Police transformation: Nick Herbert's speech to the CityForum event

A speech given by Nick Herbert MP to the CityForum event on 'securing strategic partnerships for police transformation' on 26 January 2012.

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

Thank you for inviting me to speak once again at a CityForum event.

A year ago at CityForum, I set out why the challenge of maintaining and improving policing as budgets fall was manageable - provided that we did not treat this as ‘business as usual’. I argued that with transformational change in the way police forces work, savings of over £2 billion a year were possible - exceeding the reductions in police funding. I said that we could make the police service stronger even at it becomes leaner.

The strategy I set out was threefold: to improve frontline services, spend the minimum on other functions, and from the start think about re-shaping service through long-term change rather than tactical salami-slicing.

Today I want to to set out the ways in which the service is responding to that challenge;

  • how we, at a national level, are working hard to support the service in delivering that transformation, through an ambitious and long overdue package of reforms;
  • that we need a continued and concerted drive to deliver further transformation in policing, focusing not simply on doing the same for less, but working towards improved outcomes, reducing crime and keeping the public safe.

Dealing with the deficit

The context remains the same. We need to deal with the deficit and that means reducing public spending. I am not going to rehearse the arguments why. But I will observe that there is a cross-party consensus that police spending must be reduced. The only argument is by how much - but even the official opposition accepts that there need to be savings of over £1 billion a year. In any case, police forces will be smaller, with fewer officers and staff.

In asking police forces to accept their share of the burden, we are driven by a determination to deal with the deficit and maintain market confidence in our economy. We are not taking tough decisions because we want to cut police budgets, but because we believe we have to.

Pay reform and restraint

Our aim has been to do everything that we can to support forces to drive out cost. Since pay accounts for the large majority of police spending, the pay bill is a key issue.

We have always said that pay reform and restraint must form part of the package. We are not, as some have suggested, singling the police out - we are having to make difficult decisions about pay right across the public sector.

We recognise that police officers carry out difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and that they should be rewarded fairly for what they do. We also believe it is necessary to ensure modern pay and conditions that reflect the demands of policing today.

Police officers and staff are, understandably, concerned about the proposed changes, but let me say here that we absolutely want to ensure that any changes are fair. That is why we are giving very careful consideration to the recommendations made by the police arbitration tribunal earlier this month.

Non-pay savings

Government also has a role in helping forces to reduce their non-pay bill, which still amounts to some £3.5 billion, or around one quarter of total revenue and capital spend. So we have also been focusing on how the police can secure better IT and procurement. I will outline significant changes in these areas later in my speech.

But the bulk of the work is for forces themselves to do - changing how they operate to become as efficient and effective across the board as the best of their peers, in frontline services, and in the back and middle office services that support them.

HMIC’s adapting to austerity report last summer showed that forces had begun work on seriously and carefully making or exceeding the required savings.  But the report also showed that there was more to do.  The budget gap of unidentified savings in each force is closing, but as it does so and changes are implemented, the focus must be on ensuring that levels of public services are maintained.

The role of government

So if forces themselves are in the lead in driving the necessary savings, what is the role of government?

Well, first of all, we need to get the structures right to ensure that policing is organised to meet the challenges. Our agenda across government is to return power to people and communities, driving up standards in the public sector through greater accountability and a focus on outcomes rather than central direction and bureaucratic micromanagement.

So in November, we will see the election of the first police and crime commissioners. A strong link from the police organisation as a whole to the public is essential if transformational change in policing is to be seen through. And I believe that, far from being parochial or opposed to radical change in how services are delivered, police and crime commissioners will be strongly motivated to drive better value for money because they will want to protect frontline services.

We also want to see greater focus and accountability in the national bodies that support policing, where possible with ownership being taken by the profession. So this year the National Policing Improvement Agency will give way to a new IT company and a new police professional body. These will each play key, though very different, roles in supporting forces to improve value for money. 

HMIC is becoming more independent, with a sharp focus on value for money as it shines a light on performance, acting in the public interest and telling the truth about what forces are doing - as it did in its crime report yesterday.

What of the Home Office?

The days of performance management and whitehall intervention are gone.  But that doesn’t mean that we are standing idly by.

Last year we had a healthy discussion with service leaders about the role of the centre - by which I mean the Home Office, Government more widely, and the national policing bodies - in supporting forces to meet this challenge.

As a result we put in place a policing value for money unit in the Home Office to work with the service in taking forward a national strategy.

