Reform of the emergency services

The Coalition Government, through the Home Office, has led an extensive programme of police reform.  Whilst the reforms seemed initially to increase the complexity of the policing landscape, notably the establishment of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCCs) positions, it is pleasing to see that PCCs are becoming more ‘intelligent customers’; on 20 October, ADS is hosting, with the Home Office and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, a police IT suppliers summit which will:

  • Demonstrate to industry how PCCs are becoming a more informed and collaborative customer, ready to leverage savings from combined purchasing power.
  • Provide a clear articulation of which new digital services forces are keen to buy collectively.
  • Allow suppliers to work with PCCs, forces and the Home Office to identify barriers to reducing the number and cost of local IT contracts and achieving a more innovative and efficient market.

The Home Office has also clarified its role in relation to policing functions.  The new Police Science and Technology Unit (PSTU) will:

  • Set the national strategic framework for police IT and develop strong governance mechanisms for delivery.
  • Be the key liaison and policy lead with PCCs.
  • Develop the national Police IT Portfolio plan and open this plan for consultation.
  • Establish an open standards working group and review current standards.
  • Develop a national biometrics and forensics strategy.

ADS influenced the formation and remit of the PSTU, as I explained earlier this year.

Many of the police reforms are, of course, highly political – and it is not clear that a different Government will continue with them (Labour, for instance, has criticised the PCC system).

That said, any future Government will face the same fiscal challenges.  It is therefore telling that the Home Secretary gave a speech to Reform earlier this week in which she specifically said that

With a still-large deficit and a record stock of debt, there will need to be further spending cuts, as even Labour acknowledge.

So in policing in the future, I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services.

The Home Secretary specifically suggested that the services should share back-office functions and be co-located on the same sites.

Some forces are already moving in this direction.  The Home Secretary referred to Northamptonshire, where Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has launched joint operations planning teams involving both the police and fire services.  Mr Simmonds has previously spoken about the future possibility of sending just one emergency vehicle to the scene of an accident – which would be equipped for all eventualities.

In March the then Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, also outlined examples where plans to share services were being put in place to save money.  These included the predicted saving of £4m in Hampshire where the police, fire service and Hampshire County Council are sharing offices and £3.5m expected to be saved in Merseyside where fire and police services are planning to share a control room.

In addition to the efficiencies that will be generated through further integration, politicians are also aware of the operational benefits that integration may bring (for example, in relation to interoperability).  I co-authored a report with Tobias Ellwood MP on this topic.

Underpinning any integration of the emergency services is industry.  BT, for example, was the enabler of a number of police forces merging their back office functions.  So, whilst budgets will remain tight if not decline, the fact that the financial situation will prompt new ways of working actually creates new opportunities for companies.