Bedfordshire PEEL 2015
How efficient is the force at keeping people safe and reducing crime?
HMIC found that Bedfordshire Police is partly prepared to face its future financial challenges. The force has achieved all of the savings required to date, but in doing so it has reduced its capacity to respond to the demands on its services, and is now struggling to meet the public’s needs. The force recognises the scale of the future challenges and is working hard to address them. However, because of the risks and uncertainties surrounding its future plans, HMIC is concerned that Bedfordshire Police’s future financial position is not sustainable for the long term. In last year’s value for money inspection, which considered how forces had met the challenge of the first spending review period, Bedfordshire Police was judged to require improvement.
HMIC judges Bedfordshire Police requires improvement. The force has improved its understanding of the demands on its services, although it still needs to do further work in order to make the most efficient use of police time, and more effectively plan for the future.
The force has identified that, as part of past cost-cutting measures, it has reduced its police officer strength to a level that is insufficient to meet either current or future demand for police services. It is planning to introduce a new operating model for local policing to tackle the current weaknesses. The force has demonstrated a keen commitment to working collaboratively with other police forces wherever possible, both regionally and within the tri-force collaboration with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies, to secure efficiencies and make service improvements.
There is a significant amount of change planned over the next two years. Although Bedfordshire Police recognises the risks involved, HMIC is concerned that the force will struggle to maintain an acceptable level of service to the public as the changes are implemented.
Of most concern is the force’s future financial position. The savings planned are heavily reliant on the new model being able to operate with fewer staff; and the proposed extended collaboration providing extensive cost savings. There can be no certainty at this stage that either of these two areas will achieve the planned savings. At the same time, the force is planning to use its reserves to balance its budgets. This means that, at the end of this period, reserves will have been reduced to a level that provides only a very limited cushion against future contingencies. HMIC is therefore concerned that Bedfordshire Police’s long-term financial position is not sustainable.
How well does the force use its resources to meet its demand?
The force has improved its understanding of the demand on its services and the relationship between costs and outcomes. However, it still needs to do more work so that it can make the most efficient use of police time, and effectively plan for the future.
Bedfordshire Police is currently struggling to meet the needs of the public as it has reduced its capacity and ability to respond flexibly to all areas of demand. However, despite its limited resources, it has worked hard to develop a new model for policing that is designed to address the weaknesses in the current structure. It is also working constructively to expand the collaboration with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies, not only to save money but also to provide greater resilience and improve services.
There is a significant amount of change planned, including wholesale restructuring of the force. At the same time, there will be a sizeable reduction in police staff and PCSO numbers. The force is also planning major ICT innovations with greater use of mobile technology to enable officers to work more efficiently. The introduction of any one of these changes would present a risk to sustaining effective services during the implementation. Although the force recognises the risks involved, HMIC is concerned that the scale of change will present major challenges for the force.
Areas for improvement
- The force should undertake further work to gain a fuller understanding of current demand for its services, and likely future changes in demand. This is so it can make best use of its resources to meet the needs of the public and should include working more closely with other organisations.
- The force should develop an overarching programme management plan, which identifies and addresses all of the risks and interdependencies associated with the scale of change. The plan should include the transition to the new operating model, reducing the size of the workforce, managing the extended collaboration plans and mitigating the impact of the planned ICT developments.
How sustainable and affordable is the workforce model?
Although the current workforce model has been developed to match the finances available, HMIC is concerned that there are weaknesses in its ability to meet demand and organisational requirements. The force has identified that it has reduced its police officer strength to a level that is insufficient to meet either current or future demand for police services. HMIC is encouraged that the force has recognised that it needs to increase the number of frontline police officers available and to place more emphasis on neighbourhood problem-solving and crime prevention.
We also recognise the clear commitment of the force to improving services. It has developed a new operating model for local policing, which aims to tackle current weaknesses. In addition there has been good and constructive work to expand collaboration both regionally with other police forces, and in the tri-force collaboration with Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire constabularies.
However, HMIC is concerned that the force cannot yet be certain that the planned resources will be sufficient to create the capacity to fulfil the force’s aspiration for the level of preventative work it wants to do. We are also concerned that the new operating model is being launched when there are a number of areas of risk and uncertainty around its operating model which have yet to be resolved.
Areas for improvement
- The force should assess whether there are any capacity and capability shortfalls in the current workforce to find ways of overcoming the risk this poses to the service it provides, especially in public protection.
- The force should engage as widely as possible with the workforce and the other organisations it works with to ensure the proposed operating model and ‘One Team Bedfordshire’ approach is fully understood. This will assist in directing the cultural change needed and overcoming any resistance which might undermine performance.
- The force should disseminate detailed operating guidance to the workforce so it has a clear understanding of how the new structure is expected to function, so that all are clear what is expected of them in the new operating model.
How sustainable is the force’s financial position for the short and long term?
The force achieved its savings requirement and balanced the budget for the spending review period and in 2014/15. HMIC acknowledges that the force has faced a difficult challenge in that it was already a low spending force with a smaller workforce per head of population than the average, and has some complex policing challenges of a scale not normally experienced by a force of its size.
There is sound financial control, the force works constructively with the PCC, and resources are directed to the PCC’s priorities. The force continues to be strongly committed to achieving efficiencies and service improvements by collaborating with other forces. The proposed operating model has been designed to allow the force to better align its resources to where demand for service is most needed, while reducing costs.
However, planned savings are heavily reliant on the new model operating with fewer resources, and on the extended collaboration providing savings. There can be no certainty that either of these areas will achieve the savings needed. At the same time, the force is planning to use reserves to balance its budgets. By March 2020 reserves will have been reduced to a level that provides only a minimal cushion against future contingencies. HMIC is concerned that Bedfordshire Police’s long-term financial position is not sustainable.
Areas for improvement
- The force should develop clear and realistic plans for achieving the likely savings required beyond 2015/16, to provide greater assurance that should the planned collaboration savings not be achieved or take longer to be realised, the force can continue to balance its budget.