We agreed that the priorities should be:

  • First, to help enable forces to put in place better, more cost effective, IT arrangements.
  • Second, on procurement, to use the national buying power of the police service - indeed the whole public sector - to do things cheaper and better.
  • Third, to explore with the service - and enable - changes to how support services are delivered.
  • And, fourth, to support forces develop and implement transformational change in their businesses.

Fundamentally, this is about defining a relationship between the national and local levels where the right balance is struck between convergence, interoperability and maximising economies of scale - on the one hand - and enabling local innovation, local decision-making and local flexibility, on the other.

The paradox of policing policy under the last government was that it interfered far too much in how local policing should be conducted, but didn’t focus on the national issues where a stronger grip or collaboration was required. To use the business expression, we need ‘tight-loose’ leadership - allowing new discretion and freedom for professional and local decision-making, and focusing the role of the centre on the proper issues.

So, while we are sweeping away central targets, returning discretion to police professionals, and giving newly elected police and crime commissioners the power to set local strategic priorities, we have also introduced new powers under the police reform & social responsibility act to ensure that forces work effectively together.

Next year the new national crime agency will strengthen the fight against serious and organised crime, and we have introduced, initially in shadow form, a new strategic policing requirement to ensure that forces work together to meet national threats.

We are working with suppliers and across the police service to ensure that policing is treated as a single client - with the clear benefits of better service at reduced cost.

And we have put new duties on forces to collaborate - duties which we will back up with mandatory arrangements if we have to.

National Police Air Service

Last year at CityForum I pointed out that the proposed national police air service was a good example of collaboration, saving £15 million a year and resulting in a better co-ordinated and more consistently available service.

Led by chief constable Alex Marshall, the plan has the full support of ACPO and will give all forces access to helicopter support 24 hours a day, 365 days year - in contrast to the current system which sees some force helicopters grounded for days a time while they are being repaired.

I said that if the police service’s operational leaders had concluded that this was the way forward, I hoped and expected that police authorities would rapidly endorse the proposals.

Chief officers of all forces in England and Wales have given their support to the proposal, as have the overwhelming majority of police authorities in principle.

But to get the full benefits, the commitment of the whole of the police service in England and Wales is needed.

As I said to the CityForum, the time for talking about collaboration, and the era of police fiefdoms, is over.

I am, in exceptional cases of last resort, prepared to mandate where a small minority of authorities or forces create a barrier to significant savings.

I am therefore announcing today that I intend to make an order requiring the police service to collaborate in the provision of air support. This order will be made using the new powers brought in by the police reform & social responsibility act.  It will require all authorities and forces to collaborate in the provision of air support through a single collaboration agreement for England and Wales.

Improving police IT

The national police air service hasn’t been a top-down, directed government project. It’s been led by chief constables with support from the centre. We are helping to secure the end, but we aren’t directing the means.

The same should apply to police IT.

It is critical to the success of the service in meeting the spending challenge that we take the right approach.

Forces need to get better and more seamless services for their officers and staff, for example avoiding time-wasting re-keying of the same data into different systems.

And police IT should also enable closer and more effective working with other criminal justice agencies. At present, the progression of cases relies too heavily on paper and physical media being passed between agencies, building unnecessary cost, duplication and delay into the system.

Progress has been made

Criminal justice agencies have been working in close partnership at a national level to deliver digital working across the CJS by April 2012, and real change is being delivered at pace, but there is more to do.

Forces have already made substantial savings in IT. We’ve seen police spend fall by some £73 million last year compared with 2009/10, but there are opportunities for further savings to be made.

We are seeing a deepening of voluntary collaboration on IT - through wide partnerships of forces as exemplified by the athena project, and through bilateral collaboration, for example in South Yorkshire and Humberside.

But we have to ask ourselves why, despite the grand plans and record levels of spending, police IT has, in the main, remained so stubbornly disjointed, with 2,000 systems across the 43 forces.

We need a new approach, driven by forces themselves, with greater accountability. The best and quickest approach to improving police IT does not involve us specifying exactly the IT systems all forces should buy. We can take that approach successfully for some IT commodities, but not for complex systems and services, where dealing with the spider web of legacy systems in one fell swoop simply is not feasible.

This is why the government last year announced the intention to help the police create a new company which would provide forces with support relating to procurement, implementation and contract management for ICT, related business change and outsourcing services.

While it is not envisaged that the company should direct force IT spend, it would have the capability to assist forces by negotiating better prices for IT services, providing technical knowledge and insight and, over time, reducing the number of procurement specialists and IT professionals employed by forces.

The objective of the new company would be to enable a more commercial and efficient approach to police IT provision, using economies of scale and market forces to ensure more efficient management of IT expenditure and to save the public money.

