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Avon and Somerset PEEL 2018

Efficiency

How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?

Last updated 20/01/2020
Outstanding

Avon and Somerset Constabulary operates efficiently, and its services are sustainable.

The constabulary is outstanding at planning for the future. Its understanding of demand is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

A hallmark of this constabulary is its impressive use of technology. It has a strong track record of accurately assessing future demand for its services. Now, new modelling programming allows it to accurately predict demand from anywhere between 24 hours and up to 12 months.

The constabulary is also innovative in communicating with the public; we note its use of Facebook community groups and online forums to reach people, and its tailoring of online messaging to reach different communities.

The constabulary’s priorities are clear, and it is making sure that it focuses all change and transformation activity on policing priorities.

The constabulary has a very good track record of making savings. It has discontinued joint ventures that were no longer proving to be beneficial. It is seeking to make efficiency savings through a series of service reviews. It is also working to address the savings that it has yet to identify for its medium-term financial plan.

As well as making savings, the constabulary is committed to investing in a way that supports its priorities. Recently, it was successful in gaining funding for tackling escalating knife crime when initially it had been excluded from this funding.

The constabulary is ambitious in its plans to transform the ways in which it uses its estate. It uses co-locating to good financial effect.

In 2017/18, we judged the constabulary to be outstanding at meeting current demands and using resources.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Questions for Efficiency

1

How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?

Outstanding

This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 efficiency inspection has been carried over.

2

How well does the force plan for the future?

Outstanding

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Assessing future demand for services

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has a strong track record of accurately assessing future demand for its services. In previous inspection reports, we have complimented the constabulary for its use of technology. It has developed analytical models that can predict and project future demand. A small team of data scientists drives this demand analysis. The team uses a range of evidence-based predictive modelling software. Information is available to all members of staff through Qlik Sense. The modelling programming allows the constabulary to accurately predict demand from anywhere between 24 hours and up to 12 months.

The constabulary uses this information effectively both for strategic and operational planning. For example, the information has led to the constabulary introducing its demand status plan, which has both short and longer-term benefits. Firstly, the demand status plan gives an accurate snapshot of live-time demand across the constabulary’s area. Secondly, planners can assess 12-month demand trends and adjust resourcing levels accordingly. Thirdly, the plan calculates four tiers of demand levels. These take account of resource availability and predicted calls for service. These demand levels range from level 1 (business as usual) to level 4 (exceptional demand). Police commanders refer to protocols for each demand level. These set out the procedures for mobilising resources to address operational pressures when necessary.

In successive inspections, the constabulary’s understanding of demand is becoming ever more sophisticated. An area where the constabulary performs better than many others is in its appreciation of the complexity of demand.

Many levels of police activity are relatively easy to quantify. For example, officers who are called to anti-social behaviour or other instances of nuisance can often resolve these incidents quickly, and then be available for further deployments. As such, it is relatively easy to calculate the resourcing needs for this type of incident. Other incidents, such as domestic abuse enquiries, can be protracted. For example, a considerable amount of police time can be spent on working with other organisations to safeguard victims. This activity is far more difficult to quantify.

To overcome this issue, the constabulary has devised a complexity score for each area of police activity. The score is calculated partly from data analytics, but it also includes inputs from subject matter experts. Their expertise gives the constabulary an insight into areas of activity that might otherwise be obscured. Experts can also assess other factors that will impact the constabulary, such as the need to investigate more crime because of new legislation.

The constabulary used this strategic modelling in part to present arguments to the Home Office for increased police funding, in a publication called The Tipping Point (PDF document). The strategic modelling illustrates how complexity scoring allocates additional weighting factors to hidden crime such as modern slavery, female genital mutilation and cyber-enabled crime. This helps the constabulary to calculate the additional investigation capacity that it will need (for example, to track phone or computer usage to establish an offender’s digital footprint, or to scrutinise systems that criminals have used to commit crime, or to safeguard vulnerable victims on a much greater scale). The constabulary is using this sophisticated understanding of complex demand well.

The constabulary works effectively with other organisations to learn more about the crime and harm that are likely to remain hidden in communities. It has a close association with charities that support victims of female genital mutilation. The constabulary supports staff to work alongside UK-based charities that operate in countries where this form of abuse is prevalent. This has helped it to develop profiles of local communities where young girls may be at risk. In turn, this has led to improved awareness among officers and childcare professionals, who are more capable of protecting those who are vulnerable.

