West Mercia PEEL 2018
How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?
West Mercia Police requires improvement in how it meets demand and uses resources.
Currently, the force provides many services through the shared functions of its alliance with Warwickshire Police. But the imminent end of the alliance, in October 2019, is a cause of concern. It is not known how both forces will offer a full, uninterrupted range of public services by the time the alliance ends.
The force is working to gain a full understanding of the cost of services as it decides how best to operate post-alliance. But it must act swiftly if there is to be minimal disruption to the service it gives to the public, and its workforce, from October onwards.
A lack of detailed preparation in advance of the alliance termination announcement is a contributory factor to our judgment that West Mercia Police is inadequate in how it plans for the future.
The force has failed to provide evidence of the business case that led to the decision to terminate the alliance and therefore it is difficult to assess the force’s decision.
And it is a cause of concern that the force did not consult the public or key partners before making its decision.
We expect both forces to work together, as they transition to new operating models, to ensure no adverse effects on the public or their workforces.
How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?
Cause of concern
The force does not have suitable arrangements in place to make sure it can maintain the full range of public services when its alliance with Warwickshire Police ends. There are gaps in its workforce skills assessment, and
weaknesses in both its investigative approach and its approach to safeguarding vulnerable people.
To address this cause of concern, we recommend that the force should immediately:
- put in place plans to maintain the full range of public services by October 2019, particularly in the areas of highest risk;
- expand the skills project work to include an assessment of all skills, not only operational, including potential future skills requirements. This assessment should inform workforce plans;
- conduct a review of officers’ capabilities and capacity to manage their investigative workload, to better understand investigative demand and the pressures placed upon them; and
- conduct a review, involving its partners, of the approach to vulnerability to better safeguard vulnerable people.
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
West Mercia Police has a good understanding of the demands on its services. A long-standing relationship with a commercial partner means that the force has access to an accurate and up-to-date profile of demand on which to base its operation. This has helped it to continually refine its operating model. In April 2018, it made its latest adjustments. New features of the operating model include:
- revised shift patterns;
- the introduction of incident progression teams (IPTs) to take pressure off 999/101 responders; and
- the move of the force’s mobile support unit, known as the operational patrol unit (OPU), to local policing areas.
The IPTs now deal with reported incidents where there is no realistic chance of arresting offenders and no pressing need for officers to attend immediately. This means that response officers have more time to respond to callers who are in urgent need of police assistance. The OPU has a wider remit to respond to calls for service at times of heightened demand. According to an external review, the availability of officers is now more likely to meet service demands. Also, the IPTs now take responsibility for managing 10 percent of the force’s non-urgent workload. As a result, response officers are more available for emergency and priority calls.
Understanding factors that influence demand
Since the force last adjusted its operating model, improvements to service are becoming noticeable. But there are undoubtedly times when demand is placing a strain on the force. Sometimes, more incidents need to be completed than the force can deal with. For example, over summer 2018, the force had substantial demand increases that led to many incidents waiting too long to be attended by an officer. (However, this shortcoming should be considered within the context of the force receiving more than 137,000 999 calls and almost 483,000 non-emergency calls in 2018/19.)
Staff also spoke of delays in the processes involved in reassigning incidents to officers for investigation. There were delays in the quality assurance of cases in the investigation management unit. The situation was compounded by problems with the introduction of a new crime recording system. The force has since increased staffing levels and introduced new procedures. At the time of our most recent visit, the force had cleared the backlogs. It is applying increased scrutiny to maintain performance in this area.
The force’s understanding of the volume of calls it receives, and how best to respond to them, contrasts with some concerns we have about investigations.
Previously, the force has been innovative in developing its investigative capacity. In Worcestershire and Herefordshire, it has stopped the established practice of having specialist investigative teams. Typically, these include specialist child abuse or sexual offence investigators. Successful investigations of this nature depend on constructive working relationships with social care workers and other professionals who support vulnerable victims. Specialist investigators developed these relationships well in the force.