This will be mirrored by a re-calibration of the police service’s information systems improvement strategy, which will remain as an enabler of voluntary collaboration between forces, and which will be owned directly by the service rather than by the IT company.


By contrast, when it comes to non-IT procurement and the procurement of IT commodities, the service needs to use its buying power together - and government leadership can assist in this.

The work started by the NPIA in creating national purchasing frameworks has been of vital importance in leveraging better purchasing power by the police service acting collectively. 

Last year, we put in place the first mandatory frameworks, covering some key services - police cars, body armour and a wider range of commodity IT hardware and software.  This will ensure that all forces use the specified frameworks and so the full potential for savings in these categories - £27m - can be achieved by 2014/15.

We will now consult on further regulations to specify frameworks to be used by the service when buying further equipment - vehicle light bars and digital interviewing equipment. The consultation will also cover regulations on frameworks for some services, particularly translation and interpretation - where there is the opportunity to join up with the procurement of these services for the courts - mobile telephony, some consultancy, e-learning and a police procurement hub to support more effective procurement.

We are already seeing tangible success, with savings of £34m so far, reported through the Collaborative Police Procurement Programme - a total projected to rise to £70m by the end of this financial year. These savings include spending volume reductions as well as price savings and we are on track to see this figure rise to savings of at least £200m per year by 2014/15.

I also said that we would encourage the service to behave as a single client, and we’ve brought together industry and the service in March last year to reinforce this message and to understand what the service needs in order to be a more intelligent customer. Since then, there has been work with a range of suppliers, gathering management information about activity across the service.

This has been useful work and as one example, helped us to identify a supplier who holds over 1,500 individual contracts with the 43 forces, and where prices charged are significantly higher than those received in other areas of the public sector. We’ve since worked with this supplier to rationalise the service and pricing across the police service and where possible, give money back to forces.

Support services

The fourth area we identified for savings was in support services.

Forces shouldn’t be constrained by the way things have been done in the past. In seeking better service at reduced cost, they should look across the range of possibilities, including collaboration with other forces or public services, partnering with private sector providers and establishing mutuals, and work out what best fits their local circumstances.

I made clear last year that, from the government’s point of view, there is no ideological barrier to the engagement of the private sector in delivering improved policing services.

New thinking and design should not be limited to the back and middle office functions. It should also focus on how frontline services could be reconfigured.

Greater Manchester police, for example, have carried out a thorough review of their support functions and been able to deliver £62m in year-on-year savings, and importantly, release 348 police officer posts from these roles.

This review has additionally seen the introduction of significant innovations that have led to improvements in service delivery in areas such as the investigation of fraud and the policing of major events.

In many areas public services are jointly looking at the public asset base as a way of making significant savings. Savings of around a fifth are possible by public sector partners working across an area and treating all the buildings as if they have a single owner.

In Worcestershire, for example, the blue light services are coming together in a single centre. Sussex police are leading the partnership approach in East Sussex, chairing the joint management board of partners and identifying significant savings for the whole public sector in the County.

Business partnering

The Government has been supporting Surrey and West Midlands forces and authorities in a joint programme to explore the value of business partnering. The procurement notice was published on the official journal of the European Union on Tuesday this week which should lead to a contract in Spring next year.

The areas of service which could be included is wide, including a range of activities in or supporting frontline policing, including dealing with incidents, supporting victims, protecting individuals at risk and providing specialist services.

This is not about traditional outsourcing, but about building a new strategic relationship between forces and the private sector. By harnessing private sector innovation, specialist skills and economies of scale, forces can transform the way they deliver services and improve outcomes for the public. Every police authority in England and Wales bar one is named on the procurement notice, allowing other forces to join in should they choose to do so.

And, under their own steam, Lincolnshire are about to sign a £200m contract over ten years with G4S. This contract for support services is available to those other forces named on the procurement notice.

These are highly significant developments, opening up the possibility of new savings across policing. The published potential value of the Surrey/West Midlands contract is between £300m and £3.5bn. Other forces need not be unnecessary pioneers of support service delivery models. Creating scale and volume within arrangements with the private sector will mean better prices. And that means better value for the taxpayer.

Protecting the frontline

Collaboration, shared services, improved IT, collective procurement and business partnering are not ends in themselves.  They are the means by which police forces can reconfigure their organisations to drive savings, improve service delivery and protect the frontline.

The forces making these transformational changes are showing that budget reductions, while challenging, are also a spur to new thinking and innovation.

And they are disproving the weary claim that reductions in spending will inevitably harm public services.

The latest official statistics on police numbers are published today. We already know that the police workforce has been reducing from its peak.

