Collaboration in Policing: Nick Herbert's speech of 22 March 2011

Nick Herbert gave this speech at the Collaboration in Policing conference in Coventry on 22 March 2011. This version is as spoken.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Lord Herbert of South Downs CBE PC

I’d like to begin by thanking the Essex and Kent police forces for giving me this opportunity to address your conference today.

Thank you for the leadership that your forces and authorities are showing on collaboration.  You have crossed what might have been seen as the divide of the Thames in an Esturial joint venture.

You’ve been able to work together to find ways to improve the efficiency of your support services, to improve the effectiveness of your operational policing and to improve your frontline services to the public.  And that is exactly what collaboration should be about - making the police service stronger even as it becomes leaner.

I want to talk today about three things.  First, the government’s vision for police reform, from the local to the national.  Second, the role we envisage for collaboration within that - both between police forces and with other partners.  And, third, the steps we are taking now with our partners to drive collaboration forward.

Before I do that, let me just say a quick word about why collaboration is important.  Collaboration is not a panacea; it is not a silver-bullet, and it is not an end in itself.

But it can make a difference.  It can make a difference to your operational capabilities - such as the fight against organised crime and terrorism.  And it can make a difference to driving savings at a time when forces need to do so and prioritise spending on frontline services.

This is not a matter of losing local identity.  Local policing services and their command must stay local.  Compulsory force mergers are off the table.  In my judgement the House of Commons wouldn’t vote for them, even if the government believed in them - and we don’t.  Rejecting regional super-forces isn’t an absence of leadership.  It is the happy and decisive combination of political principle and political reality.

I won’t say much more about that, except to observe that the Essex - Kent collaboration probably wouldn’t have happened if regional forces had divided them.

But rejecting regional forces doesn’t mean that police forces and authorities should operate in 43 silos.  As I’ve said before, the era of 43 independent policing fiefdoms is over.  Forces need to work together to save money, improve resilience and strengthen the fight against serious and cross-boundary crime.

Future landscape with PCCs and NCA

And I do think that the government has a role in supporting - indeed driving - this collaboration.

I’ve spoken before about the paradox of policing over the last few years.  While central government has interfered too much in matters that should have been determined locally, it has been weak in areas where a stronger grip was required.

Whilst the imperative of dealing with the threat of terrorism, backed by a huge investment, saw a strong national counter terrorist network develop, the fight against organised crime remains patchy. Sir Paul Stephenson reminded us of that in his speech last year.

So we will reverse this situation - giving more space for local determination with stronger local accountability, whilst ensuring real leadership where national organisation is required.

Let me be clear: I’m a convinced localist.  I don’t believe that central government knows best, or should micromanage policing decisions that should be local.  The point is to refocus the efforts of the centre where strategic leadership, on issues that crosses force boundaries, is required.

We’re all agreed that police forces must be vertically integrated, tackling antisocial behaviour to terrorism, and held to account for the whole range of their functions on behalf of the public by police authorities and then Police and Crime Commissioners.

But we do want forces to collaborate with each other and with other partners to drive out savings and improve their operational effectiveness.

This is, to use a business expression, about getting the tight-loose balance right - gripping tightly on a small number of critical national policing issues and stepping back wherever responsibility lies clearly with local decisions makers.

To strengthen local accountability we are introducing elected Police and Crime Commissioners.  In little over a year’s time they will be directly accountable to the public for improving policing in their areas.

I do not agree with those who expect PCCs to be obstacles to collaboration.  In fact, I expect them to be strongly motivated to drive out costs in order to maximise investment in frontline policing.  They will have a public mandate to do so that is stronger than any pressure brought about by Whitehall bureaucracy.

That means that PCCs will be powerfully incentivised to look hard at what their forces do and what opportunities there are for working with other forces and other partners to do things more efficiently and effectively.

But to allay any fears, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, currently before Parliament, also places PCCs under a strong legal duty to collaborate.  And, as many of you asked for in the Policing in the 21st Century consultation, Chief Officers will be subject to the same duty.

PCCs reflect the Government’s commitment to localism, to decentralise and return power from Whitehall to communities.  Equally, at the national level, a new National Crime Agency will transform the fight against organised crime, working with forces and delivering a stronger and more integrated response across law enforcement agencies.  We will be saying more about this plan, which I believe is highly significant, in due course.

We are also legislating in the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill for the Home Secretary to issue a Strategic Policing Requirement to ensure that forces have the capabilities to tackle national threats.

And it has been made very clear to me in discussions with partners about the Strategic Policing Requirement that collaboration will be vital to delivering your national policing responsibilities.

