Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Aim 1: To protect and improve local services despite financial cuts, by stopping duplication of support services eight times over and not cutting front line services

What has been achieved so far?

  • The documentary evidence - explored in detail in annex 1 - generally suggests progress has been made in both Police Scotland and SFRS towards rationalising service provision while maintaining frontline delivery. Interviews with senior representatives within Police Scotland and SFRS at a national level reinforces this conclusion, with a strong consensus across stakeholders from both services that significant progress has been made in terms of reducing duplication. Representatives of SFRS in particular highlighted rationalisation of back office functions relating to areas such as pay roll and Human Resources.
  • These achievements have occurred against a background in which - nationally - the number of fires and fire fatalities has generally continued on a downward trend, while crime recorded by Police Scotland has also continued to decline although clear up rates for crimes decreased (by 1.1%) between 2013/14 and 2014/15. It is important to note, however, that the regional picture varies and other indicators suggest a more complex picture both for Police and Fire and Rescue. This is explored in more detail in annex 1.
  • Senior 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 - in some respects - services have been enhanced in ways which could not have happened without reform.
  • A number of SFRS representatives emphasised strategic investment in localities which had fewer resources under legacy arrangements, while some Police Scotland interviewees pointed to the way in which local areas now have greater access to additional resources at a regional and national level than would have been the case before reform. In relation to the latter, it was reported that the creation of specialist units at a divisional level within Police Scotland focused on rape and sexual violence exemplifies this approach. More broadly, the ability to respond to major incidents by 'surging' resources into an area without having to draw on local personnel means that a 'business as usual' function at local level can still be maintained even at times of increased demand. This is seen as a significant benefit of the reformed services. Examples used to support these views include responses to the Glasgow School of Art fire, the Clutha helicopter crash, murder investigations, high risk missing persons enquiries, and dealing with the consequences of large scale flooding events.
  • The documentary evidence available to support claims about progress towards achieving Aim 1 of reform is largely contained within the Benefits Realisation work in Police Scotland and the Service Transformation Programme in the Fire and Rescue Service. Inspectorate reports for both services also provide valuable insights into the local experiences of reform in terms of service delivery, with additional thematic reports (for example the HMICS report on Police call handling) offering detailed evidence with regard to the challenges and risks experienced in particular areas of the reform process. All of this evidence is generally of good quality, based on systematic processes of data collection and analysis, with conclusions largely evidence-based and linked to plausible chains of causal reasoning.