In common with other forces, reported crimes of this nature have increased rapidly. In order to meet this increase, the force is training detectives to be ‘omnicompetent’ in some areas (known as ‘Pathfinder sites’). The force’s rationale is that omnicompetent investigators can handle a more diverse workload without being confined to a specialist area of expertise. Pathfinder is not in place in all areas, however. For instance, in Telford and Wrekin, and in Shropshire, specialist teams investigate child abuse, sexual offences and domestic abuse cases associated with the most vulnerable victims.
There are mixed views about the Pathfinder approach that range from a preference to retain specialisms to support for multi-skilled detectives. Some are supportive of the scheme but feel that the force has not committed enough staff to the Pathfinder teams. In Worcester, there were examples of officers investigating certain crimes for which they had not been trained. Also, staff do not always have access to experienced colleagues or supervisors.
What is clear is that the force has a good track record of recruiting and retaining detectives. This is positive. But it needs to determine the best investigative model to meet its needs. We understand that the force’s commercial partner is soon to begin analysing the force’s investigative workload to help inform this decision.
Working with others to meet demand
We have previously reported the benefits of West Mercia’s strategic alliance with Warwickshire Police. It is widely recognised that £35m of savings can be ascribed to the alliance arrangements, principally through the sharing of services. These include baseline savings (for example, on the vehicle fleet, a standardised use of vehicles and economies of scale have driven down suppliers’ costs).
At the time of our inspection, the two forces shared police support services. This arrangement delivers savings in mainstream business functions such as human resources (HR) and finance. It has strengthened critical business areas (such as homicide investigation) because, jointly, the two forces are better placed to manage surges in demands for their services. The forces also share services that are not geographically tied to a locality, such as armed policing, traffic patrols and dog support units.
The future of these services is now uncertain because the alliance is due to end in October 2019. This is a cause of concern. The principles of collaboration and joint venture in the interests of efficiency are well founded in both forces.
In July 2019, we revisited West Mercia Police to conduct a further inspection of its preparations for the termination of the alliance. Because of the evidence gathered during that visit, we are concerned that existing plans may not secure all necessary services by the relevant date. The executive team has considered eight business cases for their collaboration potential, but none will be progressed. Instead, between 90 percent and 92 percent of services will continue on a stand-alone basis. Additionally, several key personnel are due to transfer to Warwickshire Police and the transition planning team will end in October, with the remainder of its work transferring to other teams.
Despite the force’s investment in transition planning, we are concerned that the full range of public services may be affected by the end of the alliance.
The future of strategic joint working arrangements is unclear. Still, the force works jointly with a range of local authorities and other partners to safeguard vulnerable people and more effectively manage demand in partnership. For example, more than 100 residential homes in the region are housing looked after children who are frequently at risk when away from adult supervision. In one year, more than 1,500 of these children absconded from care. This places significant demands on the force in terms of searching for them. The force’s close work with both children’s homes and social care has helped to reduce instances of children absconding and consequently to manage the risks they face.
In West Mercia, partnership arrangements are complex: they span multiple authorities and partnership agencies. This creates numerous challenges. For instance, MARACs draw together social care workers and other domestic abuse professionals to consider the long-term needs of domestic abuse victims. While effective in many areas, insufficient numbers of MARAC meetings in Worcester mean that some deserving cases cannot be considered at a panel.
The MASHs operate in different ways and some are more effective than others. These variations can mean that vulnerable people in some areas (such as Herefordshire) fail to receive the sort of support found in those parts of the force where there is closer working and better co-ordination (such as Telford). The effective multi-agency mental health aftercare support that is available in these areas is not, however, available everywhere. And there is little in the way of consistent force-wide multi-agency triage support for those who come to police attention because of mental health crises.
Despite these challenges, there is good evidence that local staff support domestic abuse victims. We spoke to police and community support officers who were aware of, and support, victims in their local areas. The force has a pivotal role in co-ordinating the activity of other organisations in support of victims.
