Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 2 Report

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

2 Introduction

The evaluation of police and fire reform in Scotland began in February 2015 and is being undertaken by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research ( SIPR), ScotCen Social Research and What Works Scotland.

The main aims of this evaluation are to:

1. Assess the extent to which the three aims of Police and Fire reform appear to have been met, namely:

  • To protect and improve local services despite financial cuts, by stopping duplication of support services eight times over and not cutting front line services;
  • 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;
  • To strengthen the connection between services and communities, by creating a new formal relationship with each of the 32 local authorities, involving many more local councillors and better integrating with community planning partnerships.

2. Identify lessons from the implementation of reform that might inform the process of future public service reform

3. Evaluate the wider impact of the reform on the Justice system and the wider public sector

The Year 1 report of the evaluation was published in June 2016 and comprised a Summary Report [1] and Evidence Review [2] . It focused on findings emerging from the initial 2 stages of the work (i) a review of publicly available evidence up to the end of 2015 and (ii) national key informant interviews undertaken with a sample of senior representatives across policing and fire and a range of national bodies outwith the 2 services, including other criminal justice sector agencies, local authorities and third sector organisations.

Key findings from the Year 1 report included:

  • Plausible and credible evidence of progress being made in key areas towards achieving the 3 long-term aims of reform.
  • Strong evidence in both Police Scotland and SFRS of the establishment and functioning of new processes, structures, projects and programmes designed to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and engagement with communities.

But the Year 1 report also highlighted some important evidence gaps. The documentary evidence is largely process rather than outcome focused; is oriented to 'producer' rather than 'consumer' perspectives (so reform is seen largely from the position of those holding senior positions from within policing and fire and rescue rather than from the position of those using the services); focuses on strategic rather than operational matters; and offers national rather than local perspectives so fails to capture the diversity of experience of reform for different people and places across Scotland.

On the basis of the work conducted for the Year 1 report, a number of recommendations were made including the need to address evidence gaps about the outcomes and impacts of reform, allowing the voices of the consumers of police and fire services to be heard, and ensuring that there is a mix of local and national insights. The report also emphasised that although reform may be driven centrally, it is experienced locally so the changes to central-local relationships 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.

2.1 The case study element of the evaluation

Against that backdrop, the four local case studies drawn on in this report form a key element of the evaluation, providing the opportunity to hear the voices of those experiencing reform 'on the ground', explore how national changes are playing out at a local level and examine the extent to which different contexts play a part in facilitating (or hindering) the objectives of reform. From research already carried out by SIPR and ScotCen on police reform, there is evidence that local perceptions of the impacts and implications of reform vary significantly with context [3] . Cities, small towns and rural areas appear to be experiencing reform in different ways, for example, and there are also important differences by area related to whether there are high or low levels of demand and/or need for police and fire and rescue services.

Local case studies therefore provide the opportunity to assess the extent to which these differences in context are significant in terms of understanding progress towards the three aims of reform. The case studies provide insights into how the different policy decisions taken nationally on reform are being experienced locally, and the extent to which there is both continuity and variation across settings. 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, while also acknowledging that it is sometimes difficult to disentangle the specific effects of reform from wider sets of changes affecting the services.

Case studies of this kind can be highly detailed, involving large numbers of individual and organisational interviews, multiple data collection methods and rich contextual data relating to social, cultural and economic history of the communities under investigation. Such depth was beyond the scope or methodology of the present exercise, which used the four locations more as a means of ensuring that the evaluation examined diverse local contexts rather than to produce systematic, stand-alone accounts of each area. Where appropriate the commonalities and differences found across are referred to through this report.

2.2 From local voices to global contexts: interpreting the data from the case studies

Like any public service, policing and fire will generate a plurality of views, opinions and experience, within and across stakeholder groups, organisational contexts and geographies. One of the tasks of the evaluation is to make sense of these sometimes competing or apparently contradictory voices and perspectives - not by weighing 'perceptions' against 'reality' and determining which is most accurate, but by treating the way that people think and feel about reform as an important part of the social reality under investigation. Perceptions should not, then, always be read at face value, as telling us directly about the 'thing' that is being talked about but they do need to be taken seriously, understood and analysed as an essential part of the wider terrain of reform not least because perceptions have real consequences. As research on topics such as procedural justice demonstrate, for example, if the police are perceived as legitimate and trustworthy, there will be higher levels of public confidence in policing and a greater willingness among individuals to report crime, share information and comply with the law. The focus of this report then is on understanding local perceptions of the experience of reform and drawing out the wider significance and implications of these perceptions for the next stages of the reform journey.

