Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 2 Report

Assesses the extent to which the aims of police and fire reform have been met.

1 Executive Summary

In 2016, the first report on the evaluation of police and fire reform in Scotland reported that there was plausible and credible evidence of progress being made towards achieving the long-term aims of reform and strong evidence of the establishment and functioning of new processes, structures, projects and programmes. But the Year 1 report also highlighted some important evidence gaps. The documentary evidence was largely process rather than outcome focused; oriented to 'producer' rather than 'consumer' perspectives; focused on strategic rather than operational matters; and offered national rather than local perspectives. It was also noted that senior representatives of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service ( SFRS) frequently invoked the notion of a reform journey that begins with 'preparing', moves on to 'consolidating' and 'integrating', and concludes with 'transforming'. At that time both services saw themselves in the consolidation and integration phase of the journey.

Against that backdrop, the four local case studies drawn on in this Year 2 report form a key element of the evaluation, providing the opportunity to hear the voices of those experiencing reform 'on the ground', exploring how national changes are playing out at a local level and examining the extent to which different contexts play a part in facilitating (or hindering) the objectives of reform. This report provides insights into the local experiences of consolidation and integration. In each case study area, qualitative interviews and focus groups were used to capture the experiences and perspectives of different stakeholders in the reform process including local police officers and firefighters, the public, councillors and council staff, and community and third sector organisations. Interviews with police and fire officers were conducted between June and August 2016 and those with other groups took place between June and December 2016.

The case studies were selected to include both urban and rural communities, areas with high and low crime rates, and with levels of greater and lesser deprivation. In each area the focus has been on assessing the perceptions of the impact of reform on delivering a local service, accessing specialist support and national capacity, and on strengthening connections with communities. How people think and feel about reform as an important part of the social reality under investigation: although perceptions should not always be read at face value, they do need to be taken seriously as an essential part of the wider terrain of reform.

1.1 Assessment of the case study evidence against the aims of reform for Police Scotland

In relation to protecting and improving local services, the evidence from across the case study areas shows that since reform local policing teams have continued to provide a service which is valued by local communities and where the capacity to deal with increases in demand driven by major incidents was perceived by officers to have been enhanced in some of the case study areas by being able to access national resources. Those who had contact with the police in an emergency are generally positive about the response they received but there are mixed views from the public regarding more routine interaction, depending on the type of area. In more deprived areas, public perceptions of officers tended to be more negative while in rural and affluent communities views were more positive. For local officers one of the main issues was the cumulative effect of decisions taken at a national level to restructure and refocus the organisation which have had a variety of intended (and unintended) consequences at a local level. This has resulted in concerns among officers, confirmed by the public, councillors and community and third sector organisations, regarding the visible presence of local officers and a perception that local resources available to deal with routine response and community engagement activities are increasingly stretched over larger geographical areas.

In relation to creating more equal access to specialist support and national capacity, evidence from the case study areas indicated that local officers' experience had improved in some respects since reform. There was also a perception that there had been no change or that the process had become more bureaucratic. When national capacity was deployed it allowed local policing teams to maintain service delivery in times of high demand, and specialist teams brought high levels of skills and expertise to apply to specific local policing issues, such as a high risk missing person or murder investigation. However, local officers also expressed concerns about the capacity in some of the specialist teams to respond to local incidents in a timely way. Officers also felt there was still scope for improving internal communication between local and specialist teams and for assessing the longer term implications of this model of service delivery for the distribution of skills across the organisation.

In relation to strengthening the connection between services and communities, in all the case study areas the public and local councillors were generally very positive about their interactions with local policing teams, particularly in rural areas where there was a strong sense of the need to work collaboratively. Nevertheless, local officers, councillors, third sector organisations and the public were aware that community engagement activities and locally based joint initiatives were under pressure from other demands on policing. Dissatisfaction with the use of the 101 non-emergency number was expressed by some members of the public as well as with the closure or limited opening times of some police stations. With respect to partnership working, there was clear evidence that this was viewed positively by police, councillors, council staff and third sector organisations, and that it was of strategic importance and was well supported by the attendance of senior officers at partnership meetings. Nevertheless, in all 4 areas the evidence suggests that for local police officers their ability to work effectively with partner agencies was under pressure from resource constraints across the public sector, and that there was scope for improving information sharing and internal and external communication about the outcomes of partnership initiatives.