Ongoing challenges

  • Despite the reported progress towards achieving Aim 1, this process is not complete and it has proved complex and challenging. There are significant inter-dependencies which mean that improvements in one area of service delivery might come with costs for other activities. For example, for Police Scotland, improvements in the quality and consistency of service through establishing specialist units has been viewed by some interviewees as having a negative impact on the resourcing of local policing teams.
  • Several interviewees from both policing and Fire and Rescue also believed that the scale and complexity of tackling duplication was underestimated. Challenges cited here ranged from operational differences in the processes and procedures for responding to types of incidents and variations in the terminology used across legacy organisations, to differences in 'back office' business processes in key areas like contracts and procurement. In relation to the latter, interviewees also highlighted the limited skill sets within Police Scotland and SFRS to deal with complex corporate change and that one of the lessons for the future would be the further recruitment of specialists in this field.
  • The rationalisation of estate was found by some to be particularly challenging given the significant social, economic and political impacts of decisions to close premises or co-locate functions. It was also recognised by some that it is not always desirable to remove all forms of duplication as it might still make organisational sense to maintain some capacity at a local level. Training facilities was one example cited by interviewees in SFRS where retaining some regional capacity is seen as important in terms of accessibility for staff.
  • On the basis of the interviews conducted, the process of reducing duplication does not appear to have fallen evenly on all staff across the organisations. Civilian/support staff have seen their numbers fall in both policing and Fire and Rescue, largely through voluntary severance and early retirement schemes. However, there have also been important differences between Police Scotland and SFRS.
  • In the case of Police Scotland, some reported the protection given to Police officer numbers but not to civilian staff appears to have contributed to a 'them' and 'us' framing of workforce rationalisation, with some also reporting perceptions that Police officers are now undertaking some roles previously undertaken by civilians but at a higher cost.
  • In SFRS, there has been progress towards harmonising pay and conditions for civilian staff across the country, but this was reported by some to have led to variable outcomes because of the significant pay differentials that existed between the legacy organisations for similar roles.
  • The challenges and risks inherent in the process of rationalisation were illustrated in HMICS' Independent Assurance Review of Call Handling by Police Scotland. This report exemplifies a broader strategic challenge associated with reducing duplication i.e. it does not just involve quantitative change ('going from 8 to 1') with the associated risks of ensuring adequate resourcing but also significant qualitative changes in the harmonisation of processes and procedures which might have been very different under legacy arrangements
  • Where there is a perception that this process of harmonisation has been seen as taking the approach from one legacy organisation and requiring the services in other parts of the country to adopt this (as in the so-called 'Strathclydisation' or 'West is Best' approach within Police Scotland), there have been concerns about the appropriateness of approaches that were more enforcement focused and target driven than had been the norm in other parts of the country. Evidence has emerged elsewhere to support this contention, and includes the approach taken to call handling set out in the HMICS Assurance Review and the widespread use of 'stop and search' across Scotland documented by the SPA's Scrutiny Review, both of which involved policies and practices developed in the Strathclyde Police force area being rolled out to other parts of the country.
  • In terms of perceptions of improvement in local service provision, independent data collected on policing through the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey shows that there has been relatively little change in public attitudes pre and post reform regarding whether a national force makes people feel more or less confident about local policing. More recent data contained within the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (published in March 2016) shows 2-4 percentage point reductions in public attitudes towards policing in the period from 2012/13 to 2014/15 in relation to key indicators including whether the Police in local areas listen to concerns of local people and whether people have a lot of confidence in the Police in the local area. However, responses remain broadly similar or improved from early sweeps (2009-10) of the survey.

Evidence gaps

  • In terms of the evidence base, much of the documentary evidence of relevance to this aim is internally focused on processes of change within Police Scotland and SFRS. As such it is able to tell a relatively detailed story about activities being undertaken to rationalise and integrate service provision and the progress towards achieving this.
  • Where there is less evidence is in relation to the local perceptions of the outcomes of these process on local services and, in particular, the extent to which service users perceive any improvements in local service provision.
  • It is also important to acknowledge that the absence of accessible local baseline data impedes the ability to make precise assessments about the scale and nature of any improvements to services. Where there is publicly available quantitative information it often tends to be at a national rather than local level.

Conclusions and key lessons

  • In sum, there is good evidence of significant progress toward achieving Aim 1 of reform for both Police Scotland and SFRS. This evidence is largely at a national level and focused on processes of rationalisation and is of good quality.
  • In terms of local impacts and implications, the evidence is largely confined to the local inspection work carried out by the relevant Inspectorates. There is statistical information at a local authority level with regard to performance but specific evidence regarding local experiences and perceptions of how far services have been maintained/improved, and the consequences of programmes to reduce duplication for a broad range of stakeholders, is limited. That data which is available suggests perceptions of public confidence in policing at a local level have dipped since reform but are broadly similar or improved since the position in 2009/10.
  • There is, therefore, a clear potential role for the evaluation to address a number of the evidence gaps identified above, particularly with reference to:
    • Considering experiences and perceptions of how far services have been maintained/improved;
    • With regard to experiences and/or unintended consequences of programmes to reduce duplication amongst a broad range of stakeholders, and;
    • Deepening the evidence base regarding local attitudes and perceptions toward the services in light of reform.
  • In terms of key lessons, having a deeper understanding of differences in structures and processes within the organisations prior to merger was viewed by interviewees as an important consideration for any future reforms of this kind. The scale and complexity of changes required to corporate functions within merged organisations was also highlighted as an important area of risk and one where specialist skills sets are required which are likely to sit outwith the normal competencies of those with more operational experience.
  • In relation to policing, the pace at which reductions in duplication have been required, given the financial context, was also perceived as making it difficult to draw on diverse experiences of what was working well locally in the face of pressure to achieve consistency quickly by drawing on a more limited repertoire of processes and approaches. Future reforms would therefore benefit from a more detailed assessment of good practice at a local level prior to the introduction of national operating models.


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