As Labour and the Tories squabbled over increasing stop and search powers, a long-awaited review into police bureaucracy was published last week.
The independent Flanagan Review of Policing called for a radical reform of police processes, including better management of officers and civilian staff to deal with rising knife and gun crime.
It did not recommend the scrapping of the lengthy stop and search form, which Tory leader David Cameron had called for, but did suggest measures to speed up police processes when officers question the public.
The review also highlighted some alarming facts about the burden of police paperwork which, it suggested, impeded officers’ ability to detect crime. It takes up to 10 minutes for a constable to fill in the form to stop a person and hold them to account, wasting six million hours of police time each year, according to Flanagan.
He also found that 500,000 hours of officer time was spent on internal audits each year, and up to 70% of information was entered onto police computers more than once.
On top of this, the recent Home Office spending settlement warned that police expenditure would have to remain at current levels until 2012, and forces would need to be smarter with their existing resources.
Already, some forces use civilian staff to carry out activities previously done by police officers, such as gathering witness statements. Flanagan called for more initiatives like this – enabling officers to patrol the streets more – to be used throughout all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
Yet better management of resources alone will not generate productivity improvements in policing, warned think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Tom Gash, author of an IPPR report into police modernisation, published to coincide with the Flanagan review, argued for a complete overhaul of pay to unlock the service’s full potential. “The Police Service needs to create incentives in the system to develop more specialisms [among officers]. The government should pay people according to their skills level, not their length of service.”
An average police officer detected just 10 crimes in 2006 – the same level as in 2001 – each detection costing more now in real terms, according to the IPPR. “It’s not just a question of freeing up officer time to develop a specialist role to combat tougher crimes the appropriate training and development and pay needs to be put in behind it,” Gash added.
However, Andrew Marston, force personnel director at Greater Manchester Police, warned that moving to a skills-based pay model would create unwelcome divisions in the service.
“There’s a danger that you make some aspects of police work look very unattractive. The nuts and bolts of policing is still important, the people out there on a Friday night dealing with the general public need to have a degree of skill just as much as a specialist,” he said.
Marston added that special priority payments had already been introduced to reward hard-to-fill posts or officers doing long shifts, yet had been largely unsuccessful. “The difficulty with special priority payments is that there is only a limited amount of money and a limit on the number of officers you can give it to. What you do is end up brassing off everybody else.”
The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, also failed to see how performance-related pay would work, given that officers have to ‘perform’ to centrally dictated targets.
However, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), set up last year to help develop best practice in the service, said it supported the move towards competency-based pay.
Chief superintendent and workforce modernisation lead Derek Mann said: “There is a growing acceptance that the pay system needs to change in future, and we would certainly support the move towards competency-based pay and payment to role rather than seniority.”
Mann said skills-based pay models could bring huge benefits as long as they were properly tested. “It allows the Police Service to reward those that are most productive, or in extraordinarily challenging roles, in a much smarter way,” he said. “We’ve only got one budget and we need to use the money in a better way.”
The NPIA is piloting a business process model across 11 forces to find out how resources could be better allocated. This includes more use of civilian staff to take on PC activities and new reward mechanisms.
However, Mann did sound a note of warning. “Police pay is a tricky area,” he said. “There is an appetite to look at new pay models, but we are gathering evidence on the best way forward. No-one has got the answer yet.”
Flanagan on police HR
- Forces should review how resources are deployed to areas of greatest risk and priority. Focus effort on areas for improved productivity, such as flexible working.
- The government should support each force to produce comparable high-level data on staff numbers, objective costs and key management ratios.
- The National Policing Improvement Agency should develop a 10-year police workforce plan which emphasises the importance of matching skills and aptitudes to roles and tasks, and provides guidance to police staff on their professional development.