Understanding public expectations

Both the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner (PCC) have effective measures in place to talk to and work with the public. This ensures that the views and priorities of local communities are reflected in how the force area is policed.

The constabulary has an extensive satisfaction and confidence framework. The framework draws on a range of indicators to gauge public opinion and the views of those who use the constabulary’s services. The Lighthouse safeguarding unit is at the forefront of this framework, together with a range of independent advisory groups (IAGs). The police and partner organisations carry out several surveys regularly. These set out how well victims of crime are being supported.(They include victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and victims who have mental health conditions). The surveys record the opinions of victims in relation to the quality of the service they receive when officers first respond, the support they receive from specialist officers, and the service that investigators give. This information is used to improve operational procedures. The constabulary also includes it in the training of frontline members of staff.

Community engagement is also one of the priorities of the constabulary’s neighbourhood policing model. It is one of six pillars of local policing. The other five are: responding to calls; investigation; problem solving; offender management and safeguarding. The chief officer’s team sets out how staff at all levels of the organisation should play their part in community engagement. This information is outlined in the constabulary’s Citizens and Communities Engagement Strategy 2018–20.

The constabulary uses traditional ways of consulting with the public (for example, holding meetings in local community halls). But it also has a well-considered online strategy. It uses a range of social media channels to maximise opportunities to communicate and work with the public. According to surveys carried out by the communications team, online approaches that are tailored towards different community needs give the best reach.

For example, the team has recognised that many communities share matters of local interest on online community groups and forums. These give the constabulary opportunities to promote crime prevention initiatives, appeals for information and more general information about crime trends. Other consultative work has led to innovative developments in digital information and evidence capture. The public can now report traffic hotspots, anti-social behaviour (including anti-social driving), and give evidence (such as video recordings) through various online portals.

According to post-implementation surveys, the public is entirely happy with these services, which can save time and money for them and for the constabulary.

Prioritising

The constabulary’s policing and crime plan (2016–2020) sets out clear priorities. The plan includes a preface from both the PCC and the chief constable, together with a description of their respective roles and responsibilities. The priorities include: strengthening communities; making sure the constabulary has the right people; working effectively with others; and protecting the most vulnerable from harm. Each priority includes a summary of the supporting achievements or success factors. The plan is available in a range of languages and in an easy-to-read format, making it accessible to all communities.

An established protocol exists between the chief constable and the PCC. This sets out how policing plan priorities are resourced. The PCC gives strategic direction, while the constabulary is responsible for design and delivery. The constabulary has streamlined and consolidated its change programme into a strategic framework. It has done this to make sure that it focuses all transformation and change activity on policing priorities.

The constabulary now channels all activity into four corporate strategies: service, people, digital and infrastructure. The constabulary supports these strategies with a single delivery plan (SDP). The constabulary’s transformation and improvement directorate is responsible for the SDP. The SDP brings all change and improvement activity into one visible and auditable place. Software technology helps to address the interdependencies between the programmes. It also makes sure that all organisational development is controlled and focused on priorities. Some of the programmes we reviewed included new operational arrangements to offer support services, and the development of a network of digital experts (‘digispocs’) to promote digitalised working.

Future workforce

As well as having a thorough understanding of the future demands it is likely to face, the constabulary works well to develop itsworkforce in response to these challenges. As a result of increased council tax revenue, the constabulary has acted quickly to establish an 18-month recruitment programme to increase resources for the first time in many years. The constabulary established the programme in consultation with the office of the police and crime commissioner (OPCC).

The constabulary is confident that its approach to financial planning can support this expansion intelligently, rather than just covering budget deficits. The senior leadership team directs the development of the workforce. The constabulary assigns human resources (HR) practitioners to departmental heads of service. This is to ensure a consistent approach to HR policy throughout the constabulary. 

The constabulary can extract data from its HR database to help project anticipated vacancies. We were shown how the database can be used to predict vacancies until the end of the year. The constabulary plans to automate this analysis by introducing a new HR operating system that we have seen working well in some other forces. The constabulary also plans to incorporate workforce planning into its data visualisation predictive analysis.

In all forces, we look carefully at the number of detectives. Recently, increasingly complex demand and workloads have made working as a detective a less popular career choice for officers. As a result, some complex investigations may not be progressed as effectively as they should. Avon and Somerset Constabulary has a shortage of 60 investigators. However, it has a robust plan in place to address the shortfall, which includes: recruitment of police staff investigators; adoption of a direct entry scheme for graduates; and the development of a career pathway called ‘job families’ to introduce prospective candidates to the detective role. Officers and staff can rotate in to familiarise themselves with this type of work. Applicants also have access to incentivised bonuses if they pass the national investigator’s exam and become accredited as detectives. Senior leaders were supportive of their staff and encouraged development.