The need to tackle serious and cross-boundary criminality more effectively, and deliver support functions more efficiently, are not new problems.  They have not been brought about by the introduction of PCCs.

They are the same challenges that we have been facing for some time.  But because we are strengthening the accountability of forces to their communities, we are also able to address weaknesses in our national response to serious crime without undermining the space, freedom and discretion for local decision-making which is so important.  Put simply, the Home Office is now focusing on the right things.

Delivering a step change in collaboration

But I think a lesson of the last few years is that it is not enough for central government to exhort forces to work together.  In my speech to the CityForum event in January, I said that there could no longer be business as usual.

Through the High Level Working Group which I chair, in which we work closely with policing leaders, we have made important headway on a number of issues where there needs to be a co-ordinated national approach.

We have agreed a new approach to IT procurement and private sector partnering, and laid new procurement regulations mandating the use of national frameworks. 

We have established a new Policing Value for Money Unit, bringing together resources to support forces in these priority areas, including by promoting learning about new or deeper approaches to collaboration.

In addition to this, at the last High Level Working Group we agreed that ACPO and NPIA would develop a set of principles to underpin the Service’s approach to collaboration.  These principles would draw on the ‘laminate model’, which is the agreement that there are some policing functions that should be delivered locally, some that should be delivered collaboratively and some that should be delivered nationally.  These principles, which were designed and agreed by the Service, will help to set out how we best strike the ‘tight-loose’ balance.

So the government isn’t just exhorting collaboration: we are acting.  Similarly, forces and police authorities should all be taking a more proactive approach now to examining where collaboration could lead to improvements and generate savings.

That means addressing two particular questions: what to collaborate on, and who to collaborate with.

What to collaborate on?

There has been significant collaboration already, particularly across protective services.  And we know that it can work.

At Luton Airport last year I noticed a police vehicle parked outside marked “Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Protective Services” - a welcome sign of collaboration in action.  Those forces couldn’t merge because there was an absence of local consent.  But they have shown what progress can be made by sharing functions, and it is encouraging to hear that Cambridgeshire are now looking to join in.

Local media across the country regularly report the successes that collaborative organised crime fighting teams have in tackling the organised gangs whose criminality destroys our communities and harms our economy.

It was good to see the front page of the Yorkshire Post a few months ago which read “Car-crime network smashed as gang are jailed”.  The article paid tribute to the excellent work led by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Intelligence Unit.

But this is only one example.  Across England and Wales, teams like this are making a real difference to the fight against organised crime.  I want this to continue and to improve further.  That is why I can today announce that the Home Office will continue to fund these collaborations and their enhanced coordination.

These are critical capabilities - both now, and in future, when they will work alongside the National Crime Agency.  So despite resources being tight, I have agreed to make broadly the same sums available in future as now - £19m in 2011/12, and £18m in 2012/13 - to ensure their further development.

Despite the successes, I am not convinced that every opportunity to improve protective services has been fully explored.  For example, ACPO are looking at witness protection to see how collaboration could help improve its effectiveness and reduce its cost.  Can it really make sense to deliver this in 43 different ways?

But we can go further still - not just in protective services, but in the back and middle office, too, where collaboration has so far barely scratched the surface.  Again, we know it can work.  HMIC have reported to me that nine forces, through their various collaboration arrangements, are planning to make savings of £44m over the spending review period.

In my speech to the CityForum I set a challenge for leaders of the service: to extend collaboration into a new space, into the back and middle office, in order to improve efficiency.  I will repeat today what I said then: we must see more progress being made more quickly on this front.

Last year the four forces in Yorkshire and the Humber commissioned a review of all their non-local services to gauge the real potential collaborations could bring.  It estimated that as much as 9 per cent of their combined budgets could be saved - £100m across the four forces - over five years.  Their approach was innovative: forces were required to prove the case for not collaborating on each and every function.  They made the assumption that collaboration should be the default option on everything bar the genuinely local.

This is the sort of proactive approach I would welcome elsewhere. Often individual collaboration opportunities are missed because forces and authorities cannot agree on the distribution of costs and benefits, with one force feeling like they are a “net donor” to the collaboration.

Focusing on a wide programme across a range of collaboration opportunities can help to overcome this net donor syndrome, with the imbalances in costs and benefits more evenly spread, and a clearer focus on the overall benefits that the collaboration programme provides for that group of forces collectively.

Who to collaborate with?