We also need to keep in mind that such perceptions are a snapshot of views at a particular moment in time. The evidence captured in this phase of the evaluation is rooted in longer narratives about policing, fire and social and organisational change. Over many decades and across different jurisdictions, for example, it has been noted that 'frontline' police officers often express a degree of cynicism about the nature or direction of 'the job' (and particularly about its management). Similarly, public attitudes towards the police have long reflected concern about the decline of beat policing and the closure of local stations. One of the tasks - and challenges - of the research, therefore, has been to try to understand what is distinctive about contemporary views of policing and fire and, in particular, the extent to which reform has contributed to or shaped those, either directly or indirectly, which is made more difficult given the limited baseline evidence available for the period pre-reform.

The findings should also be situated within the broader context of research on organisational change and academic and policy research [4] in this field which highlights how complex and challenging any organisational change is and identifies a number of crucial and overlapping elements that can either help or hinder the implementation of change at a local level. These include:

  • Communication within an organisation: communication aimed at preparing, coaching, and supporting a workforce through the planning and implementation of change is of key importance. A distinction is often made between monologic and dialogic communication. The former is one-way, typically top-down and can be problematic for achieving change; the latter involves two way exchange and can help gain support and monitor concerns about reform, reducing the likelihood of resistance;
  • The degree of openness to the local external environment: if organisations are open to engage with their local environments, they are more likely to change and adapt in ways which are supported by external stakeholders;
  • The extent of change to organisational cultures: the development of shared ideas, expectations, assumptions and values within an organisation are all important during periods of organisational change and affect how the workforce interpret and attach meaning to the reform process. Where different organisational cultures persist, these can sometimes be a source of tension and a barrier to implementing change.

The local cases all help shed light on these issues which are vital learning points for future public service reform.

The case studies are also located within a rapidly changing policy environment at Scottish, UK and international levels, all of which are important for helping make sense of the evidence presented in this report. At each level, there has been significant pressure for change but jurisdictions have responded in different ways:

  • At a Scottish level, the reform of the police and fire and rescue services is set within the overall context of the Christie Commission on the future of public services [5] and a fiscal environment of decreasing budgets that has required making significant financial savings in relatively short timescales. Police reform is expected to save more than £1.1 billion over 15 years to 2026 while SFRS is expected to save £328 million by 2027/28. It is also important to note that a new Chief Constable was appointed to Police Scotland from January 2016 who over the last 12 months has set out a new strategic direction for the force focused on understanding the needs of local communities, preventing crime through collaboration and partnership, and maintaining public confidence in policing. Since completing the data collection, there have also been several significant policy statements setting out new strategic priorities and objectives for Police Scotland [6] and SFRS [7] which are highly relevant to the issues raised in this report regarding localism, collaborative working, improving public contact and investing in information and technology. Further reference to these new priorities and objectives will be made in the conclusions to this report.
  • At a UK level, police and fire and rescue services are also facing significant budgetary pressures but many of the resulting changes to these services have followed a rather different trajectory to that in Scotland. Individual local police forces and fire and rescue services have had to adapt to significant reductions in government funding, resulting in changes to the size and composition of their workforce. In England and Wales, for example, the National Audit Office figures show that the central government grant for policing fell by £2.2 billion (22%) in real terms between 2010/11 and 2015/16. This has led to reduction in the police workforce between March 2010 and March 2015 of over 37,000, of whom nearly 17,000 are police officers (a 12% reduction) while Civilian staff numbers have fallen by 16,000 (20%) [8] . The fire and rescue services in England and Wales have also seen significant budget cuts of 22% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2015/16, which is expected to reduce by a further 22% between 2016/17 and 2019/20. In England, approximately 42,300 full time equivalent ( FTE) Fire and Rescue Service ( FRS) staff were employed in 2016. This figure is 4% lower than in 2015 and 17% lower than five years before [9] ;
  • At an international level, many countries are reforming their police organisations, partly because of austerity measures but also in an attempt to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of policing. This creates opportunities for Scotland to learn from the experience of other jurisdictions but also for Scotland to contribute insights and understanding about reform to an international audience [10] . Like Scotland, the Netherlands has merged its regional police forces to create a single national police organisation; Sweden has restructured its national police so that what were 21 regional police authorities are now seven regions; and the national police in Norway has also been undergoing a gradual process of centralisation, reducing the number of police districts from 54 to 12 and the number of local police units from 354 to 210. Progress with the reforms in these different jurisdictions has occurred more slowly and proved more difficult than expected for a combination of reasons. The implementation process has been more complex and time-consuming than predicted and gaps have emerged between what managers and employees expect from reform. In each of these countries, the focus in the initial stages of implementation appears to have largely been on central management and reinforcing national structures, with the result that less attention has been given to engaging with employees in the new organisation. There have also been tensions between needs of national and local levels of the new organisations: a focus on establishing consistency at a national level has taken priority over local flexibility and autonomy. The need for greater coordination and prioritisation during the reform process also emerges as a common theme across all these jurisdictions. These different and diverse challenges all underline the way in which Scotland's reform journey has involved negotiating a similar network of complex issues and relationships, many of which have also been encountered in other countries.

