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Northamptonshire PEEL 2018

Efficiency

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

Last updated 27/09/2019
Inadequate

Northamptonshire Police is reactive in its approach to policing and has a limited understanding of demand. Demand analysis is out of date and needs to be refreshed, and the force doesn’t understand its workforce capabilities well enough. Work has begun to address this, but there needs to be wider analysis to get a fuller picture of demand.

There aren’t enough resources to cope with investigative demand. As a result, there are backlogs of crimes not allocated to investigators. A new change programme has been set up to change the force’s operating model to better meet demand and be more efficient. The force has invested in new technologies that offer opportunities for the workforce to become more efficient and visible through mobile working.

The force is committed to joint working. It benefits from working with other agencies but can’t quantify this in terms of cost savings or added resilience. Northamptonshire County Council is currently restructuring to become two unitary authorities. This means there is significant uncertainty about future partnership arrangements.

Northamptonshire Police has sound financial plans. And the finance team is more rigorous in budget setting than when we last inspected.

The force’s understanding of future demand is limited. It intends to better understand current demand first. It will then be able to better predict and plan for future demand.

The force has an ambitious vision to improve its services. It acknowledges that its current plans aren’t enough to achieve this.

Questions for Efficiency

1

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

Inadequate

Cause of concern

The force can’t manage current demand effectively. It doesn’t have enough capacity or capability to investigate crime as effectively as it should. This is affecting the service too often.

Northamptonshire Police is failing to respond appropriately to some vulnerable people. This means it is missing some opportunities to safeguard victims and secure evidence.

Recommendations

To address this cause of concern, we recommend that within 12 months the force should do the following:

  • To improve the effectiveness of its investigations, it should:
    • make sure senior officers clearly and effectively oversee crime investigations and standards;
    • make sure all crimes are allocated quickly to investigators with the appropriate skills, accreditation and support. They will then be able to investigate them to a good standard, on time;
    • make sure it is fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime;
    • make sure it can retrieve digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices quickly enough to avoid delaying investigations;
    • make sure it uses bail and ‘released under investigation’ correctly to keep the public safe; and
    • make sure that people listed as ‘wanted’ on the Police National Computer are quickly located and arrested.
  • To improve its approach to protecting vulnerable people, it should:
    • improve call response and initial investigation for all vulnerable victims;
    • improve its response to missing and absent children by categorising information correctly, and regularly and actively supervise missing person investigations to properly safeguard victims; and
    • analyse information held on systems to better understand the nature and scale of vulnerability. It should then act on its findings relating to missing people, domestic abuse, human trafficking, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation.
  • To make sure it can meet demand, it should develop plans to address its current capacity, capability and efficiency problems. It should:
    • change its operating model to remove inefficient practices;
    • create a central record of the skills available within the existing workforce;
    • reorganise the workforce to make sure officers have the skills needed to meet demand; and
    • carry out a thorough assessment of current and future demand, covering all elements of policing.

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

Assessing current demand

Northamptonshire Police has a limited understanding of demand and is highly reactive in its approach. The force recognises that the nature and complexity of crime is changing. Senior leaders have identified that public welfare and safeguarding demand have increased. This places greater demands on specialist public protection services.

The force is monitoring trends in types of crimes and incidents. However, the last comprehensive analysis of demand formed part of the force’s 2017 change programme, the service delivery model (SDM). This is now out of date and hasn’t yet been updated.

Since our fieldwork, the force has established a new change programme (Futures Project 2020 [FP20]). This is updating the demand profile and reviewing the force’s operating model. FP20 will also determine the most appropriate shift patterns for the core functions of response, investigations and neighbourhoods. This will help manage demand.

The force has commissioned limited analysis and activity to uncover, and understand trends in, hidden demand. While the force has done some work to better understand the nature and extent of modern slavery and human trafficking through a problem profile produced in October 2018, there has been no new or broader analysis of hidden demand since our last inspection.

The force recognises the importance of understanding demand and has invested in demand modelling software (Process Evolution). Because there isn’t enough capacity in business support teams, it hasn’t been able to maintain a comprehensive analysis.

The force has commissioned a ‘response review’. This forms part of FP20 to build a more comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of current demand. While the response review may identify opportunities for change, it must form part of a wider assessment of current and future demand. This will make sure that any changes to the force’s operating model consider all elements of policing.

Understanding factors that influence demand

Northamptonshire Police has some processes that sometimes suppress or hide demand. The force’s plans to address these problems aren’t sufficient.

