seriously consider merging police forces. We have suggested that there could be as few as 10 to correspond with the regional areas. Finally, ACPO are being forced to accept this possibility, with Sir Hugh Orde conceding that the "overwhelming majority" of chiefs want to talk about merging 43 forces into more regional units.

These chiefs now accept that mergers will save money. The historic problem is that mergers were politically unacceptable to government, allegedly hard to sell to communities and don't sit easily with the plan for locally-elected commissioners.

When a member of the public calls for a police officer, does he/she look at the officers cap badge or insignia and say "Sorry you can't deal with my problem, you're not from my force area" Of course not, all they care about is that a police officer has turned up to help them. It is no more complicated than that, and any other objection to force mergers is pure obfuscation.

Until now, we would hardly expect Chief Officers to support a strategy that might reduce their number by 75% - after all, "Turkeys don't vote for Christmas". Times have changed though, and mergers must now be given serious consideration going forward.

EFFECTIVE USE OF RESOURCES

* 130,000 police officers
* 60,000 staff  - cost £2.7 billion
* 17,000 PCSO's - 484 million
* 17% Increase in ACPO ranks 1997 to 2010***
* 16% Increase in SMT ranks 1997 to 2010***
* 11% Increase in PC rank 1997 to 2010***
* Only 11% of warranted officers available for "Visible Policing"
* ACPO and SMT ranks basic salary £230million

*** These figures prompt the question: "In view of there being a 17% increase in ACPO and 16% increase in SMT ranks and only an 11% increase in PC ranks, is there not an argument that there are in fact TOO MANY CHIEFS and an ineffective use of the resources of indians?"

Force by force, there is a top heavy ACPO/SMT and Police Staffing level.
Force by force, there is a disproportionate number of specialist or non visible roles.

The policing cuts debate fundamentally comes down to a balancing act between visible and invisible work. Half a century ago, more than a third of a constabulary's manpower was spent on those foot patrols - nabbing burglars with their swag bags.

Today there are forces that dedicate just 11% of constables to patrols because they have expanded forensic units, intelligence teams and largely invisible public protection work like child abuse, domestic violence and sexual offences.

Given the political and community pressure to protect the "front line", most chief constables are planning to cut specialist units, even though they argue they prove their worth. And many chiefs think the pressure to focus on local "visible" crime will grow if the government's pledge to create elected Police and Crime Commissioners goes through.

But surely that's the point of policing? Dealing with what matters to local people?

The time has come to strip away those roles whose value is doubtful, and there are plenty of them.

The time has come for the rainy day reserves to be used to protect the front line. It's not just raining chaps, it's chucking it down.

The time has come for some tough decisions, the right decisions about how the tax payers money is spent. Locally elected police commissioners may not be popular among ACPO ranks and perhaps we should ask ourselves why.

Could it be that a fiscally wise commissioner might actually apply some common sense to the way our money is spent? Whilst this may expose the weaknesses and activities of our Senior Police Officers and their advisors, perhaps the public would welcome the return of the common sense, back to basics, no frills coppering. Perhaps then, we might actually see the good guys start winning and more of the bad guys being caught and dealt with.

The Government set its heart on 43 Elected Commissioners being appointed to replace the existing police authorities. This was a poorly thought out strategy and the pathetic turn out for voting confirms the public apathy of the subject. 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 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?  
 
Many of the cuts and savings could have been more effectively delivered by smarter volume central purchasing arrangements and sharing of resources. HR is an example. Why do 43 forces have 43 HR departments when massive savings could be achieved with one central HR function?

The same principle should be applied for all areas of procurement. Equipment and services sourced centrally would deliver millions in savings. HMIC predicted that £5billion could be saved by better procurement over a ten year period. 
 
A few highlights from our previous report about the cuts are increasingly relevant:- 
  • Police Force Governance – remove ACPO & PCC's SAVE ??? Millions
  • Police Force Mergers – saving predicted by HMIC £2.25billion (over 10 years)
  • Chief Officer Restructuring – consolidation of ACPO ranks SAVE £11million
  • Chief Officer Restructuring – consolidation of SMT ranks SAVE £80million
  • Remove Chief Supt & Chief Inspector ranks (alternative to mergers) SAVE £12million
  • Increase constable to manager ratio (recruitment cost savings) SAVE £169million
  • Increase sergeant to inspector ratio SAVE £178million
  • If ratio of 1 frontline staff to every officer of management rank SAVE £1billion
  • Police staff levels halved through mergers SAVE £1.3billion
  • Police staff overtime halved by mergers or tighter control SAVE £31million
  • Return 25% of office based police officers to frontline (recruitment savings) SAVE £670million
  • 25% reduction in police staff support numbers SAVE £500million
Any one or combination of these measures was always achievable  without the decimation  witnessed to  front line resources. Any one of them would return hundreds if not thousands of officers to the front line where they are needed most.

Yes there will be pain, but far better that than continue to risk the lives and safety of over stretched officers and members of the public who actually deserve a better quality of service.

The first challenge for the new Home Secretary and her team, is to root out those senior officers who have been singing off their own self serving hymn sheets for far too long.  
 

1 comments:

David Reynolds said...

Very interesting proposal. I work for a police IT supplier, and the differences between forces are exploited by companies to sell systems multiple times -while any effort to standardise or nationalise is compromised by 43 different approaches and methods, often pulling in contradictory directions.

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