The force is working hard to secure the support of local councils, adapting its practices according to regional differences. It is yet to accurately assess the demand that these adaptions place on its resources. This will form part of future evaluations planned in conjunction with the external business partner. The force recognises that investigations associated with vulnerable people can only be successful if victims are effectively safeguarded.
Innovation and new opportunities
The force has an established track record of investment in transformational change. Recently, the change team recruited new staff direct from the technology sector to improve the infrastructure on which the force’s future ICT developments will depend.
The force is committed to exploring opportunities and developing new ways of working. A good example is its expanding relationship with the fire and rescue service. Recently, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service relocated its headquarters to Hindlip Hall to share facilities. Future plans include the integration of fire service command facilities into the force’s new control centre, which is due to be fully operational this year. This will enable the police, fire service and senior ambulance managers to work better together at major incidents. Joint working arrangements also make more sophisticated use of the resources of both organisations. These include responding to emergencies when people have been taken ill in their own homes. Usually, the police have taken the lead in responding to such incidents. In Hereford and Worcester, firefighters now attend these reports and are better equipped to resolve them. Another benefit is the use of drones. Until recently, the fire service and the force used drones separately. In the interests of reduced costs and efficiency, they have now agreed that the fire service will provide drones for both organisations.
Investment and benefits
The force is clear about its ambitions, its investments and the benefits it seeks through its transformation programme. For several years, the force’s vision to digitise the front line, modernise services and make the estate fit for the future has been central to its financial planning. For example, over the course of the current mid-term financial plan, the force has committed £42m to improving the estate. These improvements will include new police stations at Shrewsbury and Hereford.
However, not all change and improvement programmes are running smoothly. The force has experienced delays in realising the expected benefits from ICT transformation. And it has stopped work that was designed to integrate operating systems (telephony, communications and records management) across West Mercia and Warwickshire. The infrastructure on which the new crime and intelligence database rests has been found to be substandard. This infrastructure is being rebuilt as part of a capital funding programme planned over the next four years. Furthermore, there has been a change from the original plan to streamline call handling procedures and reduce overheads through a combined West Mercia and Warwickshire police control room. As a result, the force will not achieve the intended savings from this programme. Long-established shared call handling services will also end, because of the alliance terminating.
Prioritising different types of demand
The force decides its priorities, as part of an annual planning cycle, based on research into the threats and risks that it predicts. It produces this research in a nationally recognised format known as a strategic assessment. The risks are then subject to a secondary assessment using the MoRiLE risk matrix. This enables the force to assess threats against its available capacity and capability in order to address them.
The force has identified its 2018/19 priorities as:
- CSE and abuse;
- organised acquisitive crime (this involves an element of theft – for example, burglary);
- domestic abuse; and
- people who are seriously injured or killed on roads.
The force holds frequent tasking meetings to review progress against its strategic priorities and to assign resources to them. The force organises strategic-level tasking meetings and replicates them in local policing areas to address community problems. In North Worcestershire, we observed effective tactical tasking. There, community safety partnerships make local assessments of crime and other problems. Their assessments include information from housing providers, social care workers, general practitioners and voluntary organisations. They are a useful reference point for identifying local problems, while local tasking meetings provide a joint response to resolve them.
Representatives of Redditch and Bromsgrove Council, Wyre Forest Council, and Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service attend the local meetings. They contribute to discussions and resourcing decisions. Similar arrangements exist in other parts of the force. We saw an example of the force working with housing authorities to support tenants who are at risk of cuckooing.
Assigning resources to demand and understanding their costs
West Mercia Police has made steady progress in calculating the benefits of both its investments and the alterations it makes to its services. For example, it can assess how much more efficiently frontline staff can work by accessing force databases on tablets and other mobile devices. By using these devices, officers no longer have to return to fixed work stations to enter data and retrieve information. The force acknowledges current difficulties with the ICT infrastructure and the problems of poor signal strength in some rural areas. Mobile solutions will become even more important as more applications become available on devices.