At the time of our fieldwork, investigative demand was outstripping capacity and there were large backlogs in crimes yet to be allocated to investigators. Many teams were conducting telephone investigations or resolution, with some victims being passed between these units. This is inefficient and provides the public with a poor service.

The force aims to – and successfully completes – triage or conduct desktop investigations for 43 percent of crimes. It offers appointments to the public in cases where the risk assessment indicates that is appropriate. The MAU handles these.

While there has been a good take-up by the public, the MAU completes only minimal tasks and doesn’t see cases through to the end. This has created work for other departments and generates more, and unplanned, handovers between departments. While the public may be happy that they have seen a police officer relatively quickly after reporting some crimes, the service is inefficient. At the time of our fieldwork, there were at least two other units carrying out some sort of desktop investigation.

The force is aware of the inefficiencies and has developed plans to address some of these problems. But it has been slow to put in place meaningful change. This means that some ineffective practices have become established.

Since our fieldwork, the force has established FP20. It has also appointed a detective chief superintendent to lead a team to bring about necessary changes.

Working with others to meet demand

Northamptonshire Police is committed to joint working and has extensive regional collaboration arrangements.

The force works closely with Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service. The focus is largely on public safety initiatives and arson investigations. The police and crime commissioner took on fire service governance in early 2019. A focus now is to find new ways for the police and fire service to work together. A new board is overseeing this work. It is starting with considering the impact of agile working at future sites for police and fire and rescue services.

The force has some officers and staff based in Northamptonshire County Council (NCC)’s offices. The council is going through a restructure to become two unitary authorities. Its financial and governance problems could put more demand on police services when other services are cut.

The future local government reorganisation is likely to make these arrangements more complicated. The force has allocated a senior officer to work closely with the council. This is to make sure that there are suitable impact assessments of proposed changes on local policing services.

While Northamptonshire Police is committed to joint working, it doesn’t have the resources to manage demand efficiently across agencies. It has a long history of working with the East Midlands Operational Support Service (EMOpSS) and the East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU). The force reports that it benefits from these partnerships. It recognises that it can’t prove whether they provide tangible benefits in either cost savings or more resilience.

We are pleased that the force is reviewing the service received through EMOpSS and EMSOU. It has already made some changes to allocating resources.

Innovation and new opportunities

Northamptonshire Police is searching externally for examples of innovation and good practice to help manage demand. Examples include the new gang intervention initiative CIRV. The force also reviewed Devon and Cornwall Police’s approach to wellbeing. It is putting in place Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s data analytics tools (Qlik). We are pleased that these initiatives are being used by Northamptonshire Police. The approach now needs to be more co-ordinated.

The force doesn’t have a recognised resource to develop new technologies to improve efficiency. Business cases for improving existing systems or new systems are brought by individual business units.

The chief officer team invites feedback and encourages frontline officers and staff to put forward ideas. However, there is no structured method for workforce ideas to be developed. The force needs to make sure that operational and business support teams work closely with technology services. This will identify suitable system improvements or replacements to improve efficiency.

Investment and benefits

Northamptonshire Police demonstrates a basic understanding of the benefits that can result from investments. It understands what technology can offer policing and is prepared to invest to improve productivity and services to the public.

The force has invested in digital technologies such as new laptops. And it has given officers access to police systems on force mobile devices to encourage agile working and to speed up the time it takes for information to be added to force computer systems. The workforce has started to make good use of the technologies, but it can’t show the return on that investment yet.

The force aims to make cashable savings through increasing productivity. Officers having direct access to force systems on their mobile devices will mean the force can reduce some administrative support functions. It will also be able to make some cashable savings by switching off some old computer systems to reduce licence costs.

The force recognises that it needs to better monitor benefits from change programmes. To achieve this, it has made changes to scrutinise and oversee changes. A new post in the corporate services team will support this work. The expected benefits haven’t yet been factored into the force’s medium-term financial plans. The force has plans to do this.

The force is preparing to join the new national single online home platform, and it is an early adopter. It is waiting for clarification on costs and benefits from the national team. Benefits will include making it easier for the public to access services. This may increase demand for some policing services. There may also be efficiency savings if some demand can be managed online. The force has costed plans for airwave radio replacement. The current handsets can be used when services are switched over to the new emergency services network.

