Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 2 Report

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

5 Conclusions, areas for improvement and wider lessons

5.1 Conclusions

In the Year 1 Report it was noted that senior representatives of Police Scotland and 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. This report provides insights into the local experiences of consolidation and integration. By interviewing local police officers, firefighters, councillors, community organisations and members of the public, it provides a unique set of perspectives on, and perceptions of, experiencing the reform journey in different parts of the country.

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 which was of strategic importance and was well supported by the attendance of senior officers at partnership meetings. 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. For many local police officers and firefighters therefore their experience and perceptions of the reform journey were mixed and while they saw benefits they also had anxieties, particularly around what reform means to them in terms of their day-to-day working environment and longer term career development.

There were, of course, some important differences between policing and fire and rescue. Within Police Scotland, many of the challenges around local resourcing appeared to reflect the cumulative consequences of a series of separate decisions related to the staffing of specialist units, reductions in civilian support, increased areas of geographical responsibility and the consolidation of some functions in a limited number of locations. Community officers in particular felt they didn't have as much time to commit to engagement work as they would like and that their primary role in some areas was to support response officers. Local officers were, however, generally, more positive about accessing specialist expertise but had concerns about equity of access and some of the potential longer term consequences around de-skilling and career development. Improvements to internal communication between different functions and levels within Police Scotland and investment in the working environment of local officers in areas such as the IT infrastructure and vehicles would both be strongly welcomed by local officers.

For local consumers and partners of policing services the picture was complex. The public recognised and appreciated the difficult and challenging job the police do but were aware of a declining visible presence and felt frustrated by what they saw as barriers to communicating with their local officers as a result of the closure of local stations and use of the national 101 non-emergency number. The unintended consequences of these developments included concerns that this impeded the flow of local intelligence and led to the under-reporting of some local crime and disorder. This suggests that it will be important for Police Scotland to articulate clearly what local communities can expect in terms of future 'engagement'. If a model based around a visible presence delivered through general patrols, routine attendance at community meetings and a network of police offices is no longer sustainable and is not well suited to changing demands on the police service, then the contours of an alternative more transformational approach to delivering local policing need to be defined. This might include a greater emphasis on more targeted forms of engagement, greater use of technology in ensuring a two-way flow of information between police and communities, and the co-delivery of services with other local agencies to tackle areas of high demand, such as at the interface between policing and mental health.

In relation to partnership working, however, there were clearly good relationships between the police and other statutory and non-statutory agencies, particularly at a strategic level and in relation to dealing with vulnerable populations. But all organisations locally were experiencing pressure on their resources which sometimes lead to tensions around who needs to take responsibility in particular situations.

With regard to fire and rescue, the picture in relation to local delivery was generally positive but there were some concerns regarding the negative impacts of declining numbers of civilian staff, the centralisation of support functions and poor provision of IT. There were positive assessments of the ability to access specialist support and national capacity, although (like in policing) there were concerns about the longer term consequences in terms of potentially de-skilling some local firefighters, particularly in rural areas where training was seen as harder to access.

For local consumers and partners of fire and rescue services, there was strong support for SFRS and a sense that they had not 'lost' their localism despite being a national service because they continued to engage regularly with the community through participating in local events to home safety visits. Partnership working was also viewed positively but (as in policing) there were areas where there could be improvement in relation to data sharing and internal communication of the outcomes of partnership activity between senior officers and local firefighters.

5.2 Areas for improvement and wider lessons

The findings and conclusions presented in this report are consistent with what wider research identifies as the major challenges of organisational change. Research in this field 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 issues of communication within an organisation, the degree of openness to the local external environment, and the extent of change to organisational cultures. The findings and conclusions in this report are also not dissimilar to the issues identified in other jurisdictions undergoing radical reform to their police services. In the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, as well as in Scotland, organisational change has been viewed as a necessary response to a changing economic and social environment in which retaining the status quo was not an option. All these countries are experiencing challenges around achieving an appropriate balance between centralism and localism in how policing is delivered, and in how to communicate and engage with the whole workforce during periods of rapid and radical organisational change.

