Forces’ future efficiency must improve to meet financial pressures
The police service faces major challenges in the years ahead from reduced budgets, fewer officers and more complex crime, according to a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
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This inspection looked at how well forces understand the demand for their service and how well they match their resources to that demand and provides 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 and data provided by forces on their spending plans for future years. HMIC graded five forces as ‘outstanding’, 29 were ‘good’, eight as ‘requires improvement’ and for the first time, one force has been found to be ‘inadequate’.
HMI Mike Cunningham, who led the inspection, said:
“Police forces have been through change on an unprecedented scale since 2010. It is a tribute to the leadership of the police service and to officers, PCSOs 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.
“The next five years will be more challenging for forces as they strive to make further reductions in budgets and workforce, while dealing with increasingly complex crime. Policing is entering uncharted waters.
“Forces have made great strides in assessing the current demand for their service, however 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 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.
Most forces have a good understanding of the current demand for their service and they know their current capacity (the costs and numbers of their workforce). 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 is 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.
Forces need to improve their understanding of future demand and link it to their financial and organisational planning, so that they are in a fit shape to face their future challenge.
Forces’ IT needs to improve considerably – HMIC has commented on this in previous reports. Too many systems are weak and ageing, and the service is not optimising the use of IT to make them it efficient.
Forces are planning large reductions in their budgets and workforce, but at the time of the inspection both the outcome of the Spending Review and the Government’s consultation on changes to the police funding formula were unknown. The robustness of 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.
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 these areas, projecting demand, capacity, capability and efficiency improvements for 4-5 years ahead. Force management statements will follow a national template but be sensitive to and 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; it is 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.
Whilst forces are likely to face considerable pressures to maintain and improve service with reduced budgets, their most promising way of meeting those pressures will come from significant advances in efficiency and a more skilful workforce led by leaders of high ability.
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Notes to editors
- The five forces which were found to be ‘outstanding’ were:
- Norfolk; and
- West Midlands.
- The eight forces which were found to be in the ‘requires improvement’ category were:
- South Yorkshire; and
To answer this question HMIC looked at three areas:
- How well does the force use its resources to meet demand?
- How sustainable and affordable is the workforce model?
- How sustainable is the force’s financial position for the short and long term?
- 54 percent thought the range of services offered by the police in their local area had remained about the same;
- 8 percent of respondents thought the visibility of the police in their local area had improved, 44 percent thought it had stayed about the same and 36 percent thought it had got worse; and
- 7 percent of respondents thought the presence of uniformed officers had increased locally, 52 percent thought it had not changed and 31 percent thought it had fallen.