Prioritising different types of demand

The force prioritises activity on an ad hoc basis, with little understanding of demand or public expectations. The analysis carried out for the SDM is now out of date. Changes that were made as a result of the analysis haven’t been formally evaluated.

Staff in many departments referred to the current operating model as not being fit for purpose. We found extensive backlogs in the crime allocation process that have come about since SDM changes. There are varying assumptions about the reasons for the model not being fit for purpose and/or functioning as anticipated. At the time of our fieldwork, there was no clear understanding of where and how to make changes to improve its effectiveness.

The force’s new change programme (FP20) is developing a new operating model. The force is working toward ambitious timescales to implement changes during 2019.

Assigning resources to demand and understanding their costs

Northamptonshire Police’s financial plans are based on sound assumptions, which have been developed with operational leads. The 2019/20 budget-setting process is now complete, with the finance team now taking a more rigorous approach. It worked closely with enabling services, such as the resources and planning teams, and operational colleagues to set budgets.

The force has just completed a zero-based budget for all budgets over £10,000. Financial and workforce planning is more regulated, and the force has a better understanding of workforce gaps. The recent outcome-based budgeting (OBB) exercise is a positive step forward. It should provide the force with a solid evidence base for resourcing decisions. At the time of our inspection, less than 20 percent of spending had been reviewed. And it hadn’t resulted in any significant reallocation of resources to priorities, although there are plans to do this.

The exercise identified some areas where savings could be made, including special constable recruitment. It also established where reinvestment will be necessary. When we inspected, the exercise had achieved approximately £250,000 worth of savings. The force plans to continue the OBB approach alongside a wider review of its operating model. It will also address the areas for improvement we have found.

Workforce capabilities

Northamptonshire Police has a very limited understanding of the workforce’s skills. It doesn’t have a central record of the skills available and it isn’t able to predict the skills it will need in the future. The force is aware that it doesn’t have enough cyber skills within the workforce. It doesn’t yet have a plan to address this. The force is using external apprenticeship levy funding to help it fill some roles where there are skills gaps.

The force is also using this funding for some police staff roles. The intention is that the police staff will achieve a leadership qualification. Some analytical roles would be particularly suitable because the force has had difficulty recruiting for these. The leadership qualification should help attract and retain good-quality candidates.

If the force had a better understanding of the workforce’s skills, it could target its recruitment initiatives more effectively. It is missing the opportunity to fill some skills gaps and make sure that the workforce is equipped to react appropriately. An audit of tactical and operational skills for police officers is under way. This builds on an operational skills audit from 2016 but is not expected to be complete until 2020.

The force has no plans to have a comprehensive skills audit covering the whole workforce and non-operational skills. It has conducted a 360-degree supervision audit. This has helped understand some of the workforce’s strengths and weaknesses in its current and future leaders. The lack of a wider understanding of current skills and capabilities means it doesn’t have a good understanding of future needs.

The force hasn’t yet effectively assessed its future workforce requirements based on its skills and capabilities gaps, and on changing demand. And there isn’t enough capacity, with many staff off sick and officers on restricted duties for extended periods. The force has been attempting to address both sickness and restricted numbers. Progress has been very slow, with little evident in the past 12 months.

More efficient ways of working

Northamptonshire Police doesn’t clearly measure the benefits of working with other forces and constabularies.

Problems with the MFSS HR and finance system aren’t helping the force to work more efficiently. Poorly performing back office systems and processes are acting as barriers to progress.

When the force put MFSS in place in 2010, it reduced its human resources (HR) and finance teams by 31 percent because the system is self-service. This meant that supervisors did some tasks themselves, such as recording sickness. However, they didn’t have enough training to do this. Without enough training or confidence in using the system, the workforce isn’t using it as it should be used. At the same time, not enough staff remain within HR to support the workforce with MFSS.

As a result, the workforce is using locally created spreadsheets instead of the MFSS system. The spreadsheets contain some information on workforce skills, deployments and sickness. This is inefficient and inconsistent, and means data from MFSS can’t be seen throughout the force or trusted for reporting purposes. There are plans for the system to be upgraded. These development costs will be on top of the existing system costs. The force is reviewing its longer-term options because it hasn’t been able to make sure that the MFSS collaboration brings the benefits and savings expected.

Working with others

The force has a basic understanding of where contributions from other agencies are likely to reduce. There has been some work to identify and respond to these.

NCC was recently considering withdrawing the social workers based within the MASH and moving them to a virtual MASH. The force has worked closely with the council to complete an impact assessment of this proposed change. It has been agreed that the current co-located children’s MASH should remain as it is. This will make sure that the effective service the public receives remains.

