Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Aim 2: To create more equal access to specialist support and national capacity - like murder investigation teams, firearms teams or flood rescue - where and when they are needed

What has been achieved so far?

  • For both services, relatively detailed documentary evidence is now available about the establishment and functioning of arrangements, post-reform, for accessing specialist expertise and national capacity. In relation to policing, this comes from three main sources: the Post-Implementation Benefits Review; local inspections carried out by HMICS; and the review of armed policing by the SPA. In relation to Fire and Rescue, key sources include HMFSI's report on Equal Access to National Capacity; the SFRS Review of Specialist Equipment; benefits realisation and service transformation reports; and Audit Scotland's report on the SFRS. This evidence is generally of good quality and based on systematic processes of data collection and analysis.
  • Across both services, the documentary evidence and interviews with key stakeholders suggest that significant progress has been made in creating more equal access to specialist support and national capacity. Indeed, several interviewees suggested that, of the three main aims, this was the one in which greatest progress could be demonstrated. To a large extent, this reflects the relatively cumbersome mutual aid mechanisms for accessing such resources under legacy arrangements in both services and the almost immediate scope to share resources more effectively once sub-national boundaries were removed.
  • In policing, for example, it was reported that pre-reform the limited nature of formal processes for requesting specialist units from other forces and cross-charging meant the demand was sometimes artificially suppressed. A number of interviewees reflected that there is now a much clearer process with resources available via both the Operational Support Division ( OSD which includes air support, marine unit, dogs and horses, and Firearms) and the Specialist Crime Division ( SCD). There are Major Investigation Teams ( MITs) for the North, East and West area which focus on homicide and other serious crime.
  • In terms of outcomes, interviewees suggested that the Police response to major incidents (such as murder investigations or large-scale public order events) had improved as a result of the new arrangements - not only in terms of the incident itself but in managing the broader ongoing demands of local policing.
  • Within Fire and Rescue, SFRS and HMFSI have established a detailed picture of variation in equipment, skills and capacity across Scotland and progress is reported in addressing these regional variations by interviewees. For example, some key resources, such as water rescue teams, have been redeployed in line with geographic risk profiles.
  • Interviewees pointed to the Clutha Bar helicopter accident and the widespread flooding in December 2015 as examples of faster and more effective deployment of specialist expertise and national capacity than would have been possible pre-reform. It was identified that an important aspect of this has been the standardisation of procedures and equipment (such as Personal Protective Equipment) across the country as a whole, alongside development of a national database that ensures that all Fire control rooms have live information on the location and skillset of flexi-duty managers to support local and national mobilisation.

Ongoing challenges

  • In the context of policing, some interviewees saw the creation of national, divisional and local specialist units as having had some negative impact on the availability local 'frontline' resource, a point underlined by inspectorate reports. There are also questions - raised by both interviewees and in inspectorate reports - about the implications of a lack of crossover between national units and local Police officers. Specific issues raised here include the risk that intelligence and performance monitoring opportunities are being missed through failures to debrief specialist officers deployed locally, and the potential for local officers to become deskilled through a reliance on national expertise.
  • The very real financial constraints around all public services also mean that there are limits to the extent to which dedicated national teams will be able to handle demand across Scotland as a whole. Some interviewees suggested that there is a need for greater multi-skilling of local Police staff as a result.
  • A further important challenge highlighted by some interviewees in the context of policing is to ensure that attempts to establish equal access to specialist resources are not seen or experienced locally as 'imposing' approaches or solutions that do not fit that specific context. The controversy over the routine carrying of firearms is an example of this. The SPA's inquiry into this issue suggested that Police Scotland had underestimated the community impact of armed officers being sent on routine calls and suggested that better assessment and explanation of such decisions is required.
  • In relation to Fire and Rescue, despite greater ease of access to specialist expertise and national capacity within the new single geography, there is ongoing work around the strategic location of both specialist and non-specialist appliances and resources, with pre-existing distribution reflecting past needs. The task of ensuring that expertise, equipment and capacity is distributed appropriately and equitably needs to take account of various challenges, including the need to balance national and local interests and the changing role of the service as a whole.
  • It is also clear in relation to SFRS that equality of access does not always imply centralisation. In relation to staff training, for example, there is a move to provide local training facilities that reduce the travel time and costs associated with receipt of training.

Evidence gaps

  • In relation to Police Scotland, there is strong process-based and transactional evidence and evidence relating to the functioning of the new arrangements. In SFRS, there is strong evidence of detailed consideration of variations in baseline resources and risk profiles in preparation for a more strategic approach to distributing specialist resources.
  • Across both Police and Fire and Rescue in relation to Aim 2, evidence appears more limited in relation to outcomes. There is anecdotal and case study evidence but this tends to be high level and could be stronger in terms of analytical rigour. Closer examination of the causal connections and inter-dependencies would also be beneficial when considering activity underpinning work relating to this strategic aim. Consideration of the unintended consequences of the increased use of specialist units would also be useful, particularly if this is seen as diluting local expertise and reducing the pool of experienced personnel working at a local level.
  • It appears that other 'voices' need to be heard both within the services and within communities about the impacts and implications of recent developments in relation to accessing specialist expertise. This would help move from evidencing 'outputs' and 'process' to 'outcomes' and 'impact' across a wider spectrum of stakeholders. In terms of the evaluation itself, future work (through, for example, geographical case studies) will balance the perspectives presented here with the views and experiences of those in local areas.

Conclusions and key lessons

  • For both services, it is reported that the removal of the legacy boundaries has made it much easier to deploy specialist expertise and national capacity as and when required, and there is anecdotal and some case study evidence that this has resulted in positive outcomes.
  • Within policing, the key questions are now about the impacts of the creation and deployment of specialist units on local policing, and about how to balance consistency of service delivery with local needs and expectations.
  • In relation to Fire and Rescue, the main challenges are now around taking forward the most equitable and appropriate geographical location of assets and expertise linked to the three Service Delivery Areas covering the North, East and West of the country, given the very different risk profile of different areas, increasingly significant financial constraints (also faced by Police Scotland) and the changing nature of the demands on (and expectations of) the service as a whole.
  • As with Aim 1 there is a clear role for the evaluation to address a number of the evidence gaps at national and local levels around (internal and external) perceptions of the outcomes associated with changes to specialist services. Evidence gaps in relation to the causal connections between service reconfiguration and specific outcomes will also be addressed.
  • One of the key lessons in relation to Aim 2 is the need to recognise and map the inter-dependencies between specialist functions and more routine activities in order to identify any potential areas of tension, particularly in terms of maintaining skills in different parts of an organisation. The need for a detailed understanding of risk and demand profiles is also fundamental to decisions around the (re)distribution of specialist expertise and physical assets with associated consequences for the relocation of staff and training requirements.


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