Cheshire PEEL 2018
How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?
Cheshire Constabulary is good at meeting current demand.
The constabulary is good at planning for the future. It has done some positive work to understand and predict future demand. The constabulary has a regular police presence within its communities and responds to public feedback. It has plans to introduce 50 more frontline roles.
The constabulary remains committed to local policing. It is making several improvements, such as making it easier for people to access its services online.
It manages its finances well and has made significant savings. Its focus has been on non-pay and protecting workforce numbers. It now needs to develop its longer-term plans.
How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?
This question was not subject to detailed inspection in 2018/19, and our judgment from the 2017 efficiency inspection has been carried over.
How well does the force plan for the future?
Areas for improvement
- The constabulary should develop and complete its understanding of likely future demand.
- The constabulary should develop and use an effective talent management programme. This would realise the potential of the workforce, and help develop for the future.
- The constabulary should review its training functions and plans to ensure they maximise the investment opportunities and provide the training needed for the workforce.
We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of its performance in this area.
Assessing future demand for services
Cheshire Constabulary was assessing future demand for its services, but this wasn’t complete when we inspected.
There have been significant senior leadership team changes since our last inspection in 2017. The constabulary is now in a stronger position to develop a better understanding of the future demand for its services, and the resourcing it will need.
It uses occupational capability reviews (OCRs) and priority-based budgeting (PBB) as part of its planning to understand its short to medium-term demand.
During the OCR process, senior leaders and departmental heads consider current and future trends and demands in their business areas when identifying resourcing needs. The findings from the OCR process are used in the PBB process and applied annually to every area of the constabulary. The PBB process produces budget predictions set against variable service levels. It considers the volume changes in demand set over the next two to three years. These processes are well-established and work well.
The constabulary has done some positive work to understand and predict future demand. It is using crime type forecasting and subject matter expert predictions to do this. While not yet complete, progress has been made in better understanding its future demand. However, during inspection, leaders found it easier to discuss demand and workforce requirements for the immediate future than beyond 12 months.
Examples of how the constabulary now better understands demand include:
- the force control centre (FCC) working with external consultants to ensure resourcing levels and shift patterns match demand – changes are made when necessary;
- improving compliance with national crime recording standards – this has resulted in a better understanding of true crime demand;
- analysing the increased recording of rape offences – the demand has doubled in the past three years;
- analysing demand relating to missing persons, causes, find rates, frequent missing persons, and the effectiveness of police processes; and
- developing the 2019 force management statement, which should improve its ability to predict future demand.
The constabulary is using more sophisticated technology to deal with future demand. The new command and control technology within the FCC helps manage the demand resulting from 999 and 101 calls for police services.
Frontline officers and staff have mobile devices so that they can remotely access data and carry out important tasks online. This helps them to work more efficiently while they remain a visible neighbourhood presence. The constabulary replaces and updates these mobile devices but acknowledges that more could be done to understand and realise the benefits from this investment.
Understanding public expectations
The constabulary works with local communities in many ways – for example, annual surveys, prioritising work that addresses neighbourhood concerns, and weekly neighbourhood surgeries in each of the 122 wards in the area. In Runcorn and Widnes, there have been developments with the Redeeming Our Communities charity, which aims to reduce crime.
The constabulary remains committed to local policing. There is a regular local police presence, which is what the public has come to expect. The commitment to neighbourhood policing puts Cheshire Constabulary in a strong position to support communities and act on public feedback.
The recent increases of £24 per band D property for 2019/20 was agreed by the police and crime commissioner (PCC) following public consultation. This came with a pledge that it will fund 50 more members of staff to work in frontline policing.
We were presented with evidence of public consultation, and the constabulary’s responses. These include:
- talking to residents to help make decisions about relocating police premises;
- using technology to make it easier for people to contact the constabulary and access its services; and
- holding consultation meetings about local issues, such as hunting, which has influenced policing decisions and activity.
There are plans to make it easier for the public to contact the constabulary and use its services. For example, it plans to join the single online home platform in 2019. People can already use the website to report hate crime, identify local priorities and request to contact an officer for advice.
Social media presence is now an important role of a PCSO, with named police accounts focused on local issues. Some PCSOs address activities such as speeding enforcement, which the PCC supports. As demand forecasting improves, PCSO deployments may need to be considered to better support demand reduction in communities and problem solving.
