Bean Counting delivers Police Ephemeralization?

Police & Thieves

Pixieclipx via Flickr

As Chief Constables up and down the land, along with their (mostly) inept senior ‘management’ teams, continue to scrabble in desperation for budget savings, the service continues along it’s mainly self-engineered road to oblivion. At the end of that road we are starting to see dire results; a decline in police numbers and reduced levels of service. But are we happy about how senior police officers are spending our greatly reduced public funds?

Irrespective of current budgetary constraints, caused by severe public sector cuts, should the police (or other important public services like the NHS) really be managed and judged solely by financial factors? Yes, any public services need to be cost-effective and provide value for money however; we the public rightly still expect the police to serve and protect our communities. Many of the methods being used in the ‘reform’ process now are doing little more than reducing current spending, and creating service delivery problems for the future.

Any reductions in spending must have minimum impact upon the actual service delivery however, it appears most of them are only benefiting a self-serving organisational hierarchy. A factor which is sadly commonplace across much of the self-perpetuating management structures of the public sector.

So it’s that ‘initiative’ time again… Making time for a better service was devised by Staffordshire Police as part of their response to the Independent Review of Policing by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, published in February 2008. The remit was to… “free-up time for officers and staff to deliver a better, needs-based service to victims and other members of the public.” In continuance of that streamlining processes, the force moved on to another phase of the police reform process.

In engaging the services of the global business consultancy KPGM the force aimed to find some answers to the current policing predicament – the need to do more with less. After the firm spent 18 weeks ‘Cutting Through Complexity’ it came up with the money saving solution – “You’re making TOO MANY arrests” came the reply… Kerching! – Consultancy collects big fat £480,000 cheque and laughs all the way to the bank; before racing off in search of yet another set of inept public sector managers crying help!

Many of these consultancy companies provide little more than bean counting monetary analysis of an organisation, and not without cost. They rarely deliver answers to role requirement issues, let alone address the needs and desires of the public or the officers serving them. Despite being dressed up with numerous rhetorical terms relating to ‘service’ and ‘efficiency’, the whole process is rarely concerned with anything more complicated than simple cold cash.

Insp. Simon Guilfoyle – Binary Finary: …Binary comparisons never tell the truth: the only possible interpretations are either ‘we are doing fine’, inviting complacency when the long-term picture may indicate that urgent action is required on the system, or ‘things are getting worse’, (even when it isn’t) which risks unnecessary organisational responses to fix the ‘problem’…(Read more)

But what are the realities of this type of management methodology nearer to home?

During my thirty year service with North Yorkshire Police there was almost exponential growth in the number of senior police officer posts and police support staff posts in the force. Yet during that time, I witnessed a massive reduction in front-line officers available to meet the ever-increasing demands of a growing population. The equivalent number of what are now refered to as Response Officers has effectively decreased by around 50% during my service – Why?

  • In North Yorkshire by 2026, the number of households is set to increase by 44,000. Yet by 2015 police numbers will be at 1970s levels – Why?
  • In North Yorkshire by 2026 car ownership will increase by more than 20%. Yet by 2015 police numbers will be at 1970s levels – Why?
  • NYCC estimate increased cars will lead to 265,000 new trips in the county every day by 2026. Yet by 2015 police numbers at 1970s levels – Why?
  • Recent redundancies from command and control restructuring at North Yorkshire Police have resulted in (predicted) reduced performance – Why?

Irrespective of the undoubted but often belittled impacts of current police management failings, these types of question have been continually raised locally. Indeed similar ones are regularly put to politicians and senior officers by The Police Federation on a national basis. A previous Deputy Chief Constable of mine offered a simple answer to the question(s) in a recent social networking debate where he said…

Because the wrong choices are being made about policing locally. Cuts in officer numbers should stop now and action begin to replace the posts that have been lost over the past three years! (Peter Walker)

Politicians and Chief Constables continually disguise their swathing cuts, and mostly self-interested penny-pinching management styles, with marketing ploys and by feeding sound-bite rhetoric to the media. This is coupled with and compounded by, the clever and calculated mass manipulation of massaged crime figures and engineered service satisfaction statistics. The sole aim being to convince us the public; there are no real problems, all is under control and we simply don’t need as many officers as was once the case. Mostly buncombe!

Despite all those concerted efforts, and the subsequent lording of ‘reduced crime’ over the last twelve months or so, it would appear that crime is actually in the ascendant again. However, despite the political denial of the facts by government, I (like others) would suggest this is indeed a worrying fact. Responding to the latest Crime in England and Wales Quarterly Update Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Police Federation said;

The latest crimes statistics show that burglary and robbery continue to rise and unfortunately this comes as no surprise to us…We have warned again and again that property crime and robbery will rise during times of economic hardship and today’s figures paint a bleak picture. The government simply must heed the warnings and reconsider the planned 20 percent cuts to policing. We can only protect the public if we have enough police officers on our streets. Therefore the prospect of losing 34,000 officers and police staff by 2015 cannot be ignored…(polfed.org)

For some time now many public sector organisations like the police, have been used as political footballs in the playgrounds of self-interested leadership and it has to stop. I would be one of the first to agree the service should be open to change. Indeed, there are actually few services within the public sector who have been subjected to quite as much change as the police have in recent years. However, as a can do will do type of organisation, the police service and it’s staff have continued to serve society to the best of their ability, despite all the political and financial hurdles they have to jump over.

In conclusion, any further change to the service must be based upon both needs of society and the organisation itself. Not formulated by political dogma and/or personal agenda, which has far too often been the case over recent years. I would tend to agree with the calls of the Police Federation over several years now; the only way to correctly ‘reform’ the service now and for the future, is a Royal Commission into policing… I won’t hold my breath!

Note: Ephemeralization is a term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller to describe the ability of technological advancement to do “more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing” (wikipedia.org)

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About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 20-10-2011, in Business Babble, Leadership & Management, Police, Public Service Babble and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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