Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Executive summary


  • Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service ( SFRS) became operational in 2013 following the passing of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act in 2012. In terms of policing, the Act brought together the eight regional Police forces, the Scottish Police Services Authority and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency into two new national bodies: Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority. In relation to Fire and Rescue services, the Act established the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service , replacing the eight former Fire and Rescue services and the Scottish Fire Services College. Both sets of reforms are set within a context of decreasing budgets and involve making significant financial savings in relatively short timescales. Both Police Scotland and SFRS are also experiencing important shifts in demand for their services.
  • The aims of this evaluation are to: (i) assess if the three aims of reform (reduced duplication, more equal access to specialist expertise and greater engagement with communities) have been met; (ii) learn the lessons from the implementation of this reform to inform the process of future public service reform; (iii) evaluate the wider impact of reform on the Justice and the wider public sector.
  • The evaluation began in February 2015 and will conclude in February 2019. This first report focuses on findings emerging from the initial two stages of this work: (i) a review of publically available evidence up to the end of November 2015 and (ii) national key informant interviews. The latter were undertaken with a sample of senior representatives across policing and fire in Scotland and a range of national bodies outwith the two services, including other criminal justice sector agencies, local authorities and third sector organisations. This will be complemented with local geographical case study work in years two and four of the evaluation by engaging with local stakeholders including police officers, firefighters, elected members and community representatives.
  • The purpose of the interviews was to focus on perceptions of the processes and experiences of reform in order to help understand 'how' and 'why' the aims of reform have (or have not) been met. The interviews have also highlighted possible lessons for future public service reform processes and the wider impacts of police and fire reform on the justice system and public sector more broadly. No claims can be made for the representativeness of the views articulated by the interviewees but they do give an important if partial perspective on reform. A sample of these interviewees will be revisited at a later stage in the evaluation to capture perceptions of change over time.
  • This Executive Summary section gives an overview of the key themes which have emerged from this first year of work. These are elaborated upon in the main body of the report which captures in greater detail important differences and distinctions in the experiences of reform for the two services

To what extent have the aims been met?

  • On the basis of both documentary evidence and the national key informant interviews, there is plausible and credible evidence of progress being made towards achieving the three long-term aims of reform. However, the picture is complex and the evidence presented in this Year 1 report will need to be supplemented by other perspectives (to be addressed in the next stages of the evaluation) before a more comprehensive assessment can be made.
  • For both Police Scotland and SFRS, there is strong evidence of the establishment and functioning of new processes, structures, projects and programmes designed to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and engagement with communities. However, there are also some important evidence gaps. Documentary evidence tends to indicate 'integration' rather than 'transformation', is largely process rather than outcome focused, oriented to 'producer' rather than 'consumer' perspectives and stronger on national rather than local information.
  • With respect to Aim 1 of reform (reducing duplication), documentary evidence and national key informant interviews suggest that progress has been made toward rationalising service provision and reducing duplication whilst maintaining frontline delivery. Interviewees across the Police and Fire and Rescue Services suggested that not only has the level of local service provision been sustained since reform, despite reduced budgets, but that aspects of services have been enhanced in ways which could not have happened without reform. However, this process is not complete and has proved complex and challenging. There are also significant inter-dependencies which mean that improvements in one area of service delivery might come with costs to other activities.
  • With respect to Aim 2 (equal access to specialist expertise and national capacity), the removal of legacy boundaries has made it much easier to achieve this and several interviewees suggested that of the three aims of reform this was the one in which greatest progress could be demonstrated. Responses to major incidents are perceived by interviewees to have improved, including the capacity to maintain 'business of usual' at a local level during times of high demand. Moving forward there are on-going challenges for Police Scotland about the impacts of the creation of specialist units on local policing, and for SFRS about the most equitable and appropriate geographical location of assets in the context of variable risk profiles of different areas and the changing nature of the demands on the service as a whole.
  • With respect to Aim 3 (strengthening the connections between services and communities), there is evidence of the establishment of local scrutiny and engagement arrangements and the production of local plans. Local scrutiny arrangements were generally felt to be an improvement on previous arrangements for local governance but are of variable quality and in relation to policing there were concerns about the scope of local committees to discuss and challenge decisions taken at a national level that impact locally. The speed at which national decisions with local impacts were taken in the early stages of reform led to a poor assessment of Police Scotland's approach to local engagement. For the SFRS, there was a perception that local engagement is generally working well and the level of scrutiny they are subject to from local committees is much less than that experienced by Police Scotland.

What other important themes have emerged?