Importantly, the constabulary uses Qlik Sense to identify the number and complexity of crimes that an officer is investigating. This enables it to have an agile approach to allocation. Investigator workloads were manageable. This fact was confirmed by the staff we spoke with.

The constabulary has used workforce surveys to identify stressors in different roles. The findings have helped the constabulary to make sure that it offers wellbeing support. The constabulary works closely with the College of Policing to make sure that it follows best practice. It is keen to pilot national programmes that are being developed to improve its wellbeing provision.

The constabulary uses volunteer recruitment to boost the skills and experience of its workforce. A Citizens’ Academy has encouraged people from BAME backgrounds to join the workforce, as have the efforts of PCSOs. The constabulary also takes opportunities to recruit officers from other forces, and to use civilians in a wide variety of roles. The recent introduction of civilian supervisor roles within investigative departments has significantly enhanced development opportunities. The constabulary also uses other, more established, routes into the constabulary to attract talent and future leaders. These include Police Now, direct entry and fast-track schemes.

However, the constabulary needs to complete the ongoing project, which has been designed to give it a comprehensive understanding of skills gaps across all departments. This work is in progress. The constabulary’s intention is to transfer the activity into a new IT system, using Qlik Sense for easy access and visualisation. Some leaders expressed frustration at a perceived lack of support with the task of mapping the skills of their staff. 

Finance plans

The constabulary has a very good track record of making savings. Since 2010/11, it has reduced expenditure by £78m (26 percent of its budget). Its current financial plans include cautious assumptions about future settlements. For example, they include the recognition that a revision of public sector employers’ pension contributions may require a recurring £2.8m allocation from the revenue budget. The plans also reveal a good balance between investment into priority areas and continued efficiencies to sustain services within budgetary requirements.

As part of its medium-term financial plan for 2019/20 to 2023/24, the constabulary plans to make an additional £35m of efficiency savings over its lifetime. Of these savings, it hasn’t yet identified £5m. Most of the efficiencies are focused on support (that is, non-operational) services. Previously, the constabulary has been proactive in finding the most economic model of offering support services. Ambitious joint ventures between the constabulary, Taunton Deane Council and Somerset County Council were discontinued when a commercial partner’s profit was becoming excessive. The constabulary has explored a more recent blueprint to share services (known as a multi-force shared service). However, the constabulary recently withdrew its interest because it didn’t think that cost benefits would be enough. As an interim measure, support services are being given in-house; the constabulary has extended the IT operating system to support this measure. In the meantime, the constabulary will explore other possibilities in line with public sector best practice. Another significant source of savings involves the provision of information and communications technology (ICT) services. Again, this is a service that the constabulary will provide in-house, to make recurring savings of £2m.

The constabulary will make other efficiency savings through a series of service reviews. This will involve the constabulary assessing the ways in which services are offered in comparison with other forces. Savings are scheduled through staff reductions in the constabulary’s intelligence directorate, as well as through a review of the provision of custody facilities and the vehicle fleet. At the time of our inspection, the constabulary was also drawing up plans to address the residual savings in the medium-term financial plan that it has yet to identify. These include reducing the number of occasions on which the constabulary asks for the help of the National Police Air Service (that is, access to police helicopters to help with aerial surveillance, identifying offenders, etc). The constabulary has reduced the number of occasions that helicopters have supported its operations from an average of 1,400 times per year to fewer than 400.

Alongside these savings, we were encouraged to find a strong commitment to investment in support of the constabulary’s priorities. For example, Operation Remedy is bringing together more than 100 officers to tackle burglary, knife crime and the increasing and ongoing threat that communities face from county lines drug supply. The operation was set up in response to consultation. It will be evaluated after 12 months to inform future Home Office funding. In addition to confronting criminals, Operation Remedy also aims to strengthen communities by dissuading young people from becoming involved in this sort of crime.

The constabulary has reacted quickly to budget increases, which are the first for many years, by recruiting officers. This means that the projected phased increase of 116 officers, from 2,650 to 2,766 by March 2020, will quickly offset any vacancies that are created by Operation Remedy.