The services that the force shares within the alliance model are predicated on a financial division of investment of 69 percent (West Mercia) and 31 percent (Warwickshire). This division reflects a pro rata share of the total funding that is available to both forces. However, for several reasons, there is no accurate record of the additional costs incurred by one force in the support that it provides to the other. Recording the exact time that officers spend supporting the other force is difficult: the precise cost of that time and associated overheads is unknown and the forces have not made these calculations a priority over the history of the alliance.
The decision by West Mercia Police to terminate the alliance has highlighted the importance of understanding the cost of services when forces enter into collaborative arrangements. This is something the force is currently working on. Few forces are totally reliant on stand-alone services, and a full understanding of the cost of services will be important to both forces as they determine how best to operate after the alliance ends. The transition team has developed a wide range of models across all affected services to help inform future plans and collaboration options. Research from other programmes including the services to policing work is also being used. But available timescales for implementing these plans are dwindling.
Recently, the force completed a skills project to obtain an accurate assessment of the make-up of the current workforce. The project referenced future demand that will help to inform recruitment programmes. (For example, an increasing amount of police training will be subject to nationally accredited standards. This will place additional demands on the force’s training unit.)
Primarily, the project focused on current operational skills. It did not include non-operational skills or future skills requirements (operational or otherwise). A full understanding of current and future demand requires an assessment of all skills, as well as potential future skills requirements.
We looked carefully at the force’s detective capacity because other forces have had difficulty recruiting into detective roles. Historically, the force has performed well in recruiting detectives. Following negotiations with the College of Policing, the force has compressed several detective training modules. Those who are interested in a detective career can now become accredited more quickly.
Recently, the force carried out a leadership audit. It cross-referenced its internal findings with the College of Policing Leadership Charter (Guiding Principles for Organisational Leadership, College of Policing, 2017). The audit has helped to inform a leadership development programme that the force is providing to all officers and staff from superintendent and equivalent upwards. Those taking part in the programme can access coaching support and attend career development events.
Throughout 2019, the force is carrying out a similar behaviour capability assessment as part of its adult safeguarding training. This will establish a behaviour profile for the organisation and inform learning and development priorities.
The force has also made progress in implementing programmes to identify its future leaders. The new talent management scheme, which is linked to the MAX programme (maximising contribution and potential) will enable a more structured approach to development force-wide. This is explained later in this report.
More efficient ways of working
The force has sophisticated change plans in place to make the best use of technology, collaboration and more efficient ways of working.
We have previously commented on how the force invests into, and prioritises, its transformation change programme. Over several years, the force has established six workstreams that focus on high-tech control rooms, the design of local policing, support services, ICT architecture and end-user technological devices.
The transformation change programme is structured. There is a clear focus on benefits, and a defined link between the change programme and the mid-term financial plan. The change programme is (and continues to be) critical to the force’s plan to achieve £16m of savings over the next three years. A good example is how the design of local policing has changed, first in line with budgetary restraint (following reductions in public sector spending) and now in terms of growth as more council tax revenue becomes available.
At the time of our initial inspection, the programme’s workstream relating to the future of support services was nearly ready to be implemented. This is known as the services to policing (STP) project. It has involved the force analysing 21 support services, including functions such as HR, legal and procurement services. In total, 347 of its activities have been analysed to find out how processes can be improved and savings made. The proposal included consolidating the services into a single business directorate, with potential alliance savings amounting to £12m over three years.
However, the termination of the alliance will affect the implementation of the proposal. Of more concern is the fact that West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police will no longer share support services.
While the work will be beneficial to future planning, the alliance termination substantially changes the benefits anticipated by this joint venture. Now, each force must promptly implement its own support service arrangements by the date on which the alliance ends if it is to avoid disruption to the public and its workforce.
Working with others
The force has committed to investing in business change. It has productive relationships with external business consultants. The STP project identified potential savings. This is a good example of how professional expertise is helping the force operate efficiently and within financial constraints.