1.2 Assessment of the case study evidence against the aims of reform for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service

In relation to protecting and improving local services, there was clear evidence in each of the 4 case study areas that firefighters, councillors, community groups, council staff and the general public perceived that the level of local service had been maintained since reform. However, firefighters did report feeling stretched as a result of declining numbers of administrative staff and had concerns regarding the centralisation of support services, poor information technology ( IT) and their ability to access some equipment.

In relation to creating more equal access to specialist support and national capacity, across the 4 case study areas, firefighters generally had positive experiences. However, some concerns were expressed regarding the logistics of engaging specialist teams and the risks of de-skilling local firefighters because of a reliance on specialists from out with their areas.

In relation to strengthening the connection between services and communities, in all the case study areas firefighters, councillors, council staff, community organisations and the general public identified the contribution that fire and rescue made to community well-being and how prevention was now a key part of the firefighter's role. Partnership working was also viewed very positively by all groups in each case study area but with scope for improvement around data sharing, communication and retaining informal networks in rural areas.

1.3 Conclusions, areas for improvement and wider lessons

Although drawn from four very different areas of Scotland, the local case study evidence presents a remarkably consistent picture of both the progress towards, and perceived challenges remaining with regard to, achieving the long term aims of reform. From the perspective of local police officers and firefighters there were positive achievements in relation to improvements in accessing national capacity and specialist expertise. There were also strong commitments to partnership working. But the perceptions of those involved in the routine delivery of local services was that they are operating with diminishing resources, that work to strengthen connections with communities was often hampered by other organisational pressures, and the reductions in the budgets of other public services sometimes frustrated attempts to work more collaboratively.

These different and diverse challenges of reform are very similar to the experiences of other countries that are undertaking major structural changes to the way policing and fire services are organised. However, Scotland now benefits from being at the centre of an international hub of knowledge exhange activity around police and fire reform which means it is learning from and contributing to debates in this arena. The challenges experienced as a result of police and fire reform are also very much in line with issues identified in the wider research evidence base realting to organisational change in the public sector. The insights from this evidence base are being used to inform both the understanding of the reform proicess and the recommendations for change going forward.

Against this background, three strategic areas for improvement flow from the analysis presented in this report. First, there is a need for improved internal communication. Both Police Scotland and SFRS have new internal organisational boundaries that local staff have to navigate, with new divisions of labour between functional areas, and changing patterns of responsibilities between civilian staff and officers. Second, there is a need for greater clarity for local personnel about career development and training opportunities within the new national organisations. Although much work appears to have been done centrally to reconfigure the delivery of training and articulate new career pathways, there is still significant uncertainty and anxiety locally about what this means for individuals. A third area for improvement and one recognised by Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, is a renewed and refreshed commitment to localism in policing. There needs to be a focus on understanding better how communities want to communicate with their local officers and also giving officers greater clarity about their roles and priorities within the community. The strategic priorities and objectives set out by Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority clearly recognise the importance of this area which is vital to building long term trust and confidence in policing.

Three wider lessons for public sector reform emerge from the evidence gathered in this phase of the evaluation. First, there needs to be careful modelling of the inter-dependencies and cumulative consequences of decisions taken centrally for local service delivery. Many of the more challenging issues faced locally by policing and fire and rescue are rarely the result of a single change in policy or practice. Rather, they are the unintended consequences of a whole series of individual decisions which come together in specific ways in local environments. Second, there is a need for, meaningful, authentic and open communication within an organisation throughout the reform process. There has to be a commitment at a senior level to explaining not just the 'what' and 'how' of organisational change but also the 'why'. This should also open up a space for dialogue so that staff at all levels of an organisation feel engaged with the decision-making process and that the scope to influence change is dispersed through the organisation. Third, issues of improved communication also apply to relationships with local service users, partner organisations and communities. Against a background that recognises that collaboration and co-production are vital to the future delivery of sustainable public services, prioritising local consultation, engagement, and communication with service users and partners at a time of rapid and radical reform will all contribute to attempts at achieving the long term aims of transformational change.


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