The priorities in the Police and Crime Plan 2016–21 are for a police service that:
- is connected with communities;
- supports victims and protects vulnerable people;
- prevents crime and anti-social behaviour; and
- is a police service that is fit for the future.
Cheshire Constabulary has performed well during austerity. Since 2010, it has made nearly £60m in savings. It has achieved most of this through non-pay budgets and back-office functions. This is a significant achievement which has resulted in the loss of just 135 officers.
The constabulary has sound management processes to manage future investments and resourcing. Any business case needing funding of more than £50k must be agreed by the PCC and must support the police and crime plan objectives.
In accordance with plans, 122 PCSOs have been allocated to the individual ward areas of Cheshire. The recently agreed increase for 2019/20 included a commitment to fund 43 more police officers and seven PCSOs. They would be dedicated to neighbourhood policing and tackling serious crime. The PCC asked the public if they agreed to the increase to support these areas of policing.
Cheshire Constabulary showed a good understanding of the skills needed to meet its medium-term demand. It should now focus on developing longer term plans.
It has a plan that shows a good understanding of the main staffing factors for the next 12-18 months. The workforce plan covers skills gaps, retirement profiles, diversity, detective capability and skills loss, together with actions to address these issues. Department managers use the OCR process to work with and consult colleagues.
The constabulary has begun to map the workforce’s skills and align them with future demand. It recognises the need to review its operating model and other structures to make sure it is fit for the future.
Recruiting more officers in 2019/20 will potentially pose a problem in terms of training resourcing. To prepare for this, the constabulary is developing recruitment and police apprenticeship training. It is also aware of the demands on tutors and detective training.
The constabulary is working with the University of Chester to develop the graduate recruitment scheme. The constabulary recognises that the increased number of people being recruited provides an opportunity to increase diversity. It has recruited more female officers at the higher ranks, including a deputy chief constable, a chief superintendent and superintendents.
The constabulary recognises that its workforce needs to be better equipped to deal with those with mental health issues. It has introduced a training programme for all frontline officers, to improve their awareness and skills.
While taking staff away from their work to take part in training is expensive, it is an essential investment for the future. The corporate training plan was still being developed when we inspected. While the staff we spoke to acknowledged that there was some very good training in place, they confirmed that it could sometimes be inconsistent and unplanned, with some specialist officers simply not bothering with it. This is inefficient.
The current method of training sergeants to then train their staff seemed unpopular. The constabulary would benefit from reviewing its training approach and plans to maximise investment opportunities and provide the skills needed.
All posts are advertised externally. We found evidence of skilled staff being recruited from other forces, including senior detectives and specialist police staff posts such as in fleet and change management. Graduates from the Police Now scheme have been recruited, and all nine remain with the constabulary. The constabulary has supported some secondment opportunities to provide development, but this can be limited by the number of detectives available.
Cheshire Constabulary has sound financial plans.
Following its 2010 consultation about revaluing public sector pensions, the government announced, in 2016 and 2018, reductions in the discount rate it uses to set contribution rates for the unfunded public service pension schemes. These include the police service pension scheme. A lower discount rate will result in higher contribution rates for the employer.
The official notification of a lower rate in September 2018 didn’t give PCCs time to include the impact in their financial planning. In December 2018, the Government announced a pension grant for 2019/20 for each PCC. It allocated funding to each force to help the police pay for these higher costs in the next year. PCCs must now plan how they will finance the increased costs, assessing the impact on their officer numbers and their ability to provide effective and efficient services.
Before the funding announcement, Cheshire Constabulary calculated that the pension contributions increase would total £5.5m for 2019/20. The constabulary knew it would have to lose a significant number of officers to make the savings required to fund this, and made plans to reduce the number of officers by 209. The increase in Government grant and pension funding reduces this gap to £0.5m. The recent £24 precept increase will mean the constabulary can meet the £0.5m pension contribution gap and invest in increasing the workforce, rather than reducing the number of staff.
Looking ahead to 2020/21, the constabulary believes that grants will remain the same and is planning around a £12 precept increase.
After 2020/21, the constabulary is assuming there will be a one percent reduction in core grant and is working on several different scenarios. It is also considering future pay awards at various rates and assessing the impact. The constabulary uses a range of methods to test financial assumptions, including bi-monthly Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society meetings, quarterly meetings with regional heads of finance, and advice from National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) leads.
