The below article was written by West Midlands Police Chief Constable, Chris Sims, in response to a story that ran in the Birmingham Post concerning the Business Partnering Program. If you’re interested to know more about the BPP initiative, check out this interview with Chief Superintendent Kay, head of the program itself, in which he answers questions on how the program will operate and addresses some of the concerns raised.
I WANTED to take this opportunity to respond to last week’s front page article which talked about ‘controversial plans’ to bring in the private sector to work with West Midlands Police and the ‘process of discovery’ that we have embarked upon.
Far from being a ‘process of discovery’ we are very clear about the reasons why we are considering working with a business partner. The proposal sits within a broader change agenda that aims to achieve our vision of serving our communities and protecting them from harm as well as reducing crime, improving satisfaction with our service and increasing trust and confidence in policing. All of these to be achieved against a hugely challenging financial backdrop.
Despite these funding challenges, overall crime levels across the West Midlands are now lower than at any time since 2002 and confidence in the force is high, with 85 per cent people saying we are doing a good job.
The dilemma we face is, how can we continue to improve high levels of performance across all levels of activity while under renewed future financial pressures? The last Comprehensive Spending Review resulted in a four year gap of £126m. Reductions in the next CSR could leave us exposed and vulnerable, with no scope to find future savings without resorting to potentially dangerous cuts in service. The concept of business partnering offers an exciting opportunity to make a quantum leap in how we conduct our business.
Given the potential future backdrop, how do we continue to improve the service that we provide, give people more rather than less choice and make the best use of our resources? Business transformation may provide the answer.
Transformation is much more than a fancy word for change. It is saying that to break out of this pattern and make both a step change in delivery and provide value for money there has to be sustained and integrated change activity.
So specifically what value will transformational change add to the organisation? We believe it will: create a radical new relationship with information, transforming how we access, collect, manage and use information; drive improved productivity from resources, build stronger connectivity between customers, citizens and partners; grow the capability of staff and improve the flexibility and cost effectiveness of providing logistical support.
Change has been policing’s constant companion for many years, driven by a variety of issues such as public expectations, legislation, new technology and professional curiosity. However, despite that the core operating principles of policing have hardly altered. We are still an organisation that relies on weight of numbers, remains essentially reactive in outlook, is overly geographic in the way we are organised and monolithic in the way we present ourselves to customers. Despite all the change and introduction of new technology, our control centres, parade rooms and CID offices have largely retained their same outlook, behaviour and operating style.
To achieve transformational change we need to break through this ‘glass ceiling’, which is a dense configuration of process, culture and technology. After all, the service has spent heavily on new technology, it has used consultants to bring in new ideas, it has a considerable reservoir of talent and knowledge yet none of these agents of change, on their own, has been sufficiently powerful to transform the way policing works.
Partnership with the private sector, properly incentivised to produce long term outcomes and embedded within the organisation, is the best route towards the transformation that policing needs.
So how would a partnership work? It would operate against three key principles: Firstly, expertise in policing rests with the police. British policing is revered around the world and its strength comes from putting skills and knowledge to use in a balanced and impartial manner that is subject to the highest levels of scrutiny. There is no appetite to change this. Secondly, the public entrust police officers with extraordinary powers to protect communities from harm. These powers should be operated in a way that is transparent and highly accountable. Thirdly, the partnership must operate within the values espoused by West Midlands Police to put the public first in first in everything we do, and to listen, learn and strive to improve.
Only by following these principles can the partnership protect the reputation of the force and continue to inspire people’s trust and confidence. Within these principles it is possible to envisage a partnership that can bring improved policing to the people of the West Midlands and a proper return to stakeholders of the commercial partner.
The concept of business partnering offers an exciting opportunity to make a quantum leap in how we conduct our business and how we continue to serve our communities and protect them from harm.
Of course, radical change carries some risk but the attitude of critics which amount to sitting back and doing nothing puts the future of West Midlands Police at even greater risk.
Chris Sims, West Midlands Police Chief Constable, May 2012