  • Beyond offering views on progress towards achieving the aims of reform, the interviews offered a range of additional insights into the broader processes of reform. These insights include the role of leadership and organisational culture, governance arrangements and the financial context. In terms of leadership, for example, there were different views on the qualities required in order to achieve the aims of reform. Some interviewees thought that a very directive approach was initially needed in order to achieve change in the timescale required, with a different style orientated towards collaboration and engagement required at later stages of this process. Others believed that communication and relationship building were the key qualities required for effective leadership from the start of reform..
  • In terms of the experience of reform for partner organisations, the issue of stakeholder engagement featured strongly in many of the interviews: SFRS was seen as recognising the need for consultation and strong partnerships from the beginning of reform; Police Scotland was seen to be focused on engagement rather than consultation, informing local partner organisations of decisions that had already been taken centrally.
  • With regard to wider impacts and implications of reform, key themes emerged with regard to the opportunities created for partnership and prevention. Examples of significant strategic initiatives that take forward partnership at a national level included the Scottish Crime Campus and the role of SFRS in responding to out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. It is also recognised that reform has facilitated a strong focus on prevention at a local level because of the capacity that now exists nationally to deal with high risk but low frequency major incidents, which in the past would have been met by local resources.

Recommendations, lessons learned and next steps

  • Representatives of Police Scotland and SFRS routinely invoked the notion of a reform journey that begins with 'preparing', moves on to 'consolidating' and 'integrating' and concludes with 'transforming'. Currently, both services see themselves in the 'consolidating' and 'integrating' phase of the journey and that real 'transformation' of service delivery has still to take place. The challenges associated with the 'transformation' phase are seen as being at least as significant as those already encountered in integrating the services.
  • On the basis of the work conducted so far, however, there are a number of recommendations that can be made along with some key lessons for future public service reform. In terms of recommendations, there are four key areas highlighted here:
    • Addressing evidence gaps highlighted in this report: as work continues to assess the progress of reform against the key aims, the focus should be on gathering more information about the outcomes and impacts of reform, allowing the 'voices' of the consumers of police and fire and rescue services to be heard, and ensuring that there is a mix of local and national insights;
    • Improving the articulation of the opportunities and the challenges of reform: to date much of the focus of the services has been on the complex process of integrating the legacy organisations. However, an unintended consequence has been limited communication to the public and partner organisations of the scope of the opportunities for transforming the delivery of police and fire services, as well as the challenges of the reform process.
    • Developing a strategic approach to innovation: as the reform process moves from the 'consolidation' to the 'transformation' phase, opportunities open up for significant innovation in service delivery. The executive teams and boards of both services have a pivotal role in leading this transformation activity and this should include ensuring a robust and evidence-based approach to innovation;
    • Undertaking regular reviews of skill requirements needed for transformational change: as reform enters the 'transformation' phase, the need for a wide range of expertise complementing the professional experience of practitioners within policing and fire and rescue, will be needed in the form of specialists in areas of strategic importance to the future delivery of services, such as financial planning, ICT, communications, analysis and project management.
  • In terms of key lessons for future reforms of public services, the findings from the evaluation demonstrate that both Police Scotland and SFRS have embraced many of the recommendations from Audit Scotland's report Learning the lessons of public body mergers.
  • Building on these lessons, the evaluation also highlights three further strategic considerations that should inform reforms of public services:
    • Reform involves cultural as well as structural change: while much of the focus during the planning and implementation of reform is on structural changes around 'back office' activities and service delivery, the process also involves significant cultural adaptations. During periods of reform the vision, values, ideas and practices which are the basis of organisational culture will typicaly take much longer to establish than new administrative structures and processes so there may be tensions between 'old' and 'new' ways of working that need to be carefully managed;
    • Reform may be driven centrally but is experienced locally: reforms that lead to the merger of existing bodies typically involve a degree of centralization in decision-making. The resulting changes to central-local relationships (particularly in terms of levels of flexibility and discretion) and the differential and inter-dependent impacts of decisions taken centrally on local services and communities need to be carefully assessed throughout the reform process;
    • Reform narratives should focus both on the need for change and how change will happen: while much attention is typically focused on why reform is needed, there is often less focus on how that change will happen in terms of linking activities and outcomes to explain how and why the desired change is expected to come about. Reforms therefore need to be underpinned by a well articulated 'theory of change' which will set out the causal connections between the necessary pre-conditions to achieve long-term outcomes.
  • The later stages of this evaluation will provide new evidence - and synthesise further additional evidence - to inform our conclusions further. These stages include updating the evidence review each year; undertaking four geographical case studies to explore the ways in which reform has been experienced on the ground; undertaking two thematic case studies to explore two issues pertinent to the aims of reform in more detail; two international workshops; and re-interviewing a sub-sample of the key informants interviewed in year 1.


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