POLICE SCOTLAND THE NEXT STEPS?
I was a guest of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales at their excellent annual conference this past week. As it drew to a close, I was astonished by the Home Secretary’s remarks to conference when she appeared to rule out potential cost savings by an amalgamation of forces south of the border and cited the Police Service of Scotland as an example of ‘top down restructuring’ not working. Indeed, amongst other observations she alleged that the planned savings outlined in the original business case for Police Scotland would not be delivered for a further 15 years.
In actual fact, the original business case contained a long term objective to save £1.1bn over an extended period of time – it would never have been possible to save that sum in two years! Indeed, thus far the equivalent of the budgets of three of the constituent forces has already been saved and the service is well on the way to achieving that eventual goal. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day and alterations to a service delivery model need to be applied piece by piece.
Contrary to the stated view of the Home Secretary, I would argue that amalgamation of service ultimately brings with it not only cost savings and but an improvement in service delivery despite the very difficult environment in which we police today. Whilst we may have a retention of officer numbers that is the envy of others, like colleagues elsewhere in the UK, our budget has been significantly reduced and our support mechanisms have taken the brunt of the cuts.
Against this backdrop it was a massive challenge to amalgamate 10 distinctive police entities into one national police service. In the main, however, this has been successfully achieved – albeit there have been some high profile issues which have drawn criticism from press and politicians alike. The scale of that criticism recently resulted in the announcement by our Chief Constable that he will leave his post earlier than planned.
But to merely focus on these issues is to do a great disservice to the men and women who give their all on a daily basis. After all, high profile issues in policing are hardly unique to Scotland.
In actual fact, in the space of just over two years a lot has already been achieved. Layers of bureaucracy and duplication have been removed. The post code lottery of service delivery has been addressed. National standards have been set for major crime investigation, the approach to domestic incidents and sexual crime investigation which have brought with them outstanding levels of success. The development of a national trunk roads policing unit under one management structure is also seen as an excellent development. Single national IT systems are to follow shortly.
The drive to achieve this corporate approach has come at a cost though. A strongly centralised policing model has been required in the first two years that has resulted in some allegations of a loss of localism and a removal of local flexibility. This situation can be addressed by providing local commanders with more ability to vary service delivery at a local level within a national policing structure. Ultimately, these local commanders need to become the strategic face of the service in their communities.
After all, localism and crime prevention were the stated intentions of the legislation when it was enacted. I believe that these are also the aims of the Westminster government and I wouldn’t be quite so hasty in dismissing the amalgamation model as a means of achieving same. Building on success to date and adding localism and prevention will be the first operational challenges for the next Chief Constable on appointment.
In the interim, the Police Service of Scotland will continue to evolve and prove to its critics that policing services can be successfully delivered without a multitude of forces and an army of bureaucrats at the helm.