Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 1 Summary Report

Conclusions, recommendations and wider lessons


  • Overall, at this stage of reform and on the basis of (i) publicly available information published during the period covered by this report and (ii) the analysis of interviews carried out with national key informants, there is plausible and credible evidence of progress being made towards achieving the three main 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.
  • Interviewees across the Police and Fire and Rescue services generally argue that not only has the level of local service provision been sustained since reform despite reducing budgets but that, in some respects, services have also been enhanced in ways which could not have happened without reform. In addition, 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. In relation to strengthening connections with communities, there is evidence of the formation of the appropriate structures for local stakeholder engagement as set out in the legislation, with the establishment of LSOs and LPCs acting as a focus for engagement with CPPs, LOAs and in engaging local stakeholders. Furthermore, the associated Local Plans and Multi-Member Ward Plans were identified as achievements.
  • However, both the documentary evidence and the interviews underline the scale of the challenge of reforming the two services. 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.
  • There are also important evidence gaps in relation to the aims of reform. Publicly available written evidence is process rather than outcome focused, oriented toward 'producer' rather than 'consumer' perspectives, and stronger on national rather than local information. These tend to relate to the need to move beyond evidencing 'establishment' and 'functioning' to understanding the 'outcomes' and 'impacts' of efforts to achieve reform. In so doing, understand the consequences (intended and unintended) of reform, and different experiences/perceptions from different perspectives. Further, there is only limited data regarding attitudes and perceptions toward the efficacy (or otherwise) of Police Scotland and SFRS.
  • There are challenges around the nature of the available evidence base. In the context of the broader aims of this evaluation, there has been limited work to date that maps the activities beneath all three aims of reform onto the activities of the wider justice system, or seeks to understand in a systematic way the wider impacts of reform on partnership activities across community planning structures from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. There are also challenges in establishing causal relationships between the indicators employed and the outcomes they are intended to evidence. This can influence the confidence with which claims might be made on the basis of the evidence available.
  • We also note that much evaluation and ongoing monitoring is planned from both Police and Fire and Rescue Services. Further, there is much evidence which falls outside the immediate area of the aims of reform, but nevertheless demonstrates fundamentally important factors in achieving the aims of reform (for example, workforce surveys).
  • Interviews with key informants at a national level also indicate the importance of the broader strategic issues which have been significant in shaping the reform journey of both organizations. These include issues of leadership and organizational culture, governance and the financial context. In addition, the experience of reform has been highly variable depending on the roles people play within the organization. In terms of the wider impacts and implications of reform, however, it is clear that there are now significant opportunities for Police Scotland and SFRS to contribute to broader agendas around partnership and prevention.

Recommendations and wider lessons

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 three key areas highlighted here which sit within a broader landscape of recommendations regarding reform made in the context of on-going work by HM Inspectorates and other bodies:

  • Addressing evidence gaps highlighted in this report: as work continues to assess the progress of reform against the key aims, a key focus for those with responsibility for tracking the impacts of reform 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. In addition, there is also a need to disentangle the complex chains of causality embedded within the benefits realisation work of both services in order to better understand how particular changes lead to particular outcomes. While this evaluation can address some of these gaps, there is also scope within Police Scotland and SFRS as well as HM Inspectorates, governance bodies and partner organizations to look for opportunities to develop a richer understanding of the outcomes of reform. This should also include consideration of whether the original aims of reform are the only or most appropriate yardsticks by which to judge progress of change now happening in the services;
  • Improving the articulation of the opportunities and the challenges of reform for the police and fire and rescue services: to date much of the of the focus of the services has been on the complex process of integrating the legacy organisations but 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 that reform has created. Senior members of both the police and fire and rescue services at a national and local level should play a more proactive role in articulating the potential benefits to service delivery, despite declining budgets, that reform has created. Greater authenticity around the challenges of undertaking reform would also help build trust with the public and other stakeholders;
  • 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. New initiatives (which may be based on existing evidence of good practice from within Scotland or drawn from experiences in other jurisdictions) need to be targeted, tested and tracked to ensure that information is gathered around intended (and unintended) impacts on communities as well as broader outcomes. This information on 'what works' and 'what doesn't work' can then inform decision-making around scaling up successful pilot projects. The process of innovation will also create important opportunities for collaborative reflection and learning across the public sector in Scotland;
  • Undertaking regular reviews of skill requirements needed for transformational change: from the beginning of the reform journey it has been recognized that the complexities of the process mean that different disciplines and specialist knowledge are required in order to ensure that objectives are achieved. As reform enters the 'transformation' phase, the need for a wide range of expertise will continue. Complementing the professional experience of practitioners within policing and Fire and Rescue, specialists in areas of strategic importance to the future delivery of services, such as financial planning, ICT, communications, analysis and project management will be needed to help deliver the wider benefits of reform.

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. These include the need to have strong, strategic leadership; plans which extend beyond the start date of the merger; a programme of post-implementation benefits review work; a corporate plan focusing on the purpose and benefits of the new organisation; performance reporting focused on the benefits expected from the new merged body; and regular information from service users, staff and stakeholders on performance.

The evaluation also underlines Audit Scotland's observations regarding the possible need for a period of 'shadowing' before the merged body begins through appointment of the chair and chief executive at least 6 months before the start date of the new organization; and the need to ensure there is the right mix of skills and expertise available to the organization to execute the merger and deal with the on-going challenges of the reform process.

Building on these lessons, the evaluation also highlights three further strategic considerations that should inform future national 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 typically 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 prior to and 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' setting out the causal connections between the necessary pre-conditions required to achieve long-term outcomes.

Next steps

Over the coming three years, the evaluation's future work will include:

  • Updating the evidence review each year, and broadening its scope. We expect this to include unpublished reports/data;
  • 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 detail;
  • Two international workshops, drawing together experiences from across to Europe;
  • Re-interviewing a sub-sample of key informants, to understand how the process of reform has continued to develop.

How to access background or source data

The data collected for this <statistical bulletin / social research publication>:

☐ are available in more detail through Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics

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☐ may be made available on request, subject to consideration of legal and ethical factors. Please contact <email address> for further information.

☒ cannot be made available by Scottish Government for further analysis as Scottish Government is not the data controller.


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