It is also important to recognise that some of the areas of improvement that are identified in this report have already been highlighted in recent policy statements. The Scottish Government's (2016) 'Strategic Police Priorities for Scotland' [20] , for example, identifies localism as a key issue and refers to being able to 'Ensure that the needs of local communities are understood and reflected in the planning and delivery of policing at a local and national level'. Localism also means communities having a strong voice in policing decisions that affect them locally and the police being responsive to community concerns, issues addressed in the Scottish Police Authority's (2016) 'Review of Governance in Policing' [21] . These commitments dovetail with the Strategic Objectives set out in 'Our 10 Year Strategy for Policing in Scotland' [22] produced jointly by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority. These include 'Improving public contact, engagement and service', strengthening 'effective partnerships' and investing in the 'use of information and technology'. The SFRS (2016) Strategic Plan 2016-19 [23] also sets out a number of objectives to create better outcomes for communities including making better use of digital technology, deploying assets to meet the different needs of communities, and maximising efficiency and productivity within the organisation and partnerships.

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. While these may have a degree of clarity and coherence when viewed centrally through flow charts and diagrams, when seen and experienced locally, the picture may be more opaque and the ability to 'get things done' often relies on more informal communication and inter-personal relationships. There is also a need to communicate better around not just the 'what' and 'how' of organisational change but also the 'why'. Locally there is an interest and appetite to know why practices and procedures are changing and for there to be a meaningful space for dialogue which sometimes doesn't fit comfortably with the centrally driven pace of change and the hierarchical character of the organisations. Allied to this is a locally articulated desire for greater authenticity around the challenges of reform from those in leadership positions. Painting what is seen locally as an over-optimistic picture of progress and achievement contributes to a sense of division and segregation between those in 'frontline' positions and those in management.

A second area for improvement is around offering greater clarity to 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. Improved communication about the opportunities that exist locally and nationally for the whole workforce in terms of career development would make an important contribution to how people view the organisations in terms of their sense of commitment and well-being.

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. The evidence gathered in this report shows that ensuring adequate resources to meet local demand is only part of the issue here. In addition, 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. Nevertheless, the evidence presented in this report indicates the scale of the challenge (all the case study areas regardless of area type wanted to see improvements in local policing) and its complexity (given the need to balance the expectations of different local stakeholders against available resources). In taking work forward to address this issue, it is vital that a clear narrative is articulated explaining changes in policing demand locally and nationally and the need to prioritise protection and prevention in order to make best use of limited resources. The 10 year strategy provides an excellent starting point at a national level and signals a clear commitment to the kind of locally-oriented approach which the evidence in this report suggests is needed. The key messages in the strategy are being communicated to local audiences through a consultation exercise and this will be followed by an implementation phase which will be closely monitored by the police and fire reform evaluation project.

Standing back from the specifics of policing and fire and rescue and thinking about the wider lessons for public sector reform the evidence gathered in this phase of the evaluation, three issues deserve to be highlighted:

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 may make sense organisationally for one area of business but which come together in specific ways in local environments. This means there also needs to be significant organisational awareness of the tensions between the representations of reform in policy and strategy documents, and the experience of reform in the day-to-day local working environments of those in 'frontline' roles. This means recognising that locally staff will have a range of anxieties about reform, from its immediate consequences for 'getting the job done' through to its longer term impacts on their careers, which need to be addressed. In particular, high priority should be given to explaining to staff how training and career development will be managed within a newly merged organisation.

This feeds into a second lesson: the 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 and not just concentrated in the hands of a few senior staff. There also needs to be an honesty and openness that reform is difficult and that those working in 'frontline' roles may experience changes that might not deliver any immediate benefits and that require navigating new organisational boundaries, but are part of a longer term process to improve service delivery. In other words, locally, staff need to be shown the 'bigger picture' and have the opportunity to feedback on how this is likely to impact on their roles and responsibilities.

Third, these issues of improved communication apply equally 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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