In addition, the constabulary is robust in taking other opportunities to gain funding, such as that made available to tackle knife crime after a significant rise in deaths and serious injuries. Although initially excluded from this funding, a well-evidenced challenge to the Home Secretary has seen the scheme extended to Avon and Somerset, and several other forces.

Until recently, the constabulary offered several services, including armed policing and motorway patrols, as part of a joint venture with Wiltshire Police and Gloucestershire Constabulary. These services have now transferred back to become the local responsibility of those individual forces. However, firearms training will continue to be offered under a tri-force agreement. We have reported positively about the benefits of these collaborative arrangements. The recent developments, together with the status of other collaborations in forces in England and Wales, will be subject to our further inspection and reporting.

Leadership and workforce development

The constabulary makes a firm commitment to identify, nurture and offer opportunities to its most gifted and talented members of staff. It makes no distinction between officers or staff in this respect; opportunities are available to frontline workers as well as senior managers. All first-line managers join a programme that develops their skills beyond the standard accreditation that is needed for competence in role. This introduces them to techniques for managing their own wellbeing and managing other people. More senior managers have access to a ‘coaching for leaders’ programme. As part of this scheme, they are assigned a coach and undergo training in the constabulary’s interactive training suite.

At the executive level, a personal development programme supports up to 20 people each year who are interested in becoming senior leaders. The constabulary runs this programme in conjunction with the University of the West of England. The programme can lead to candidates gaining a qualification from the Institute of Leadership Management at level 7.

The workforce has a good understanding of the availability of leadership opportunities. The relevant programme is called ‘Aspire Leadership’. At the senior level, there is a core leadership group, as well as ‘Aspire champions’ who have benefited from the programme and are now promoting opportunities to their peers. There is easy access to Aspire Leadership opportunities on the constabulary’s website.
The constabulary is challenging itself to improve its workforce diversity and leadership. This is a core theme in its people strategy. The constabulary has developed a ‘recruiting for difference’ programme. Leadership programmes include cultural development.

Ambition to improve

The constabulary is ambitious and innovative. It continues to explore opportunities for joint working and collaboration to complement its existing arrangements. However, it has withdrawn from some arrangements, such as shared services projects. This is because the constabulary wasn’t getting enough benefit from them, and the public wasn’t getting value for money. The constabulary hasn’t reduced its service provision. Its plans now focus on how best to use a technologically-enabled workforce.

Over several years, the constabulary has developed a reputation for using technology well to understand and manage demand for its services. Within the workforce, an ethos of digital working is established as routine. This means that frontline officers and staff work flexibly and efficiently by making best use of mobile technology. Many of the constabulary’s operating systems are dependent on apps. These are familiar systems for the workforce, because they replicate the technology of everyday devices. As a result, frontline workers use them widely. Data entry and retrieval is fast and efficient.

As well as being routine for the workforce, technology is a driving feature of future change and improvement. In 2013, the constabulary first examined the ways in which it projected and predicted demand. Back then, it carried out an exercise to identify and analyse every demand on its services over a 24-hour period. This involved painstaking work, rationalising thousands of lines of data. The data ranged from the constabulary receiving 999 and 101 calls, and emails, to officers taking part in community events, and detectives supporting victims and pursuing criminals. Recently, the constabulary re-ran this exercise. New technology enabled the constabulary to gain (and process) an overview of a day in its life within 24 hours. This exercise not only shows how demand is changing over time; it also illustrates the advances that the constabulary has made in efficient data analysis. The constabulary will continue to repeat this analysis often to gain insight into how it distributes its resources, and to make sure that it understands activity in all areas of its operations.

Equally as ambitious is the constabulary’s capital programme. The constabulary has allocated more than half of the planned £84m of expenditure over the lifetime of the medium-term financial plan to projects that support future ways of working. These include transforming the ways in which the constabulary uses its estate to sustain services. This transformation will involve moving away from the traditional use of inefficient, unsuitable police stations in favour of economical and efficient ways of offering services. Examples include patrol bases that have low overheads and large garaging facilities at Kenneth Steele House in Bristol, and a large under-used site in Yeovil.

The constabulary is finding alternative premises to reduce costs, so that it can keep its presence in communities. Often, it does this by co-locating with other organisations. Examples include new bases for neighbourhood policing teams, which are shared with the NHS in Southmead Hospital Bristol. The constabulary is also sharing premises with local fire and rescue services at Williton, Nailsea and Minehead, as at its headquarters.

Summary for question 2