West Midlands PEEL 2018
How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?
West Midlands Police is good at operating efficiently and sustainably.
In 2017, we judged that the force’s approach to meeting current demand and using resources required improvement. We agreed with the force that we would not re-inspect this area this year. This is because the force is continuing its work to improve how it manages demand in the control room and how accurate its crime reporting is. We have carried last year’s grade forward.
In contrast, West Midlands Police is outstanding in the way that it is planning for the future. The force has a well-developed understanding of current, future and hidden demand from analysing a wide and impressive range of information.
The force manages its change programme well and reviews what it has done to see if it has achieved the expected benefits.
The force understands how to make best use of its financial resources. It has made a significant investment in IT to improve all areas of its work.
The force has extensively researched the best ways to change, so that it can provide policing services in the future. It plans to consult with local people again to find out what they think is important, and use this to inform its next phase of change.
West Midlands Police focuses on technology, the affordability of any changes, and how many officers and staff it will need in the future.
The force has a balanced budget, but a recent government statement means that all police forces must make extra contributions to their pension funds. This may have a significant effect on the force’s finances and its ability to maintain current numbers of officers and staff.
How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 efficiency inspection has been carried over.
Last year, we inspected how well West Midlands Police was meeting current demand and using resources, and judged that the force required improvement. Before this year’s inspection, we discussed with the force the need to re-inspect this area as part of our risk-based approach to the integrated PEEL assessment. It was jointly agreed that, because of continuing work to improve how it manages demand in the force control room and its crime-recording accuracy, we would not re-inspect this area this year and that last year’s grade would be carried forward.
Although we did not inspect this area formally, our continuing monitoring work throughout the year found that the force’s ability to respond to current demand and calls for service is improving slowly. The force is making significant investment in new systems and processes to enhance capability and capacity in both the control room and crime-recording functions. We will monitor progress as the force introduces new ways of working to make the improvements required.
How well does the force plan for the future?
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
The work already done to develop and implement the WMP2020 change programme over several years has given the force a solid foundation. It understands the causes of demand, future scale and the impact on policing services of changing levels of resources. It has a well-developed understanding of demand, including emerging and hidden demand, and actively seeks to understand what causes demand to occur. Examples of this work include analysing trends in violence and domestic abuse, the influence of adverse childhood experiences (which might affect people so that they are either drawn into criminal behaviour, or become vulnerable), and work with other organisations to consider how the effect of changes to health provision will alter demand for policing services. A restructure of the public protection department, planned for early 2019, includes an enhanced triage service to provide an improved early assessment of incoming cases, and more appropriate allocation to either investigative or other resources designed to help victims and prevent crime. The force continues to improve its ability to predict how future demand for its services might change as other external influencing factors also change.
The force manages the WMP2020 programme well with strong governance processes in place. The deputy chief constable leads these processes. The range and breadth of data which the force uses to predict future demand is impressive. This means the force is well positioned to understand not only how changes in demand will affect its capability to respond to the public, but also how to develop an affordable operating model. It aims for a model that can both manage demand when it occurs and adapt to its constantly changing nature.
In response to increases in call demand, the force has identified trigger points which, when reached, prompt the movement of resources. This helps it deal with higher numbers of incidents as part of wider plans to respond to demand in peak periods. The force is investing significantly in new technology to streamline processes, improve public contact and free up staff capacity. New digital channels for public access are already in place, and more are planned. The web chat has been well received by the public and is showing positive early signs from user feedback. However, it is too early to assess how much this is reducing demand and improving the quality of the response for 101 call handling.
The force is continuing to innovate and improve its understanding of future demand; it is already developing the next phase of change after 2020. Work has begun to understand and analyse likely changes in future demand through to 2025. The scope of this work includes innovations in technology and considers what the requirements of a future operating model may be. Analytical capability, both within the force and shared with partner organisations, is effective and considers both police and partner data sources. Co-ordinated approaches to local priorities will continue to be provided in the future. This work will be complemented by a new data review and evaluation system known as DDI, which the force is developing. One of its benefits will be an expanded and better informed picture of demand. The force is also building its annual force management statement into its planning process as a tool to review and evaluate how current and future demand affects its policing operations.
Understanding public expectations
The force engages with the public about policing in the West Midlands in different ways, but how much this has influenced the design of future services is unclear. It is investing in technology and developing digital access channels to manage public contact more efficiently. The force has an active social media presence and used public feedback to help it develop the online services on its website.
