Brandon Lewis: Collaboration the key to more efficient policing

IT has been just over a month since I took up my new role as Minister for Policing and Fire, and from my meetings with frontline officers, chief constables and police and crime commissioners it is clear we share the same pride in our model of policing by consent.

The Government is committed to protecting police budgets.

Day in, day out officers are serving our communities, keeping us safe and protecting the vulnerable. Here in Yorkshire, forces face a particular challenge, with communities spread out across the countryside, in major cities and along the coast, all of which present different issues and opportunities.

Through social media, email or face-to-face conversations, I’ve heard first-hand from the public about the great work of local officers and the bravery they show.

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Since 2010, we have seen the biggest changes to policing in a generation. Crime is down by well over a quarter in England and Wales according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. People, communities and property are safer. The introduction of directly-elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) has brought about a new level of local accountability and transparency and police leaders have taken the opportunity to radically reform the way they deliver services to the public. But our manifesto commitment last year was clear; this Government will finish the job of police reform and continue to ensure police have the capabilities to respond to the changing nature of crime that we face.

Over the last five years, PCCs and chief constables up and down the country have demonstrated that they can collaborate to make savings, pool resources to improve effectiveness, help forces be more resilient in the long term and provide better services to the public without sacrificing local accountability and identity.

During the next five years, PCCs and chief constables must go further to drive deeper collaboration, better sharing of back office services and a more intelligent approach to where police capabilities sit – not just to deliver further efficiencies, but to ensure policing is best positioned to meet the new set of challenges it faces.

And through the Policing and Crime Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, we are enabling collaboration to go further by introducing a new duty on the emergency services to collaborate with one another and enabling PCCs to take responsibility for the governance of fire and rescue services where a strong local case is made.

Yorkshire has led the way for force-to-force collaboration with all four forces in the region working together on a range of issues. West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire police are considering a two-force solution to specialist operations training, while the South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire forces are currently looking at the potential savings to be made from a further joint capability to tackle serious and organised crime.

North Yorkshire Police is also in the first stages of a mental health training scheme organised by the force, the University of York and the College of Policing, among others. This training will help shape how police forces across the country train their front-line staff for interaction with a person experiencing poor mental health and will feed into the Government’s ongoing work to ensure that forces have the best possible training in this area.

The Government has secured a good deal for police funding in the 2016/17 settlement, and overall police spending has been protected in real terms. The settlement ensures that no police and crime commissioner is seeing a reduction in their level of funding in cash this year compared to the previous year as long as they increased their local police council tax precept.

And the Police Transformation Fund, set up as part of the 2015 spending review, is making extra funding available to forces in order to continue police reform and ensure the police have the capabilities they need.

Earlier this year, the bidding was opened up nationally to police forces to put forward projects that will transform policing. West Yorkshire Police were one of 10 successful forces, securing £700,000 over the next two years to explore solutions to enable crime scene images to be transmitted and analysed more quickly. The project will see fingerprint and footprint images digitally transmitted from crime scenes so that they can be processed rapidly and criminals identified more quickly.

It is really encouraging to see West Yorkshire Police come forward with such a groundbreaking project and one which has the potential to be rolled out across Yorkshire and the rest of England and Wales. I very much look forward to seeing the progress of this project and hope to see other forces across Yorkshire come forward with ideas and projects for the next round of the Police Transformation Fund.

Brandon Lewis is Minister for Policing and the Fire Service.