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Northumbria PEEL 2018


How efficiently does the force operate and how sustainable are its services to the public?

Last updated 09/09/2019
Requires improvement

Northumbria Police requires improvement so that it operates efficiently and its services are sustainable.

The force needs to improve its understanding of demand for its services, including hidden demand. This should help it to make best use of its resources to meet the needs of the public. Its new operating model and command and control system should help address these problems. The force will need to manage the move to these new ways of working carefully.

The force also needs to do more to understand what the public wants from its police force and how it may wish to interact with the force in the future.

The force requires improvement in the way it plans for the future. It works well with other organisations to meet demand but doesn’t do enough to analyse data from these partners.

Northumbria Police should audit the skills of its workforce, including leadership skills. This would help the force to understand capacity and capability, and to improve its understanding of the workforce skills needed for the future.

Questions for Efficiency


How well does the force use its resources to meet the demand it faces?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should undertake further work to gain a better understanding of current demand for its services, including hidden demand. This is so that it can make best use of its resources to meet the needs of the public.
  • The force should conduct a workforce skills audit that will allow it to understand workforce capacity and capability.
  • The force should ensure that its resource allocation allows it to respond appropriately to urgent calls for service particularly for incidents concerning vulnerable persons.
  • The force should make sure it is fully aware of officer and staff workload when allocating and deploying resource.
  • The force should make sure that its understanding of the demand for its services demonstrates an awareness of the impact that partner agencies have on its demand; it should have a system in place to make sure that this impact is managed; and it should have a way of making sure that the force shares sufficient data to take the necessary steps to meet current and likely future demand.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Assessing current demand

The force is struggling to cope with increased and different demand. Over the past year, it has experienced an increase in calls, with 14 percent more emergency calls and 11 percent more 101 calls. Over the longer term, the emergence of social media and cyber crime has brought increases in stalking and harassment and the introduction of new offence types, such as sending letters or social media messages with intent to cause distress or anxiety.

Some cases involving vulnerable people aren’t being dealt with quickly enough. For example, there has been a significant rise in incidents related to vulnerability that have gone into the grade 3 (attendance within 4 hours) and grade 4 scheduled appointment 48 or 72 hours) queues. This means that they aren’t allocated to an investigator as soon as possible, as they should be.

The force is developing a new operating model to address the problem of increased and different demand. As part of its stepped approach to introducing change and improvement through its new operating model, the force launched a new call handling structure in April 2019. The main changes included:

  • the creation of a primary investigation centre to deal with all incidents and crimes that have not been graded as immediate or priority;
  • an increase in the communications and operations department, to support the primary investigation centre; and
  • allocating four-hour slots for the telephone investigation unit to resolve a call.

We look forward to assessing the new model in our next inspection.

Better community intelligence should help the force to understand hidden demand. It has done some work on this: for example, neighbourhood teams are asked to make enquiries about modern-day slavery and human trafficking, officers are designated as single points of contact for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, and initiatives are implemented such as Operation Vienna that deals with communities less likely to report crime, such as sex workers. The force has also retained the role of missing persons co-ordinators. With West Yorkshire Police and academics from Manchester University, the force is part of the N8 consortium (a collaboration of the eight most research-intensive universities in the north of England, which aims to enable and foster research collaboration that will help address the problems of policing in the 21st century and achieve international excellence in policing research and impact).

Understanding factors that influence demand

The force doesn’t fully understand all the factors that influence demand. It has done some analysis of demand: for example, reviewing when its busy periods are compared with the staff available, the crime types and the grades of incidents. However, the force’s IT systems aren’t fit for purpose, which limits its ability to understand data in depth. The performance management tool, QlikView, provides some analysis of day-to-day data, but it is bringing in new systems, such as Qlik Sense, that should help with this. The force also needs to look more carefully at hidden demand and inefficiencies in its working practices.

The force is in the process of analysing the demand for specific teams and undertaking shift pattern analysis to inform the new operating model. It is assessing the demand associated with the new ways of working for neighbourhood teams that are now managing the RSOs. Additionally, the force is examining data on live cases per detective sergeant and comparing this across the three command areas to see what the demand is around investigation.