2.3 How the data for the case studies were collected

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. 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. All of the areas had both a police and fire station, and some included fire stations staffed by retained firefighters.

The resulting case study selection is summarised below (but in order to maintain the anonymity of the case study areas further contextual details are not provided):

  • Case study Area A - Urban area
  • Case study Area B - Urban area (within the former Strathclyde region [11] )
  • Case study Area C - Small town in remote rural area (firefighters were all retained)
  • Case study Area D - Town in rural area (firefighters were retained and full-time)

Across the four areas as a whole, a purposive sampling approach was employed in order to capture both local 'producer' (police and fire and rescue service) and 'consumer' (partner and public) perspectives. Interviews were conducted with the following interviewees (divided roughly equally across areas):

  • Local police officers (constables, sergeants, inspectors in community and response roles) n = 25
  • Local fire officers (firefighters, watch managers and station managers) n = 24
  • Locally elected councillors n = 8
  • Local authority staff n = 9
  • Local third sector organisations and community council members n = 15
  • Members of the public - 8 focus groups (2 per area with 8-10 participants in each).

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. Face to face interviews were conducted with police and fire officers, and phone interviews were conducted with all other community groups. Members of the general public took part in face to face focus group discussions facilitated by two researchers.

The police officers interviewed formed part of local policing teams and were both community and response officers. In this report they will be referred to as local officers. The firefighters interviewed were both full-time and retained and will be referred to as local firefighters.

Ethical approval for the case study element of the evaluation was obtained from NatCen Social Research (NatCen) Ethics Committee. Access was granted to conduct the research with police officers and firefighters through the Scottish Government protocols.

Access to police and fire officers was arranged through a named contact at the police or fire station. Councillors and local authority staff were invited to take part in the research by email and asked to contact the research team if they were willing to participate. Local third sector organisations and community council members were identified through other participants as relevant partners in the local area. They were then approached directly by phone or email by members of the research team to seek their consent to take part. In each area, one general public focus group took place with those aged 55 and over and another with those aged under 55. All focus groups contained both men and women, a mix of ages (within the parameters set for the group), and of unemployed, employed, retired people and students. The majority of participants had had some form of contact with the police, from attending a local public meeting about policing to reporting a crime, but they were not recruited on the basis of their contact. Those who had a close relative in either service were not eligible to take part.

The purpose of the evaluation and why they had been invited to take part was explained to all potential participants before interviewing commenced. Verbal consent was recorded before commencing interviews with all respondent groups.

With the consent of participants, the interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. All interview data were stored securely, with access limited to the research team. Interview data were coded with NVivo, a software package for qualitative data analysis, using an analytical framework based on the key themes discussed by interviewees. This system of coding facilitates the organisation and analysis of qualitative transcripts and provides a tool to explore the range and diversity of views expressed by participants.

2.4 Overview of the report

This document provides a summary of the themes and findings emerging from research carried out during the second year of the evaluation and has three main components. It presents the key findings from the case studies, with separate sections dealing with police and fire. Each section offers an assessment of the cumulative case study evidence in relation to the three aims of reform and the wider impacts and implications of reform for the working environments of local police officers and firefighters. The Annexes are published separately and comprise:

a) an evidence review (Annex 1) which describes and summarises the publicly available evidence base between the end of November 2015 and the end of December 2016 and b) a summary of findings by case study area of the local experience of police reform (Annex 2) and fire reform (Annex 3).


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