Successive PEEL inspections have reported on the alliance’s transformation as it has matured. This transformation has ranged from the early benefits of economies of scale (such as £100,000 annual savings from standardised fleet procurement) to digitising frontline services. Prior to the announcement of the termination, the alliance was implementing large-scale ICT replacement programmes. These programmes are now uncertain.
The alliance termination aside, West Mercia Police has many joint working arrangements. Collaboration is evident in operational policing and in how the force organises business support. There are good examples of the force’s commitment to working with local organisations to offer better services to the public and to protect vulnerable people, at all levels of the organisation.
For example, we found effective working practices in place in Worcester in support of people who are vulnerable in their own homes. Many forces have experienced vulnerable occupants being befriended by criminals, who then use the vulnerable person’s home to deal drugs or commit other types of crime. Officers have worked with social housing providers in the area to identify occupants who may be coerced into co-operating with criminals. Measures are then put in place to make occupants more secure in their homes, and less susceptible to this type of victimisation.
As part of its alliance arrangements, West Mercia Police has had ambitious and transformative plans to make the best use of technology to modernise its services. Its vision has been to digitise frontline policing and integrate operating systems, with the aim of improving the force’s service to victims of crime and others who need its help.
The ICT transformation programme has suffered setbacks. In common with other forces, West Mercia Police has experienced problems with the introduction of the new crime and intelligence records management system. For example, frontline officers are having difficulty using an application that assembles prosecution case files. The force has had to revert to using a legacy file-builder system to prepare for an accused person’s first court appearance. Also, officers must enter some details onto the new records management system. This is proving to be time-consuming and inefficient.
Also, according to a recent assessment, force ICT architecture is insufficiently stable to support either the new operating system or other systems that the force wants to introduce.
A further complication is the termination of the alliance. Both forces were due to have a new ‘state-of-the-art’ command and control operating system implemented in their control rooms. The forces must now revise these plans.
Despite these setbacks, we recognise what the force has achieved in relation to technology improvement. For example, officers have access to force systems through mobile tablets. They also use body-worn video to help gather evidence. Both will soon be replaced with next-generation devices. And the force’s £17.2m ICT investment over the next four years is likely to deliver benefits in the future.Summary for question 1
How well does the force plan for the future?
Cause of concern
The force has not yet defined how all of its services to the public will operate in the future, nor has it agreed a smooth transition to a future operating model. And it has not consulted with the public on these important matters.
To address this cause of concern, we recommend that the force should immediately:
- clearly define its new operating model, ensuring all operational and support services are affordable and fit to protect the communities of West Mercia;
- agree arrangements with Warwickshire Police to secure a smooth transition to its future operating model, ensuring no disruption to public services; and
- improve its arrangements both to consult with the public about business planning and to feed back on changes made to service delivery as a result of such consultation.
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
West Mercia Police has assessed the future demands for its services. Supported by its commercial partner, it has calculated statistical projections of future crime trends and calls for service. These projections form part of the work of the transformation programme for both West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police. The data is being used by both forces to redesign their operating models. This data is serving West Mercia Police well in the context of the impending end of its alliance with Warwickshire Police. As the force rebuilds a future operating model, it is important for it to maintain its understanding of current demand and develop an accurate understanding of future demand pressures.
The force recognises that its understanding of future demand is incomplete. Many operational pressures are the result of factors that are more complex than simply the number of 999/101 calls the force receives, and the volume of crime that is committed. Many investigations of crime involve detailed work with other professionals (for example, children’s services or domestic abuse support workers), to safeguard vulnerable people. These commitments are difficult to quantify in terms of required staffing levels. But they are an essential feature of force services. The force has plans in place to complete this research. However, we have concerns that the research, currently commissioned by the alliance, may be interrupted as the force’s relationship with Warwickshire Police changes. The force must do more to understand and meet future demand.
It will be particularly important for West Mercia Police to fully understand the demands on services that it shares with Warwickshire Police. These principally include major crime investigations, business support services (including HR, finance, procurement, estates and fleet) and some specialist services (for example, armed policing, dog support units and motorway patrols).