The force seeks to understand how its own internal processes create unnecessary or hidden demand. To avoid creating more demand, its approach to implementing change is to take small steps and a sequenced approach rather than a ‘big bang’ approach. An example of this is its work with North Yorkshire Police to establish an evidence base to pilot a new rural policing model (rather than embark on wholescale change).

However, the force doesn’t always understand the things that affect demand and present risk. Inefficient ways of working can suppress or hide demand. For example, when we visited the control room and reviewed incidents containing vulnerabilities, we found that response times for grade 2 incidents (attendance as soon as possible and in any case within one hour) had been missed. In one instance, we found that the grade 2 response time was met by a phone call within the hour to arrange a future appointment. And the lists of the grade 2 incidents don’t effectively highlight vulnerability. In those we sampled, 50 percent failed the grade 2 response times. This means that the force may be inadvertently suppressing demand.

Working with others to meet demand

The force works well with other organisations to meet demand. In all six local authority areas, Northumbria Police works with partner agencies, including health, children’s services and local authorities. Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside each have a MASH, where the services collaborate on protecting vulnerable people. South Tyneside has an integrated safeguarding intervention team, and Sunderland has an integrated contact and referral team.

The safer neighbourhood partnership is a meeting at which the force works with other agencies to tackle local problems. For example, the partnership recently adopted a new approach to managing street begging, which was previously seen solely as a police matter. The local authority has now taken responsibility for dealing with it, chairing the meetings and leading the work. The mental health street triage car is another successful collaboration.

Collaboration has also helped the force to identify hidden demand. For example, it worked with private landlords and housing officers on preventing cannabis cultivation. Recently, it identified property ownership by an OCG member where cannabis was being cultivated. For one of the properties, because of a licensing issue, the force was able to disclose to the licensing team that this person owned additional properties and so could afford the increased fine for not disclosing ownership (fined £60,000). Because of the property ownership, the individual was prosecuted and this prevented the cannabis cultivation.

The force and its partner agencies, such as local authorities, have worked together to involve local communities in solving problems. For example, they used a survey in the Bensham area to ask residents what their local problems were. The force then worked with environmental officers from the council to carry out street clean-ups, removing litter, fly tipping, vehicles, bin bags, etc. In ‘World Café’ events, the force questions focus groups of local residents on what is good about their area, and asks for suggestions about how problems could be resolved. The force has carried out seven of these events, with four in the central area command.

However, the force hasn’t done enough to analyse data from its partners to understand demand. It hasn’t fully assessed, for example, how reductions in social care resources might affect police work. As a result, the evidence base underpinning some of the force’s change plans isn’t as robust as it should be.

Innovation and new opportunities

The force has changed its processes and policies to increase its efficiency. It has streamlined processes for out-of-court disposals and in the youth offending team. It has introduced a new investigative assessment framework to ensure proportionate investigations, and supplied officers with new equipment including body-worn video cameras and tablets.

The force has involved the workforce in tackling wasteful demand. For example, following consultation with staff, it changed its policy on shoplifting so that, if a supermarket leaves a beer promotion in an unsecure foyer, officers won’t be deployed and any shoplifting won’t be investigated. The idea is to give officers more time to deal with vulnerable people. Following the 2016 staff survey, the force introduced a staff feedback mechanism, and it is now using a commercial employee feedback platform.

The force has also been innovative in dealing with domestic abuse. It is developing an early intervention programme, which involves investing in schools’ liaison officers and working with academics to understand how childhood experiences cause people to become abusers later in life. The force will be the first to start recording incidents involving adult to parent violence and abuse. This should provide opportunities for early intervention and breaking the cycle at an earlier stage.

Investment and benefits

The force makes investment decisions to achieve savings and change the way it works. The savings it has achieved from March 2010 to March 2018 have been mainly made by a 28 percent reduction of the workforce. Following consultation with the public, the police and crime commissioner (PCC) approved an increase in council tax for 2019/20, which will be invested in policing including new officers and staff. Savings and efficiencies will be delivered wherever possible to sustain the investment in policing and continue to support local policing services in the face of a challenging financial situation. The force has a Transformation 2025 programme to achieve change in how it works. Based on its analysis of demand, it plans to invest in extending cyber crime capabilities, providing support to victims of crime, protecting the most vulnerable people in its communities, preventing child sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery, and developing anti-terrorism and firearms capabilities.