The second question I posed was: who should you collaborate with?  I believe this should be your choice.  This is not about structural neatness, tidy maps, uniformity or a detailed central masterplan.  Your forces are all different in their size, geography, culture and demographics.  Who you can work with has to reflect and respect that.

So I am not advocating a strict adherence to collaboration by ACPO region: I believe police authorities and police forces are best placed to decide who they should collaborate with, including with partners from outside policing - such as CJS partners.

But the partnerships you choose must be the right ones for the public.  Sometimes, bigger collaborations offer bigger savings and bigger enhancements to capability.  And we know there are advantages to be had from building on existing collaboration arrangements and increasing the economies of scale.

Police forces need to ask themselves whether their preferred partnerships will get the best deal: is your model the optimum model, or can further savings be made by increasing the number of forces covered by your collaboration arrangement?

Police authorities need to ask themselves whether the collaboration arrangements they have entered into can be clearly and transparently held to account on behalf of the public.

I am broadminded about the approach that you should take.  There is a wide diversity of collaboration models already in place, such as lead force arrangements, joint units, shared services and so-called franchise models.  The process itself is not what matters - it is the outcome for the public, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, that is key.

National approaches

There are some instances where the best approach is neither 43 forces nor, say, ten collaboration arrangements, but a single national solution.  For example, with procurement it makes absolutely no sense for forces to buy separately when money can be saved if they act together.  For too long the police service has been a fragmented customer - spending more and gaining less than it should do from its suppliers.  Responses to our consultation on the new regulations showed that suppliers have found it difficult to engage with the police service. 

National frameworks for procurement are about generating greater efficiency across the whole of the service.  The frameworks mandated through new regulations will save the police service £27m a year.  That’s a significant sum in itself, but we assess potential procurement and IT savings of many times more than this amount - £380 million a year - by 2014/15.

This is also about driving out wasteful spending across the board - the final price tag of goods and services is just a part of the process.  Forces waste money if they tender and negotiate 43 times.  National frameworks will end this inefficient practice as well as bringing down prices and increasing standardisation of equipment.

We have seen leadership on national arrangements in other areas too.  ACPO, through the work of Chief Constable Alex Marshall, has shown leadership in developing proposals for a National Police Air Service, which would save £15 million a year.

If the service’s operational leaders have concluded that this is the way forward, I very much hope and expect that police authorities will rapidly endorse the proposals that are clearly in the interests of policing.  I will not be afraid to consider the use of powers if progress in this area is unnecessarily delayed.

Private sector partnering

In my Cityforum speech I said there should be no ideological opposition to working with the private sector.  Last week the Government held an event for suppliers and senior policing colleagues with the aim of improving their strategic relationship.

We talked about the significant benefits for the police service of behaving as a single client when engaging with the private sector.  Of course Police Authorities and eventually PCCs have the authority to decide how forces should engage with the private sector, but we can be stronger if we work together.

The Police Service already do a substantial amount of business in partnership with the private sector.  Some collaborative projects are with other public sector bodies, such as Avon and Somerset’s joint venture with IBM, Taunton Dean Council and Somerset County Council.

There are opportunities here to identify a role for the private sector for functions across forces, and not just in the back or middle offices.  We have, for example, already seen the successful contracting out of custody services in many forces.  I believe we need to look beyond the conventional approaches of straightforward outsourcing and consider the potential for innovative new forms of partnership with the private sector.  So here is a further field for collaboration - not between forces, but between the public and private sector.

Police forces today face significant challenges.  Reductions in budgets; the growing complexity of organised crime; the threat of terrorism; the need to respond to the demands of the public.

And as I have said, collaboration is not a silver-bullet.  But it has an important role to play in helping forces to meet these challenges.

I have attempted to identify a stronger, strategic role for Government in driving the process.  But collaboration has to start from the bottom up.  You, the leaders of the police service, need to take this forward.

Later this year, forces will be challenged on this issue by HMIC.  They will consider your plans for collaboration and assess them in terms of scope, timescales, anticipated savings and pace of implementation.  You will need to demonstrate to HMIC that you are being ambitious enough.

Collaboration is best when it has the drive, the innovation and determination of local decision makers.  If necessary, in the interests of the public and the taxpayer, the Government is prepared to step in.  We have powers to direct forces to collaborate, and we are taking further powers in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to specify policing functions on which all forces must collaborate.

But I do not believe that this approach will be necessary if, together, we seize this agenda now.  By attending this third national collaboration event, you are demonstrating the desire to ensure that forces work better together.  We all know that collaboration has far greater potential.  It’s time to change gear, and make it happen.


Published 22 March 2011