How will Scotland’s police forces manage to provide the service communities expect when their budgets are being cut?
Sometimes it is better to let the words speak for themselves. So here is what Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill said at the annual Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland conference earlier this month: “Scottish Government economists have estimated that real terms cuts in funding could continue into 2014/15, and that even if slow annual growth returns after that overall funding levels will take 12 or more years to return to current levels of public sector funding.
“During that period of time the equivalent of around £25bn will have been taken out of public sector budgets in Scotland. So this is not a short-term problem. We need to be planning now for a new financial climate that lasts for perhaps a generation.” Scotland has been cocooned from the immediate cuts but we’ll get our turn next year. If Prime Minister David Cameron is to be believed, things will never be the same.
How will our forces adapt? What lessons can they learn from elsewhere? And perhaps most crucially of all, is there a need for a drastic change in the way we think about how we fund and manage our police to meet the challenges of the times?
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, Bill Skelly, lays out the scale of the cuts that are coming and says that much of the work of his office will be geared towards ensuring forces are doing all they can to maximise efficiencies accordingly.
He says: “There is no doubt that whatever the actual numbers look like, there will be significant cuts required across the policing sector in Scotland. The working assumptions are anywhere around 3 and 8 per cent for the 11/12 budget and somewhere around 3 and 5 per cent of the next two years’ budgets after that.
“That means any work we do is against the backdrop of a significantly reducing resource base for the police service and that means we’ll have to acknowledge that and we will.
Some of the work we have programmed in for the coming 12 to 18 months is looking at how collaboration works between forces, at how efficiencies are made and that will be relevant in the times ahead.
“Also, some of the work we are involved in is around best value and how that is achieved for police forces and police boards and some of the scrutiny and governance that exist between police forces and boards so that will be absolutely relevant during the times when forces and boards will have to work together to find these sorts of cuts. They go way beyond savings, they are far more than that.” Skelly says that while his office will recognise the impact of the cuts, they will not be permitted as an excuse for a failure to deliver best practice or value and points to the experience of the Gardai in the Republic of Ireland, which has already implemented brutal spending cuts of a nature worse than we are likely to see in the UK, as proof that police services can, need to, and will, get on with the job.
“The service is alive to the fact, even in having to manage a reduced budget, there is still a service that needs to be delivered and there is a public expectation that the service will be delivered in the best possible way and at the highest possible standard.
“That is an environmental issue but it wouldn’t be an excuse. We would never accept it as an excuse. They could put it forward as one of the factors involved in how they delivered things. I wouldn’t overplay that. It is understood, we recognise it and we’ll work with it as we go forward.
“The Republic of Ireland is a country which has taken some very serious cuts that are more than we are expecting and continues to function and continues to provide public services. There are some clear areas where there are lessons to be looked at there.” There are some lessons to be learned closer to home too. While in Scotland the Scottish Police Services Authority brings together various back-office policing functions to save money, in England and Wales, Essex and Kent Police, with similar policing challenges stemming from their location bordering the Metropolitan Police area, have embarked on a ground-breaking project to work as closely together as possible not just on back-office functions, but even on some operational matters.
Essex’s Chief Inspector Tina Noble explains: “In terms of the work itself, it started off initially by carrying out a number of Operational Support Reviews (OSR). What that involves is looking at areas of business where there appears to be opportunities to make both financial and efficiency savings and we have conducted twelve of these OSRs since the outset of the process.
“They’ve covered a lot of the main back office functions, for example, Airwave, the radio network we use, forensics, and most recently, learning and development. One big area of work for us is around procurement.
Obviously in terms of financial savings, you can make a lot of money by bringing together contracts and going to tender together.” In an example of just how closely the two forces now work, Essex staff will actually be housed in Kent as part of a joint programme on procurement, says Noble.
“Last year we created a procurement service between the two forces and now have a joint procurement head covering Essex and Kent.
We have a single site at North Kent police station on the other side of the river and from July, the Essex staff will move to that single site.
“We are also creating a joint Serious Crime Directorate, a huge piece of work in the operational world which pulls together six areas including the management of major crime, serious and organised crime and intelligence. ” And the close cooperation is showing results too.
“At this stage we have identified new savings of £8.3m between the two forces and that’s through budget reductions, cost avoidance, and reduced expenditure. It’s about £5.1m in Kent and £3.2m in Essex.
“The realised savings, the cash in hand savings we have actually achieved are £3.7m and then we are looking at realising £4.6m in 11/12 and then ongoing into the future.
There’s some quite significant savings that have been made there,” says Noble.
But there are those who think that such rationalisation, especially when grounded in private sector approaches, has its limits and that new thinking for the new reality should be developed.
Irwin Turbitt is a senior fellow at Warwick University Governance Unit. He’s also got a wee bit of experience in policing matters, especially in times of crisis, having retired from the Police Service Northern Ireland in 2006 as an Assistant Chief Constable after a career that included commanding the policing operations at the controversial Drumcree parade route and the Holy Cross school in north Belfast.
Turbitt argues the trend for attempting to ratchet private sector management thinking onto the public sector ignores some basic realities.
“Most people in public management in Britain really have struggled to try and implement business theory but still most people do it and think it is the only model.
The first thing is recognise when we talk about resources in the public sector, and the police are a very clear example of that, we’re not talking about money at the foundational level. If you’re running a private sector business, the only place you can get resources is if you can persuade somebody to give you money, invest, that’s it. Any other acquisition of resources would be considered as a crime.
“The purpose of business is about making money, full stop. All conversations are about to make money. How do you turn the money investors give you into more money to give back to investors?
“At that level of abstraction, you cannot do the same thing in the public sector. The first foundational difference is that the source of money, which people talk about as the only source, is not investors, it’s taxpayers. That’s an obligation, it’s not an invitation, the Government does not invite people to invest in the public services. The Government uses its authority through its democratic mandate to collect taxes which are then used, according to its manifesto pledges and so on to provide monetary funding.” Turbitt refers to the work of Kennedy School of Government Professor Mark Moore on the comparison between police and the private sector.
He says: “[Moore] describes what he would call a police department as an organisation that is engaged in the retail delivery of obligations to citizens. If you want to compare the efficiency of the police in Scotland with the efficiency of Tesco in terms of retail delivery, if you want to get your groceries delivered by Tesco, you have to go online. You have to have a computer or access to a computer and a credit card or a banking card, you have to order what you want, you have to arrange a time, you have to be in.
“For the police to deliver you in the same manner your retail obligation, none of that is necessary. The police will turn up without you even asking, if you don’t manage to get up and answer the door, that’s no problem because they’ll come in through the door, and if you are in your bed, that’s no problem because they will come into your bedroom and deliver your obligation. The private sector cannot deliver that level of efficiency.
“So if we are facing a period of time when the police and other public sector agencies will have less money resources then there is a unique choice which is not available to the private sector which is to use more authority resource to make up for the shortage of money resource.
“Instead of providing by using our funded police officers, the services that people have become accustomed to, the state could start obligating citizens to do that for themselves.”