The force has made an important investment in keeping its neighbourhood policing model. Its activity analysis showed that neighbourhood officers spent most of their time providing safeguarding, engaging with communities and undertaking a range of non-neighbourhood tasks such as backfilling for response police officers. PCSOs spent a large proportion of their time on crime prevention activities and engaging with communities. The activity analysis also found opportunities to create capacity within the existing neighbourhood teams by providing greater role clarity and prioritising tasks, improving inefficient working practices and reducing resource abstractions to backfill response policing. It also showed that the capability of the teams could be enhanced by ensuring that tasks that do not need warranted powers are undertaken, when possible, by PCSOs. With investment in the right support and training, the upskilling of PCSOs created capacity for neighbourhood policing teams to take responsibility for the management of low- and medium-risk sex offenders.

Prioritising different types of demand

The force doesn’t prioritise demand effectively and its response to higher-priority incidents is inconsistent. There are differences in performance from one territorial command to another in how they are meeting attendance targets around grade 1 incidents (emergency) and grade 2 (attendance within an hour). For example, performance figures in November 2018 for the southern area command showed it was attending only 66 percent of its grade 2 incidents within the target of one hour. Some response teams routinely delay attending grade 2 incidents because there isn’t anyone available.

Although call takers use the THRIVE model to assess risk, there is no clear rationale behind the grade 3 status, which requires attendance within four hours, other than instances where a caller won’t accept an appointment. In our dip-sample of incident logs, we found several calls in which the caller in a grade 3 incident waited longer to be seen by a police officer than if they had been graded 4 (which requires a scheduled appointment with attendance within 48 hours unless the caller requests a later appointment, in which case attendance is deferred to 72 hours). During our inspection, the force brought forward its decision to remove grade 3 deployment from its policies.

The force performs better on grade 4 incidents. Appropriate incidents to this category include criminal damage; auto crime; thefts; neighbour disputes; and complaints about driving. The appointment system isn’t appropriate for incidents in which officers need to gather forensic evidence.

Assigning resources to demand and understanding their costs

The force has a good understanding of the cost of services. Members of the chief officer team are conscious that the force has low financial reserves and makes decisions accordingly. The force has a strategic resourcing board and the medium-term financial strategy is based on workforce numbers. It can show flexibility in how it allocates resources. Examples of this include the increase in safeguarding capacity and the move of six police constable posts into the MASHs.

Workforce capabilities

Northumbria Police knows that its current operating model isn’t the best way to meet demand. The force management statement shows that neither the workforce composition nor the shift system is aligned to demand. It has reviewed its ways of working and is introducing a new operating model.

Under the new operating model, response teams will be responsible for attending grade 1 and grade 2 incidents providing initial investigation and as specialists in providing immediate safeguarding. Further investigative capacity will be provided by PIP level 1 and PIP level 2 police officers and police staff investigators.

Response teams, investigation teams and neighbourhood teams will be moving to a new demand-led shift pattern. Neighbourhood teams will be ‘ring fenced’ under the new model, with neighbourhood staff able to concentrate on problem solving.Beat managers will assume responsibility for the management of low-level RSOs – something that has already been piloted. The model will also have centralised telephone resolution, investigation and allocation teams.

When designing the new operating model, the force visited Thames Valley Police to review its current operating model. Northumbria Police has involved a consultancy firm in the remodelling programme and has already consulted the workforce on the proposed changes. This programme will run independently of the proposed purchase of a new command and control system. The force believes that implementing both these major changes as one overall programme would be too complex.

The force will therefore have to manage this transition very carefully. There are risks in introducing it at the same time as the new command and control system. Other concerns include the potential de-skilling of response officers and the possible subsequent failings in primary investigation standards because officers can only respond to grade 1 and 2 incidents and do not go on to investigate. The force will need to think about how to maintain current performance levels in the remaining months of the existing operating model. Because the new model was due to be in place after our inspection, we look forward to assessing its progress and impact.