In 2012, when the forces established the alliance, they agreed to share the workloads in these areas between them, rather than to apportion them separately. As both
forces transition out of the alliance, it is not clear how these services are to be provided in the future. It is important for both forces to understand the consequences of the separation. It is of paramount and immediate importance to assure the continued and uninterrupted provision of these services to the public. Both forces have set up transition teams to address this problem. This could be helped by better communication between the two forces.
Understanding public expectations
In West Mercia, the PCC takes the lead in public consultation in the five local policing areas. Dialogue with the public takes place in a range of ways. These include scheduled meetings at community forums, online surveys and newsletters. The commissioner’s priorities are explicit in both the force’s own policing plans and the commissioner’s work with the force.
There is no evidence of West Mercia Police having consulted the public in advance of its decision to end the alliance. This is a cause of concern. Such a substantial change to its operating model should be informed by the public’s views.
The force has latterly consulted its staff, but there was little evidence of subsequent public consultation to inform post-alliance planning. However, the force has consulted the public about a council tax precept increase, which will support its recruitment aims.
At a local level, there are good examples of officers using Twitter and Facebook to interact with the public. The force’s press and publicity unit supports some of this work. We found a good example in Redditch. There, local officers used the neighbourhood policing team’s Facebook page to identify a concern for local people (drunkenness at the town centre’s bandstand).
Local consultation is largely the responsibility of neighbourhood police and community support officers. Officers told us that local consultation with the public does not always influence how local priorities are decided. Strategic governance of consultation activities might see better use made of the consultation conducted by both local staff and the PCC.
The force failed to provide us with a well-evidenced business case on which the force’s decision to terminate the alliance was based. This is a cause of concern. It represents a significant omission within the business planning process.
In all other respects, the force closely aligns business and financial planning. It relies on a nationally recognised model to assess threats and risks, and sets out priorities within a control strategy.
The control strategy includes reference to the PCC’s priorities. It features domestic abuse, the exploitation of children and acquisitive crime as primary objectives for frontline staff.
The force is structured in its approach to aligning resources to its priorities. At monthly, high-level tasking meetings, it considers its performance in relation to control strategy priorities. It assigns extra resources to areas of operational pressure.
The force replicates these meetings in local policing areas, providing appropriate analysis. In this way, the force monitors its priorities properly and redirects resources to address operational concerns. Locally identified priorities are also considered in these local meetings.
The force’s analytical department provides quarterly performance data to assist local commanders. The department also predicts trends in some areas of demand and crime over the forthcoming months. This enables the force to adjust its operations accordingly.
The force has flexible recruitment plans in place as it enters a period of workforce growth. The PCC has pledged to increase staffing levels in response to increasing residents’ council tax contributions.
The alliance has maintained its capacity to recruit and train officers and staff, even during the period of austerity. It can adapt this capacity effectively. The force’s current campaign – to recruit an additional 215 constables – will bring it to the highest number of officers it has had since 2012.
The force also recruits through national initiatives. The direct entry inspector programme has attracted high numbers of applicants. The Police Now scheme, which has been used for neighbourhood policing, has also attracted substantial numbers of detective applicants. Force plans must make sure that recruitment and training capability are maintained so that it can achieve its aims for the workforce.
In all forces, we have looked carefully at capacity among detectives. This is because there is a national shortage of investigators. This shortage affects the quality of service that forces can give to victims.
West Mercia Police has close to its budgeted number of detectives, with only a few positions vacant. Alongside Warwickshire Police, the force has worked with the College of Policing to streamline detective training, accreditation and development. This has involved the early identification of those who are interested in a detective career, and the compression of instruction modules to shorten the length of the training period. However, a lack of support to achieve accreditation hinders newly trained detectives in securing the full range of skills needed for their roles. The force should review this situation to make sure that it gives newly qualified investigators enough support.
Alongside Warwickshire Police, the force has established a good track record since the beginning of the government’s restraint on public sector spending in 2010.