Community engagement is a regular activity for neighbourhood teams and the force has commissioned a customer satisfaction project to get more co-ordinated feedback from service users. The force rightly assumes that having more digital options will provide the public with a better service. We found some evidence of how public consultation has influenced the design of policing services to date. The force recognises the need for wider public consultation within the emerging WMP2025 programme. The programme includes plans to undertake more public consultation so the force can understand the needs and expectations of all communities, including those with limited digital access.
The force is working to improve its capability to meet demand from incoming calls. It is investing in better call handling technology and is actively exploring innovative solutions to manage incoming demand using artificial intelligence and robotic technologies. It has set up a telephone investigation team (called the initial investigation team) which deals with crimes and communicates with victims and witnesses by phone. However, an officer will attend if levels of vulnerability or the nature of the investigation makes this necessary. Reduced levels of available funding has influenced these changes. The chief constable has been active in the media explaining the service levels the force can realistically provide.
The force recognises that the public expects a visible police presence. Retaining an effective neighbourhood policing and problem-solving capability is central to an operating model that focuses on preventing and reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. There is a consistent theme of intervention and prevention across the force, with neighbourhood policing resources taking the lead role in this work. The force aims not only to prevent crime from occurring, but also to reduce the demand which crime places on response teams. Although the future operating model is designed to be flexible in response to changes in resource availability, it will require a stable neighbourhood policing presence to reduce demand on response resources.
The WMP2020 programme has shown that the force has a good record of allocating resources to meet demand. It can respond swiftly to changing policing priorities (for example an increase in gun crime or national public order deployments) and has a record of making significant savings through effective budgeting exercises and making improvements in efficiency through change projects.
The force has already invested in technology, such as operational software for mobile digital devices, to make the workforce more productive, efficient and open to scrutiny. There are ambitious plans for technology investment to replace outdated systems and to streamline internal processes in 2019 and beyond, reducing costs and freeing frontline officers from less productive tasks. But there are limited opportunities to reduce spending further without directly affecting the quality of service.
Workforce plans are well developed and align with both the medium-term financial plan and the target operating model the force has developed through WMP2020. The force has a good history of achieving savings by reducing its employee numbers. The workforce strategy for 2018-21 is clear about future needs in terms of numbers, skills and diversity. Where the force has identified capability gaps, it has put appropriate plans in place. For example, it has created a detective academy to meet the predicted need for an increased number of trained investigators.
Recruitment plans for new student officers include focusing on increasing representation from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and other diverse groups to make the force more representative of the people it serves. Changes to the workforce size and makeup are part of wider plans to meet predicted future demand at lower cost.
The force is taking a systematic approach to implementing its future workforce plans. Police staff business partners work alongside senior police officers to monitor staffing trends and needs at departmental level. They help to implement the principles of the workforce strategy and ensure that decisions made in different parts of the organisation are consistent. Officer and staff renewal rates are forecast, so the force has mapped out and published the dates of future promotion processes, along with personal development opportunities, which are available to aspiring candidates. The force has begun planning for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and is developing plans to meet the anticipated need for more operational planning skills. The force’s co-ordinated approach means its workforce plans provide a good foundation for the future.
Financial plans are well aligned with the change programme and in particular with the technology plans and workforce strategy. Although the focus of WMP2020 is on specific areas of operation, the force continues to scrutinise other parts of the organisation for possible savings through a rolling programme of efficiency reviews. The force reviews completed sections of the change programme to assess whether they have produced the expected savings and benefits. The force also compares itself with metropolitan forces and regional neighbours to ensure its assumptions about future funding and expenditure are prudent and in line with others.
Following its 2010 consultation about revaluing public sector pensions, the government announced, in 2016 and 2018, reductions in the discount rate it uses to set contribution rates for the unfunded public service pension schemes. These include the police service pension scheme. A lower discount rate will result in higher contribution rates for the employer. The official notification of a lower rate in September 2018 did not allow PCCs time to include the impact in their financial planning. In December 2018, the government announced a pension grant for 2019/20 for each PCC. It allocated funding to each force to specifically help the police pay for these increased costs in the next year. PCCs must now plan for how they will finance the increased costs in the following years, assessing the impact on their officer numbers and their ability to provide effective and efficient services.