The force has some plans to work with other agencies to reduce demand collectively. It has invested significantly in police officer and PCSO resources in the early intervention hub pilot scheme. This is a long-term crime prevention initiative. It targets children exposed to adverse childhood experiences and chaotic lifestyles. The aim is to prevent them from becoming involved in gangs, crime and youth offending.

This is a good example of the force working with education, adult and children’s services, NHS partners and private industry. The University of Northampton is evaluating the scheme, before any plans to broaden it are considered.

Using technology

There are still some weaknesses in the capabilities and cost-effectiveness of some enabling services. There has been a lack of capacity in ICT and HR services in recent years as teams explored joint-working ventures with other forces and constabularies. The decision not to take part in a tri-force ICT initiative with Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire Police has left the force with limited capacity. The force is now trying to address this capacity shortage.

Northamptonshire Police now has a high-level ICT strategy. It has made significant investment in mobile technologies for frontline officers. This includes new laptops, mobile devices with access to force systems, and body-worn video cameras. The force is not yet able to show the return on this investment.

Northamptonshire Police has some good ICT capability and agile working in place. However, there are inefficiencies in the way the workforce uses some of its computer systems. This is most obvious with the crime, intelligence, custody and case preparation system (Niche RMS) and MFSS.

The force needs a clear plan to address these inefficiencies and introduce changes in its systems and processes. This will help it use its ICT more effectively.

Summary for question 1
2

How well does the force plan for the future?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should make sure it understands the demand for its services, and what the public expects, are kept up to date by regularly reviewing the information it has. This should be carried out alongside local authorities, other emergency services and partner organisations. This will make sure that it takes the necessary steps to meet current and likely future demand.
  • The force should make sure that workforce planning covers all areas of policing and that there is a clear rationale, based on evidence, to reorganise staff to meet current and future demand.
  • The force should make sure that the additional staff resulting from the growth in council tax precept are allocated to areas of greatest risk, demand and to address skills gaps in the workforce.

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

Northamptonshire Police has a limited understanding of future demand. The comprehensive demand analysis carried out as part of the SDM is now over 18 months out of date. The force recognises the importance of understanding demand. It has invested in demand modelling software (Process Evolution). A lack of capacity in business support teams has meant that it hasn’t been able to maintain thorough analysis. The force is aware of this and has established FP20. This will update the demand profile and predict future demand.

The force’s priority is dealing with current demand. Until current demand is under better control, it can’t make meaningful predictions about future demand. It has commissioned limited analysis and activity to uncover and understand trends in, hidden demand. This means that the force can’t evaluate what likely future demand could be. The force plans to build this capability into its future operating model.

Understanding public expectations

Northamptonshire Police has some understanding of what the public expects. However, it isn’t clear on how these expectations are changing.

The force has recently set out its policing priorities, and officers and staff understand and value these. However, it has made little attempt to understand how public expectations are changing. There is minimal evidence of the force working with the public to understand people’s expectations. However, the force has now developed an online tool to do this.

Technology has transformed the way some crime is carried out and how the public want to work with the police. The force’s prevention capability is heavily geared towards traditional prevention activity. This approach needs to be updated to address the changes in this area.

The force is preparing to join the single online home platform (being developed by the national digital policing portfolio). Dates of implementation weren’t known when we inspected. When in place, this will offer the public more ways to contact the force. This includes providing more information online. This will mean that some processes will need to adapt to make sure that all information is assessed and handled appropriately. The force’s strategic change board is managing these changes.

Prioritising

Northamptonshire Police has recently set out its vision and policing priorities. A new policing plan was published in January 2019. It states six priorities as being:

  • serious and organised crime;
  • child abuse and exploitation;
  • rape and sexual violence;
  • preventing/reducing road fatalities and serious injury;
  • residential burglary; and
  • domestic abuse.

There are also two sets of overlapping themes. These are the ‘impact of drugs’ and ‘vulnerability’; and ‘mental health’ and a force strapline of ‘fighting crime, protecting people’.

Staff have welcomed the updated priorities because they give them more clarity. However, the priorities aren’t based on a thorough enough understanding of future demand or changing public expectations.

The force is facing a range of challenges in managing current demand. This is especially true within crime investigation. The force is developing plans to better manage current and projected demand. The police, fire and crime commissioner has approved an increase in precept. This will mean the force can have more staff to help address some of these problems.