Since then, the alliance has made savings of £35m from the combined West Mercia and Warwickshire police forces’ revenue budget of circa £300m. The force’s current mid-term financial plan strikes a good balance between further savings and areas of investment. The PCC has secured support from the public to raise the council tax precept contribution, based on an increase in contribution of £15 per Band D household. This has been an important factor in reversing cuts and recruitment freezes. The force’s establishment is now scheduled to increase to record numbers compared with recent years. This brings a mood of optimism to the force. In line with his priorities, the PCC is carrying out a consultation process to establish how these additional officers will be distributed across the force area. Areas of growth will include rural crime, victim support and crime prevention.
Alongside this growth, the force has identified a savings requirement of £16m from a base budget of £211m. Current plans indicate that more than £9m of these savings will be secured from efficiencies identified through the transformation programme. But the force has yet to identify £2.9m of these savings. The force has scheduled a drawdown in the mid-term financial plan.
However, the scale of savings that the alliance has achieved is now overshadowed by its imminent conclusion, as are West Mercia Police’s future savings plans. This is a cause of concern. The force has not provided a clear, evidenced business case underpinning the decision to end the alliance. The forces have not explored the underlying causes constructively and they have not done enough to settle differences. This has caused relations to deteriorate between the forces.
Sections 22A and 23A of the Police Act 1996 set out the framework for police collaborations. These sections place a statutory duty on chief constables and PCCs to ‘collaborate in the interest of efficiencies and effectiveness of their own and other police force areas’ (Statutory Guidance for Police Collaboration, Home Office, 2012).
Home Office guidance states that forces should terminate a collaborative arrangement within an agreed notice period. (The notice period for Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police was set at 12 months within which the forces must agree an exit strategy). The guidance sets out a presumption that the withdrawal from collaborative arrangements should be subject to negotiation.
Warwickshire Police indicated that it was not anticipating the decision by West Mercia Police to end the alliance. West Mercia Police has provided the following reasons for its decision:
- Disproportionate resourcing of policing services across the two forces.
- Unsatisfactory and inefficient governance arrangements.
- Disagreements over projects to streamline business support services and call handling between the two forces.
Both forces provided examples of unequal service provision. However, alliance arrangements do provide for the pooling of budgets between both forces. There is no agreement to apportion costs in accordance with the use of shared resources. Also, as mentioned earlier in this report, the exact costs of these services have never been calculated. And the forces have no established mechanism for cost recovery.
Arguably, disputes of this nature could have been better resolved through negotiation. For example, new procedures could have been put in place to identify the pro rata use of shared services so that costs could be settled accordingly.
The alliance’s governance arrangements are linked to cost sharing. Where the two forces share services, they do so on the basis of West Mercia Police providing 69 percent of funding and Warwickshire Police 31 percent. This is a pro rata share of the funding that is available to both forces. Despite this, in law, both chief constables and PCCs have autonomous authority and accountability for their own force area. For several years, the forces agreed on the provision of shared services, and the means by which the alliance transformation programme would drive reform in both forces. The forces no longer agree about some areas, with the result that important joint projects that were intended to bring improvements to both forces will no longer be implemented. For example, better ways of working and financial efficiencies are important features of the STP project, which aims to bring support services into a single business directorate. This directorate was established to serve both forces and the STP project offers much potential. It has been developed with a commercial partner, and the projected savings have been benchmarked against several public sector and commercial organisations. Neither force can agree arrangements for the joint delivery of these services and the project is now at risk.
A similar position exists for a programme that was intended to secure closer working between the control rooms in each force. This has been a long-standing project. Benefits include a ‘state-of-the-art’ joint operating system (which was scheduled for implementation later this year), as well as reduced supervisory overheads, integration with other force databases, better customer care facilities, and greater capacity to answer and respond to 999/101 calls. The forces must now substantially revise the benefits of these change programmes and arrange independent provision.
Where disputes have arisen, both forces can state why the joint arrangements no longer meet their needs. For example, with reference to the STP project, Warwickshire Police seeks to retain some support services in its own force. In relation to the control rooms, West Mercia Police believes the two control rooms (one situated in each force) should operate as a single ‘virtual’ facility. But Warwickshire Police believes that they should operate independently.