Following this announcement, West Midlands Police has considered options for making additional financial savings, and has looked at the likely impact on services. Before the pensions announcement, the force had a balanced budget over the medium term with a net contribution to reserves coming from additional savings. The pension situation has the potential to make a significant difference to the anticipated financial health of the force and poses a serious risk to future workforce plans. The situation will get worse if the force does not achieve the range of intended benefits from WMP2020 projects. Although the WMP2020 target operating model is scalable, it depends on police officer numbers remaining largely constant at around 6,500. The pensions funding situation needs a long-term solution for these workforce numbers to remain affordable.
The force is projecting a small overspend on its 2018/19 budget and it may be required to take more from its reserves than the £12.8m already planned. There is a risk that if the force continues to spend its reserves on both important projects and in supporting annual revenue budgets, it will have reduced capacity to offset unforeseen overspending during the year. The revised position means there will be limited funding available for investment in future change after 2020.
Leadership and workforce development
Focused investment in the people and organisation department (POD) has brought in the necessary new professional skills to help implement the PCC’s police and crime plan. Detailed schemes underpin the workforce strategy and map out how the force will improve workforce capability. These combine existing strengths with plans to address known gaps. Projects such as the ‘People Deal’ and the ‘Leadership Promise’ bring clarity. Information about the projects has been distributed widely through internal communications, personal briefings and leadership events hosted by chief officers. The workforce understands the force’s expectations in terms of individual performance and knows how to access a growing range of development and personal support options. This will help it acquire the necessary skills for self-improvement.
The pace of change and the range of projects supporting the improvements in workforce skills and capability are impressive. The recruitment of HR professionals with no policing background from other business sectors has seen a fresh approach to tackling some traditionally challenging problems. As diversity and inclusion become a priority, the importance of the recruitment work by the positive action team and greater leadership diversity grows. More broadly, structured programmes for upward and lateral development are becoming widespread. They are complemented by participation in national recruitment schemes such as Police Now, Direct Entry and Fast Track, which recruit and develop talented people into specific ranks and roles. New processes for police promotion, talent management and individual appraisal are also in place to varying degrees, but not without some initial setbacks. However, the overall positive momentum to make a substantial change to how the organisation looks and operates is evident.
Ambition to improve
WMP2020 is a wide-ranging and comprehensive transformational change programme due for completion in 2020. It has been well planned, well led and well resourced through a strategic partnership with a private sector consultancy. The partnership included an explicit expectation that the company would transfer its specialist knowledge and skills to the force’s own staff. This has allowed force employees to develop the programme management techniques and analytical processes that have allowed the programme to succeed. This includes using post-implementation reviews to influence how the force designs any future change. The force has been closely monitoring this knowledge transfer as one of the programme’s measurable benefits. The force reports that it is relying less on the company’s resources and more on the expertise of its own staff.
The force continues to explore a range of innovative solutions that use new technology to improve efficiency and productivity. Plans for the next 12 months will see the force replace and consolidate several existing, business-critical computer systems. Investment in technology will support a shift from traditional to more digital ways for the public to contact the force. The force maintains a group of in-house technical staff who work on infrastructure and systems improvements. A development team, known as ‘the app factory’, creates bespoke agile working solutions for use on the digital devices used by operational officers and staff. This team supports current services and also invests in training and talent development for future design and implementation. Along with an ambitious improvement in analytical capability through the DDI programme, the force expects its investment in new technology to significantly improve operational capability.
Beyond technology, the force is also exploring opportunities to generate income to offset the need to cut services. It has recently created a new self-funded post responsible for securing income-generating opportunities. The force is making better use of police buildings by disposing of surplus properties, co-locating in some locations and upgrading other premises to maximise the benefits of digital systems and sharing space. More agile working and a focus on improving response times means the force needs more vehicles because officers spend less time in buildings. So the force has needed a creative approach to make the best use of its vehicle fleet. The force has several limited collaborations with other forces, but an established relationship with the West Midlands combined authority also means the force has an active role in influencing how future public-sector services in the region are designed.
WMP2025 will be the next phase of the change programme, dovetailing with the final phases of WMP2020 and maintaining a continuing programme of improvement. The force is setting a clear vision and ambitious objectives for improved policing in a context of increasing demand and financial challenges. WMP2025 is not expected to be as transformational as its predecessor. But it seeks to continue the momentum of change and will focus on technology, aiming to use the latest technological developments to improve policing. We will watch with interest to see how these innovative ideas for digital improvements will translate into better outcomes for the public.Summary for question 2