Can we afford the police service we need?

One of the difficulties in getting a more efficient police force that spends a larger proportion of its funds on policing rather than administration is getting rid of an excessively bureaucratic culture. The Stevens report treads a fine line here as some its remedies, to my mind, seem to imply introducing a number of new systems which will struggle to streamline procurement and cut waste.

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This is the seventh in a series of posts on the seminal Policing for a Better Britain report.

Making savings and efficiencies

The Stevens Report, as Policing for a Better Britain is more commonly known, is very much a product of post-global recession Britain. The 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review required the police budget to be cut by 20% or £2.1 bn. Seven thousand frontline officers were lost between 2010-2012 and the projected total by 2014/15 is 30,000 officers. The report confronts directly one of the biggest challenges of the future of policing:

How can we afford the police service we want and need?

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Tackling waste

The challenge, of course, is to save money while minimising the impact on service delivery. The Stevens report uses strong language in criticising a history of costly and wasteful procurement, particularly around IT contracts.

The report says there is an opportunity to make massive improvements in efficiency as the Police National Computer, National Database and Airwave contracts come up for renewal. It recommends a national procurement strategy coordinated by the MoJ and the Home Office for IT, “non IT consumables” and forensic services which they calculate could provide an almost immediate saving of £62.6 million.

The Stevens report quotes work done by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office which found that there is much greater scope for co-ordinated, national procurement which could save tens of millions of pounds every year. Even though we seem to have been discussing this issue for years, only 2% of items the police need are currently bought nationally.

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Maximising the benefits of technology

It is symptomatic of this problem that despite the rapid adoption of new technologies by most forces – for example, it was announced last week that all frontline staff in Hampshire Police will wear body cameras – there is very little co-ordination nationally.

The Stevens Report argues that there would be huge benefits in making sure that all offices could access intelligence “remotely, though a single integrated platform” and says this could be achieved by:

  • storing the PNC, the PND and forensic support systems such as the National Fingerprints Database on a single platform;
  • making federated systems, including national watch lists, searchable via this new platform;
  • giving responsibility for the database to a lead force;
  • making access to the platform available to all officers via their mobile technology capabilities as early as possible.

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Affording the future

However, it is clear that even eradicating waste and using technology more effectively won’t close the gap between the money needed and the funds available.

The report raises other possibilities:

  • How much money could be saved by having a single national police force? (see last week’s post)
  • Are there big savings to be made by procuring vehicles and other items in partnership with other public bodies such as councils?

However, its main focus is on the need to have a more co-ordinated and transparent approach to procurement to ensure that decisions are in the public interest.

One of the difficulties in getting a more efficient police force that spends a larger proportion of its funds on policing rather than administration is getting rid of an excessively bureaucratic culture.

The Stevens report treads a fine line here as some its remedies, to my mind, seem to imply introducing a number of new systems which will struggle to streamline procurement and cut waste.

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