These are just a few examples of friction between the forces. However, we consider that none of these matters, either in isolation or collectively, should be beyond resolution.
Following the decision by West Mercia Police to terminate the alliance, it stated its intention to renegotiate terms rather than cease the arrangement altogether. It appears to us that recourse to such formal action, rather than renegotiating within the framework of the existing alliance agreement, may have been unnecessarily robust.
The decision by West Mercia Police to end the alliance will bring to an end many years of effective joint working. It has had the effect of destabilising projects that were due to introduce new and efficient ways of working. And it has left both forces, and their communities, facing uncertain futures. West Mercia Police has, however, indicated a desire to continue to offer services in collaboration with others, including Warwickshire Police.
Since serving notice to discontinue its alliance with Warwickshire Police, the force has assessed all its services in depth. It has evaluated whether they are better offered as stand-alone services, in collaboration with other organisations, or hosted by one organisation and shared with another.
Until both forces have detailed plans that explain how they will operate in future, it is not possible to assess how efficient and effective they are likely to be. Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, we expect both forces to maintain public services and economies of scale, to avoid increased costs and to keep overheads to a minimum. These factors are essential to ensure that both forces maintain optimal investment in frontline services.
We also expect both forces to work together effectively as they transition to their new operating models. In March 2019, local policing separated successfully out of the alliance structure. However, there is much uncertainty about how all the transition plans will improve the way the forces operate in the future. This uncertainty prevents the creation of joint solutions and may be to the detriment of the services that both forces provide to the public.
Leadership and workforce development
The people services directorate is committed to developing a workforce that is fit to meet the demands of the future. In the past, both forces progressed workforce development as part of their alliance arrangements. This is now an area where the investment in people should bring future benefits. The force has made progress since we last inspected this area.
Historically, the alliance has developed ‘top 40’ and ‘top 140’ programmes. These programmes developed senior officers and members of staff through workshops on topics such as organisational development and unconscious bias.
This year, the force has also introduced a personalised leadership development programme. This is modelled on the national assessment centre for senior officers and members of staff. It gives those taking part access to personality profiling techniques and coaching. It is for chief inspector, superintendent and chief superintendent ranks, and police staff equivalents.
At more junior levels, career development is less well advanced. But a suitable plan is in place: the force has introduced a talent management programme that is giving good insight. Line managers are using it to assess competence. It is helping to signpost staff to development opportunities (such as secondments). And it identifies those who have the potential to lead the force in the future. These initiatives are new and will need time to become fully embedded through 2019.
Despite these developments, the force has yet to develop a full understanding of workforce skills. It has a register of the current skills and competencies of its police officers. But this does not extend beyond the operational training that officers need for their role (such as driving skills). Officers and staff may have a range of other valuable skills and qualifications. The register also lacks an assessment of the skills that may be needed to meet future policing demands. This is an area the force should explore to make sure that it is making best use of the full range of talents within its workforce, and to ready itself for the future.
Ambition to improve
We recognise the progress that the force has made in modelling its services for the future. With some certainty, the force can set out the capacity it needs to meet the demand placed on its services by the public.
These planning certainties are due to both the force’s analysis of demand (which forms part of the transformation programme) and its ongoing assessments of staff workload. Also, the chief officer team has a clear vision for the operating model of the future. The force is committed to ‘being cost effective, working with external organisations, supporting national and regional policing priorities, as well as making the force a great place to work’.
However, the force’s substantial investment in readying itself for a post-alliance future shows the scale of work needed to put effective arrangements in place.
We will only be able to assess whether the force’s services are affordable, and fit to protect its communities, when the new operating model has been clearly defined. It is important for both forces to agree arrangements for a smooth transition to their future operating models, so that there is no disruption to public services. The lack of clarity in these areas, as we approach October 2019, is a cause of concern. This will be the subject of close monitoring and further reportingSummary for question 2