But as HMIC revealed, a third of the police workforce - including some 25,000 police officers, or just under a fifth of the total - were employed in back or middle offices. There is plenty of scope to make savings while protecting the frontline.

And this is what is happening. HMIC’s most recent data is showing that the proportion of the policing workforce in the frontline is expected to rise significantly over the spending review period.

But, as I constantly repeat, the strength and quality of frontline policing cannot, and should not, be measured simply in terms of officer numbers.

What matters is not the total number of officers employed, but how officers are deployed.

HMIC found that, on average, police forces had more officers visible and available on a Monday morning than on a Friday night.

The best forces had twice the visibility and availability of those at the bottom of the table.

So spending isn’t the sole issue. By changing shift patterns, targeting resources better, reducing time-wasting bureaucracy, and using initiatives such as hotspots or problem-oriented policing, forces can not only continue to deliver within reduced budgets - they can continue to cut crime.

And this isn’t conjecture.

The latest official crime figures showed no statistical correlation between force strengths and local crime rates.  Some forces had larger than average falls in officer numbers and larger than average falls in crime.

Claims that crime is bound to rise because overall police numbers are falling are simplistic and unfounded.

The home affairs select committee said last February: ‘We accept that there is no simple relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime.’

The idea that only higher spending and more inputs will deliver better policing is discredited.

Examples of transformation

Hampshire, for example, has delivered significant reductions in crime in recent years, whilst also achieving considerable savings - reaching £20m in 2011 alone, whilst having a public commitment to retain May 2010 levels of local visible policing. Their work in rooting out unnecessary bureaucracy has made much use of mobile data terminals, liberating officers from their desks.

In Thames Valley, the force’s productivity strategy has reduced business support costs such as HR by amalgamating all the small units into one shared service and encouraging self-service. They have removed a layer of management and worked hard at collaboration with other forces. Together this has meant that in the current financial year, not only have they made over £15m of savings, they have also been able to redeploy 35 officers to frontline roles in neighbourhoods or patrol. And I know they have ambitions to redeploy a further 100 officers to the frontline over the next two years.

The force and authority work closely together and have applied a considered, thoughtful and evidence-based approach to the development of a new operational policing model, which is designed to prioritise neighbourhood policing.

The Metropolitan Police’s commitment to single patrolling where possible has meant that, in the past year, they have carried out, on average, more than 350 extra patrols every day across the Capital.

Kent police have led a comprehensive review of the public’s demand for policing services, with a view to matching staffing levels with that demand and increasing police officer availability at key times.

They have re-structured the way in which they provide policing services and, together with savings from collaboration with Essex Police, streamlining and rationalising support services and re-aligning some of their specialist policing functions, they have been able to deploy more officers onto uniformed street patrols.

This has increased police visibility with the public, the headcount of neighbourhood officers and staff has increased by 50 per cent since last November, and public satisfaction levels have increased.

Leadership and culture in a time of transformation

The same story is being repeated across the country. Police leaders at all ranks are displaying the ‘can-do’ attitude which marks the service, and is such a credit to it.

No-one is saying that the challenge is straightforward, or that change is easy.

We must remember that police staff have been losing their jobs and some officers with more than 30 years’ service have been retired.

When budgets are tight, hard working officers and staff  are being asked to make big changes and sometimes to do more. But whenever I visit a force or talk to officers, I am constantly impressed by their determination to deliver.

For all the focus on structures and processes, people are at the heart of our public services, and people will effect the successful transformation of policing. And how the service leads its people to work in new ways will be critical to success in the years ahead.

That is why I believe the new professional body for policing will be so important.  It will help to identify and equip the police leaders of the future. But it will also foster the professionalism which will underpin an important cultural change, enabling time-wasting bureaucracy to be replaced by the exercise of discretion and judgement by officers.


A year ago, I concluded my speech by saying that I didn’t underestimate the challenge facing forces to deliver savings and a better service through transformational change, but I was absolutely confident that forces could rise to it.

I believe they can, and they have. The service is well on its way to delivering the savings of over £2 billion which are required. But, equally importantly, it has also begun the process of transformation that will ensure that forces can improve services while lowering cost.

The government is playing its part with support through pay reform, collective procurement, collaboration and business partnering. We are backing the drive against bureaucracy and leading a new approach to delivering better IT.

But, in the end, the necessary change will come from forces.

I commend the chief constables and teams who are showing leadership and rising to this challenge.

There is more to do and further to go.

But I am confident that with transformational change, we are beginning to build a modern, flexible and responsive police service, delivering value for money for the taxpayer, and fighting crime.


Published 26 January 2012