The force hasn’t done a force-wide skills audit. There is a well-resourced training plan that includes disclosure, firearms capability, investigative skills and family liaison. In some areas of the force, managers are good at identifying career pathways and succession planning. However, in the medium- and long-term, the force needs to develop a better understanding of its workforce’s leadership skills. It should consider not only ‘hard skills’ like command and control but also broader qualities and values and what it wants from its leaders.

More efficient ways of working

The force has carried out some cost-benefit analysis, including work on the benefits of increasing the number of detective sergeants in CID. This aimed to make sure that everyone knows what effect this has had and that it is truly worth the investment.

The force co-ordinates and undertakes evaluation activity on new projects and has dedicated evaluation staff and strong relationships with its local universities and the N8. The collaboration seeks to establish and formalise a regional network of research and innovation in policing. It will provide a platform for collaboration between universities, PCCs, government, police forces and other partners working in policing policy, governance and practice. Benefits realisation for change will be reported at the force governance meetings.

Working with others

Northumbria Police works well with others. Police are co-located with partners in all areas except Newcastle. This approach brings the relevant professionals together to facilitate early and better-quality information sharing, analysis and joint decision making, and co-ordinated intervention to safeguard the vulnerable.

However, the force doesn’t evaluate or understand the benefits of its collaborative working. Benefits realisation is a gap: for example, the MATAC / integrated offender management / MOSOVO benefits realisation is immature. The force intends to fill the gap by recruiting a transformation change manager. It has put a lot of resource into its change team without being clear about its purpose. So a big part of the new manager’s role will be to provide the outcomes data the force needs to assess benefits realisation. The force is also looking to learn from West Midlands and Avon and Somerset police forces.

The force is considering how its partnership and collaborative work supports its proposed future operating model. An assistant chief constable has the task of evaluating what effect the changes in the operating model might have on what the force needs from partners. This is to be done by assessing the effect of change, the effect of change on communities and then working with partners to fill any service gaps. This presents an opportunity to develop new partnerships and be shrewder in partnership working by developing the force strategy to look two to three years ahead in each area of policing. The force should consider the new operating model, understand the gaps and work with partner organisations to make sure those gaps are filled.

Using technology

The force needs better IT to make its service more efficient and effective. Technology is a crucial part of the force’s restructuring programme. It has an ambitious IT strategy, with £27m of capital investment allocated to the medium-term financial strategy for technology over the next four years.

An important element of the strategy is the replacement of the force’s bespoke crime management system (Northumbria Police Integrated Computer and Communications System, or NPICCS). A 2012 review recommended retaining NPICCS but modernising it. In 2016, another review found that it had many weaknesses and gaps that made it unfit for purpose. It collects data but doesn’t allow the force to make links or cross-reference information. This makes it difficult to turn raw data into actionable intelligence, or to identify threats and vulnerabilities.

The force wants to transform its capabilities using technology. Its plans cover many areas. These include, for example, digital investigation and intelligence, case management, information sharing, extended use of mobile technology and a refresh of all user devices.

Summary for question 1

How well does the force plan for the future?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The force should carry out more work to make sure its assumptions in relation to future demand are based on sound evidence and analysis so that resources can be best allocated.
  • To enable the force to effectively manage current and future demand it should ensure that its ICT planning is closely aligned with its future plans and wider change programme arrangements.
  • The force should ensure its strategic plans are aligned with financial planning and that the force’s medium-term planning is sustainable to provide financial security and investment in service improvement.
  • The force should conduct a leadership skills audit that will allow it to understand leadership capacity and capability.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the force’s performance in this area.

Assessing future demand for services

The force’s ability to assess future demand is limited. Its IT system is antiquated and doesn’t record all the necessary information. The force uses all the data it can access, including information from partner agencies, to build up its understanding of emerging crime types. It could do more, however, to work with others to build a comprehensive picture of future demand.

The force’s strategic risk assessment lays out the current, emerging and long-term threats posed by a wide range of criminal and illegal activities, including digital and cyber crime, foreign national offending, drugs, firearms and burglary. It recommends action to mitigate those risks and identifies four wider areas it needs to improve: technology; the crime management system (NPICCS); data quality; and training.