The constabulary has a good record of making savings, with a focus on identifying savings from non-pay and protecting workforce numbers, specifically frontline policing. With a £24 precept increase, the savings requirement for 2019/20 was reported as £1.3m with these efficiencies identified through PBB. The savings requirement for 2020/21 was £0.955m, with efficiencies still to be identified to meet this.
The PCC maintains a reserves strategy which covers the period 2018/19 to 2020/21. During this period, it maintains a £5.273m general reserve (just above 3 percent of the net budget requirement). The reserves strategy also includes a redundancy reserve of £0.632m – these are funds held in case there are redundancies in the future.
Also included within the strategy is a reserve of £1.136m. This was created at the start of the austerity period to help ‘invest to save’ initiatives. The constabulary had sold some of its buildings. It has found opportunities that mean some staff can work alongside colleagues from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS). The proceeds from these sales have mainly been used to support the capital programme.
The constabulary is looking to move to other locations that will mean more staff work in the same locations as other CFRS staff. These plans to sell existing buildings could make several million pounds available. This would reduce the amount of borrowing to fund capital investment.
Leadership and workforce development
The constabulary has a people strategy which covers 2018–21. It shows the direction the constabulary intends to take. Current workforce capabilities can be accessed via an online self-service system for managers. We examined this and saw that skills could be easily seen.
All promotions and vacancies are advertised externally. This helps develop the skills and experience needed for the future. For example, staff who join police ranks from areas including fleet and change management bring different skills. People who have recently transferred to the constabulary, or have been promoted there, are improving the workforce mix in senior ranks.
Cheshire Constabulary has brought in graduate recruits from the Police Now scheme and direct entry officers. We found evidence of potential new leaders being identified, ahead of people leaving – for example, the recently appointed head of public protection and paedophile crime investigation posts. But apart from this, we found limited succession planning. This view was shared by staff we spoke to.
The constabulary has continued to promote at all ranks. Officers are provided with acting rank opportunities. But supervisors told us there could be more support and preparation. The people we spoke to felt that career pathways seemed limited, especially in police staff roles.
The constabulary doesn’t have an effective talent management scheme. In our 2017 inspection report, we highlighted that the talent processes could be improved and made more consistent. This year, we found a consistent lack of knowledge among the workforce about the talent management scheme. The constabulary would benefit from developing its talent programme.
Ambition to improve
Cheshire Constabulary can now set a clear direction for the future. Its new chief officer team is already planning changes to improve the service. The chief constable’s ambition is for the constabulary to be among the best nationally in dealing with domestic abuse.
The change programme so far has focused on IT. This has resulted in investments and improvements in IT capabilities for the future. While this brings advantages, other operational aspects have remained unchanged for several years. The leadership recognises this and change now needs to focus operationally. There is appreciation that local policing in eight local policing units across four local authority areas could be done more efficiently.
Superintendents have already been allocated to areas to examine new ways to improve services. The constabulary has a traditional CID/PPD split. Leaders are keen to explore more resilient ways of detective working for the future.
Internal reviews are planned for 2019/20. These reviews will focus on improving service and making more savings. The constabulary has a strong track record of collaborative working. The tri-force NICHE programme – an intelligence-sharing platform and database – with Merseyside and North Wales Police is now live. More NICHE improvements are planned. The joint estates programme with CFRS has made savings and established new ways of mixed team working. For example, the head of police finance is also the head of fire finance. The firearms alliance with North Wales Police brings efficiencies in joint resourcing, training and management. The constabulary is exploring other ways of joint working.
The constabulary aims to bring in specific skills needed to achieve change at the pace and scale required. Financial and IT plans are subject to challenge and scrutiny, with benefits expected as part of the programme.
The constabulary doesn’t have project managers. It relies on experts being seconded into the project to provide operational knowledge.
Local policing remains a priority for the chief constable and the PCC. To achieve this, and to retain as many police officer numbers as possible in future, the constabulary has realised savings by reviewing its infrastructure and estate.
Running costs are understood and all contracts are reviewed for affordability and service delivery. The constabulary has invested in solar power, which is now returning a profit. It has also downsized and shares property with CFRS. These changes have contributed to the constabulary saving nearly £60m since 2010, while only losing 135 officers.Summary for question 2