THE police service, in common with the rest of the public sector, is facing unprecedented financial challenges.
In my 27 years as an officer, funding has generally increased from one year to the next. Previously, when we talked about the need to tighten our belts, we meant that funding had not risen as quickly as inflation.
This is the first time in my experience that we have ever faced a substantial funding reduction.
The steady historical growth in police funding should not, however, be taken as evidence of a service with great scope to make large scale savings.
Since I first walked the beat, the police service has evolved beyond all recognition and has been driven by a range of factors – the emergence of new threats, the agendas of successive governments, shifts in society’s expectations and changes brought by the service itself.
The service of the 1980s had not heard of cyber crime, faced different terrorist threats and would be ill-equipped to tackle today’s sophisticated criminal networks.
While some functions have recently moved away from the police service to bodies such as the Highways Agency, these have been dwarfed by the additional responsibilities that the service has absorbed.
So how do we make the 20 per cent savings?
With well over 80 pence in every pound of our budgets spent on people, it must be through a reduced workforce and a transformation in the way that we police.
We will, of course, maximise what we can from the non-people parts of our budgets.
We can, for instance, save through more effective procurement – something we are working hard to develop in this region.
We can also look at the unit cost of policing. A recent report into police officer and staff pay – the Winsor review – has made a number of proposals which, if adopted, would reduce workforce related costs.
While some of the proposals are well overdue, others have caused a great deal of concern within the service.
When combined with the Hutton report on public sector pensions, many police officers and staff are potentially facing significant changes to their pay and conditions of employment.
Contrary to some media portrayals, the police service is not made up of a huge body of officers and staff who are overpaid and who exploit regulations to claim overtime at every opportunity.
The vast majority of the workforce are dedicated individuals who will go the extra mile for little or no additional recompense. While I am confident we will continue to deliver a highly professional service, changes to pay and pensions will initially affect morale and goodwill.
Even with these proposals, the savings do not come close to the 20 per cent needed and it is in the transformation of the service to achieve “more with less” that the answer lies.
In most forces, internal structures are being revised and shift patterns are being aligned to more closely match times of peak demand. The frontloading of cuts in the first two years of the Comprehensive Spending Review period has added extra impetus to this need to change.
In order to bridge the funding gaps, many forces are already reducing the size of their workforce. There is limited scope to quickly reduce officer numbers, and so the greater burden is falling upon police staff.
Over the past decade, the “workforce modernisation” agenda has seen substantial growth in the numbers of police staff members.
They now fulfil a huge range of functions, previously carried out by officers. These include forensic examinations, control room operators and specialist financial investigations. The need to undertake these functions will not disappear, and if police staff numbers are reduced too far, then there is a very real risk that the amount of time officers actually spend on visible patrol duties may diminish.
In order to truly achieve “more with less”, I believe we need a significant change in the structure of policing.
There are currently 43 forces in England and Wales. In recent years, the issue of force mergers has periodically arisen.
I am opposed to this, as I believe that neighbourhood policing is best delivered locally.
I do, however, believe that there are a wide range of functions that could be delivered at a regional or in some cases a national level, as opposed to an individual force level. The Yorkshire and the Humber region is leading the way nationally in developing a number of regional operational units.
Over the last few years, we have introduced a regional roads crime unit, a regional intelligence unit and a regional organised crime unit.
Others will follow. Developing regional operational units is a pragmatic and cost-effective way for us to balance the need to have certain capabilities, with ensuring those resources are fully and productively employed.
It is also important to be able to mount a regional response to tackle serious and organised criminality – offenders do not respect force boundaries, and our response in targeting them should not be impeded by the artificial constraints that may arise by passing from one force area to another.
We are also seeking to deliver a number of “back office” functions such as forensics and procurement at a regional level. This will provide us with a consistent approach across the region, and will enable us to achieve economies of scale. Other functions should be delivered at a national level such as tackling terrorism, a national agency to tackle the most serious of our criminals and a national police air service.
Core services should be delivered locally but supported by regional and national assets – a laminate approach.
The police service is perpetually evolving and I believe the next decade will see fundamental structural changes. Neighbourhood policing must continue to be delivered within local communities.
Everything else is up for debate. Innovation, creativity and leadership will be required.
The journey will undoubtedly be painful at times, but the current financial constraints may yet prove the catalyst to creating a leaner and more effective service.
Grahame Maxwell QPM is the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police and the lead officer on finance for the Association of Chief Police officers.