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July 26, 2010

Police reform will be the next battleground – driven by ICT

Want to know the next union that will need to be broken for any realistic 25% level cut in UK HMG public spending? If you said nurses, council workers, civil servants, sure, they'll get theirs. But a community you may not have thought of is the police

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Want to know the next union that will need to be broken for any realistic 25% level cut in UK HMG public spending? If you said nurses, council workers, civil servants, sure, they’ll get theirs (and it’ll probably be very messy, sans doute). But a community you may not have thought of that is increasingly seeing the nice and easy years slip by also wears a uniform and has lots of TV drama about it, too; and it’s the police.

Police reform driven by ICT - Robin Hutton, Flickr

More specifically, it’s the police’s top brass, which is its managerial voice the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). Chief constables like being chief constables, basically, as it’s the top of the force career structure. But if we had less UK forces, there’d be less such jobs available. We leave the conclusions to be drawn from that as an exercise for the reader – but we should remind you we have over 50 separate UK forces, 33 in England and Wales alone.

That may be relevant background to understanding the context of the implications for the Acpo community from last week’s highly critical joint study by the National Audit Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Wales Audit Office that said, in effect, that chief constables aren’t really that convinced they can do any significant cost-saving measures via these computer thingies.

Thus 75% disbelieve any more savings can be made in the back office, from things like cloud or shared services or what have you. The report then lays out how these third-parties think £1bn – or 12% of the central funding forces now get – could be stripped out of the cost base by just such moves.

In 2007/08 alone British police pared, very commendably, 25% of that year’s £224m overall savings came through back-office cuts alone. Just more use of civilian staff where appropriate could strip out at least a further £270m; we have 23,000 plus back office non-frontline staff in English and Welsh Forces alone doing such jobs.

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At a time of enforced austerity and demands from government to curb costs as much as possible, the fact that so many UK police bodies have their own HR and payroll systems which could and should be shared with neighbours is not exactly a scandal, but it is just not a sustainable position.

The government had already signalled it wants to see fewer forces. I think it will go much further in this direction than anyone yet expects – emboldened by Downing St directives for spending ‘war games’ planning of up to 40% as policy-makers now are.

Though we might keep the charming anomaly of a separate City of London Force (murder rate; about as often as W Rooney scores for England), I’d be very surprised if we still had as many south east forces as we now have in, say, two years, for instance – and we could even have an argument we only need 3 in England anyway (North, London, rest).

The police will say they have two sorts of crime – urban and rural – that are very different, which is why they need so many forces with different systems. Er, not any more, my friend. You have two back office systems for the one and then the other on vast outsourced contracts and you share all you can with the guy in the next county.

But agreeing with that means we need less distinct forces – and hence less Acpo members. Breaking the police sounds horribly fascistic as a political programme, but this is one time we might need to seriously look at just such an action to end up with a much more rational use of resources and yes, don’t groan – more Bobbies on beats as there’d be less spent on silos of IT.

Won’t be pretty – but has to happen.

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