Future workforce

Northamptonshire Police needs to improve its workforce plans. We are pleased that it has recruited 149 more police officers in the past 12 months. Yet there was a limited plan for where and how these officers would be deployed. The force also underestimated the scale and impact of the support these new officers would need in their first two years. The new officers bring the force up to its planned establishment figure. It should make sure that future workforce plans reflect demand. It must also consider the support these new officers will need.

The force is making some efforts to tackle inequalities in rank mix and diversity. The lack of a detailed skills audit limits how effective recruitment, training, workforce development and planning can be. The force makes use of external recruitment and national schemes such as direct entry, Police Now and apprenticeships. However, these aren’t tailored to address skills gaps.

It is important that the extra staff are allocated to areas of greatest risk and demand, and to address skills gaps in the workforce.

Finance plans

Northamptonshire Police is facing significant financial challenges in the medium term. The latest plans show a serious financial challenge facing the force over the next four years. The force also has a budget deficit of around £2m in 2019/20. This is expected to rise to around £7m by 2023/24.

The force can’t rely on reserves to balance the budget because these are already allocated for other uses, including redeveloping the Wootton Hall headquarters estate. The force is also exploring borrowing options to support this redevelopment.

The force is developing plans for balancing the budget from 2019/20 onwards. Continuing to use OBB will form part of this. The force acknowledges that the usefulness of the first phase of OBB was limited. This was due to a lack of capacity in the change team and not enough rigorous review by managers. However, lessons have been learned. The force is putting more staff in the change team and it plans to better prepare its leaders in the business skills they need. Leaders will then be able to make sure that similar activities in the future generate the savings or changes to working practices needed. The force is committed to addressing its financial challenges and future financial planning forms part of FP20.

Financial, estates (buildings and facilities) and workforce plans are not currently fully co-ordinated. The force has reduced its estate and associated running costs. It is also exploring opportunities to make the joint working arrangements with Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Services more effective.

There are limited plans for new collaborative working arrangements. This is mainly due to the uncertainty around the prospects for local authority partnerships. The force is missing opportunities to harness the funding available under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It recognises it can make better use of these grants as the local population is increasing and house building continues.

Leadership and workforce development

The force has some methods to develop its leaders for the future. And it is aiming to build diversity within its leadership teams.

The force now uses a 360-degree feedback questionnaire to understand management capabilities. All potential leaders go through this as part of a leadership programme. This is helping senior leaders to understand the potential among their supervisors and managers.

There are no formal talent management processes, and succession planning is underdeveloped. The force is yet to establish a comprehensive and well-publicised system to identify talented individuals across all ranks, grades, roles and departments.

There is some succession planning for police officers because there are defined career pathways. However, there is no proactive strategy for this that would help police officers to prepare. There is no structure in place for staff who have very limited opportunities for development. And there is limited succession planning. This affects the force’s capability when police leave specialised roles or senior positions. The force is missing opportunities to identify members of the workforce with potential to become senior leaders.

Ambition to improve

Northamptonshire Police has a strong ambition to improve the service it provides. The chief officer team acknowledges that the force’s current plans aren’t enough to address the problems it faces.

Since our last inspection, the force developed plans to address some of the problems we found in 2017. While most of these are evidence-based, they don’t cover all aspects of policing. The force has been slow to make meaningful changes.

During our fieldwork, we found many inefficient practices, not enough capacity and capability to manage current demand, and a limited understanding of future demand. Chief officers recognise the scale of the challenge ahead and the force is now developing more detailed plans to address the problems. The new chief constable has instigated a review of the force’s operating model. He has also redefined the force’s priorities and has changed operational and strategic governance arrangements.

The force recognises it may need to change or reduce its services. It is aiming to communicate with the public more. This will help better understand expectations, which will help inform future plans.

An options appraisal of the HR and finance system (MFSS) has also been commissioned to address the problems and to determine long-term options.

The force is committed to joint working with local organisations. However, it is uncertain if these partnerships will continue and how much extra demand the police may face as a result.

The force is working closely with local authority colleagues during the NCC restructure. The force is assessing options for how it can best work when the two new unitary authorities are in place from April 2020. NCC has already made funding cuts. The significant cuts are to the trading standards and non-statutory safeguarding budgets. This may affect demand for policing services.

The police, fire and crime commissioner has established a team to develop joint working between the police and fire service. The team has an ambitious vision for
the future.

Summary for question 2