On the path to joined-up national police reform

Q How did the National Police Improvement Agency begin?

A More than two years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and Home Office colleagues were looking at the reform programme for policing. We came to the conclusion that the way in which we were translating the major ambitions for change into practice on the ground was, to put it mildly, 'broken'. This was because we were being asked to deliver major change programmes which ran across the whole of policing. For example, we cannot think about neighbourhood policing without considering the workforce, the information systems that underpin it, the technology that might support it and all the other support processes.

So what we had was a series of national bodies operating independently of one another. These were Centrex (the training arm of national policing), the Police Information and Technology organisation and a large chunk of the Home Office responsible for policing. All three were trying to do different things, with ACPO trying to fill some of the gaps in between. We felt there should be one single resource to help the police service make change and deliver better practice.

Q How different is that from the mechanisms that were in place before?

A We take on projects that are all done through different agencies. What we are going to do in the future is establish a single portfolio of change which is prioritised and commissioned in the same way and is rolled out with a single assisted implementation function, with the support and ownership of the service. That is comprehensively different from where we are now.

Q What are the main aims in your role within the NPIA in the next year?

A First, what are we going to do improve what is out there? Second, what are we going to do to transform the organisation? I am bringing together three chunks of three very different organisations to try and create a new single organisation. That in itself presents a huge challenge. Our seven key areas for improvement are:

    1. Improving intelligence information and interoperability
    2. core police processes
    3. innovation in science and technology
    4. people management of the service (recruitment, development, deployment and leadership)
    5. managing change (the way we roll out national programmes and the way we balance that with local requirements)
    6. critical national infrastructure of policing
    7. responsiveness and accountability of policing.
If you take those seven priorities and work them into the budget, by far the largest part of it will be spent on critical national infrastructure. This is because we take in the police national computer system and all the services around that, such as the DNA database, the fingerprint database and all the support services.

Think about what has been going on in Suffolk [the investigation into the alleged murders of five prostitutes around Ipswich] in terms of being a major investigation. It would be impossible to conduct that type of investigation without the services the NPIA provides.

Q What will be the key benefits of the NPIA?

A The programme management function, the benefits teams, stakeholder communication and the service management of the programme are all elements which each change programme must have. Those four things are currently distributed across a multitude of areas and are not necessarily joined up. You could not see, until we worked on it in the last six months, a single 'benefit map' of the change programmes that we are trying to take forward in policing. Some programmes were delivering duplicated benefits. For example, if you wanted to track a theme such as identity management, you could find it in about half a dozen programmes but not in a way that was obviously joined up. We have begun to bring those programmes together. Some of those 'cross-cutting' themes are what really make programmes work better and deliver benefits more cheaply and effectively. We can identify these benefits quite quickly from managing a single portfolio.

The second benefit is that this initiative is led and owned by the police service, so we are aiming for continuous self-improvement where the service owns the agenda for change and agrees the commissions. We are not talking about a disconnect between what the centre is trying to achieve and what is being carried out locally. It is actually a joined-up agenda.

There is also the opportunity to change what is an un-joined up blend between delivery and commissioning, to a much more coherent model where we focus on strategy, innovation, architecture and design. We can make more careful, thoughtful choices about how much is actually delivered, managed and supported at the centre and how much is distributed and conducted within local forces.

Q What are the greatest challenges facing you in the coming year?

A In the first year it will just simply be coping with the level of expectation. We have got a substantial challenge making the budget add up. We are trying to do this at a time when the police service and the government are reducing the growth of police budgets. There are no reductions in the ambitions and the expectations of what we can achieve yet. So a combination of meeting the expectations and trying to decommission some of the things that we would have liked to have done will be hard work.

The agenda challenges are changing very fast indeed. The level of additional focus, for example, on policing terrorism is significantly greater than this time last year. We do not just have a significant existing layer of expectation, we have also got additional challenges that will need to be met during the course of next year. I have also got to try and create a single organisation with a single 'brand' out of a collection of tribes and different cultures - that will be a big challenge.

Q What are the greatest challenges facing UK policing?

A It depends whether you are talking about impact or volume and the two obviously have a connection. In terms of impact, meeting the challenge of terrorism combined with developing more effective ways to deal with the more serious criminal elements pose a serious challenge. Currently we are trying to police with 43 different forces which all have different capabilities.

Given that funding is flattening out, sustaining the changes that we have started to establish in the past three years in relation to neighbourhood policing will be hard. Neighbourhood policing is one of the biggest changes to frontline policing and has been one of the biggest changes I have seen in my 27-year career.

In the police we talk about policing as a 'laminate' - a series of layers that slot together. Operations from policing terrorism to policing neighbourhoods, which are frequently the same thing, are done by one unitary organisation. To get the correct mixture of skills, the right 'surge capacity' to deal with major incidents, combined with the right committed level of presence on the ground is a hell of a challenge.

Q Why did you take on such a complex and challenging role?

A Having been a chief constable for nearly three years, I had enough experience of trying to drive through major change programmes to appreciate the impact of those changes on the force was incredibly disconnected. Nobody disagrees that changes need to be made - the question is how far and how fast can you travel while keeping the business moving and performance sustained. I wanted to take that challenge on nationally.

Creating a new agency from existing agencies while trying to run the business that you are inheriting in the Home Office is certainly the most challenging thing I have ever done. I have dual nationality - Swiss-British - and this job involves me being a dual-national in every sense, both as a member of ACPO and as a director at the Home Office, which in itself has been an extremely challenging combination, in terms of identity and seeing different perspectives. It has been a challenging year even before we get to officially launch the organisation in April.

Dr Tobias Feakin is head of homeland security capabilities and editor of RUSI/Jane's Homeland Security Monitor.

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