The strategic assessment is based on many sources of information, including environmental scanning, various national reports, local authority priorities, plans and surveys, and changes in crime types and patterns. Along with the police and crime plan, the strategic assessment is used to define the force control strategy for the year ahead. The control strategy for 2018/19 outlines the six priority areas for the force:

  1. anti-social behaviour;
  2. child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and serious sexual offending;
  3. counter-terrorism and domestic extremism;
  4. signal crime (any emerging crime types where threat, risk and harm have the potential to have an impact on the public);
  5. organised crime; and
  6. cyber crime.

These priorities have been communicated to the workforce in several ways, including on posters on the walls of stations and on screen savers.

The strategy includes an assessment of the threats and opportunities presented by technology. The document points out that technology facilitates almost every crime type. It can be difficult for the force to identify, record and investigate incidents that cross geographical boundaries. There is also great pressure on specialist resources such as the digital forensic unit.

The force’s NPICCS was designed during the mid-1980s. It is an antiquated system that isn’t designed to identify, record or extract data on the range of current threats. It records crime types but doesn’t include information about activity and factors that support and enable crime such as cyber, vulnerability, drugs and alcohol. Officers have to record this in databases and spreadsheets, which makes it difficult to develop a good intelligence picture. Many crimes and incidents are not correctly flagged on the system, either because officers aren’t aware of the problem or because there are too many different flags to choose from. As a result, Northumbria Police has based its future planning on imprecise information.

Understanding public expectations

The force hasn’t consulted enough with the public on the new operating model. It needs to review how it is using its engagement and consultation strategy to make sure that it understands the changing needs of the community. The information obtained from such engagement should inform and shape its future plans, including how public expectations are changing and how the public may wish to interact with the force in the future.

The OPCC periodically consults the public on crime priorities for the area and changes to any precept contribution. The force uses this information to shape its plans.

The force will be implementing a ‘single online home’ as part of a national initiative to offer the public a consistent way of accessing police services digitally. There will be a standard platform for all 43 forces across England and Wales, which will allow people to report crimes of various types and to be updated on progress. In partnership with the six local authorities, the force has also rolled out an application called ‘My Street Northumbria’, which directs users to the right agency to deal with their problem. It has developed its use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and online reporting of incidents.


The force needs to do more work on its strategic planning framework to make sure that financial resources and the workforce plan are aligned to the force’s understanding of demand. The force already knows that its current operating model is out of kilter with current demand. Staff and officers aren’t aligned to demand in the workforce composition or shift systems and the force needs more detectives. As a result, the force has commissioned a change programme to bring in a new operating model during 2019. This is in three phases through to 2021 and includes the 2018 launch of the customer service centre to handle non-incident calls, and the six MASH hubs and MOSOVO. It covers all aspects of the way the force works, its use of technology, training and data.

Future workforce

The force has identified the skills it needs to develop its workforce and has a well-resourced training plan. Training requirements are linked through to the strategic assessment where an evaluation of skills is undertaken as to what skills will be needed in the future. This is then linked through and recorded on the human resources management system. The human resources department keeps a record of training and development, and a skills database that is monitored monthly.

The force is aware of capability and capacity gaps: for example, the lack of investigators trained to take on serious crimes. As part of the force’s raising investigation standards programme, it has targeted training and development to bridge this gap. This includes developing career pathways for investigators.

All senior posts are advertised externally. The force currently takes part in Police Now and direct entry schemes for inspectors, and is considering doing the same for superintendents. Through these schemes and the apprenticeship framework, the force is hoping to increase workforce diversity in areas such as investigation and safeguarding where there is a requirement to increase levels of capacity and capability.

However, it needs to do more work to fully understand the future workforce requirements because it hasn’t yet finalised the numbers and the skill set required for the workforce in the new operating model. The force also needs to plan how to manage the workforce through a significant period of change.

Finance plans

Financial plans are built on realistic, sound assumptions about future funding levels, inflation and council tax levels, which are agreed with the OPCC, but more could be done to make sure that financial plans are better aligned with the change programme and future demand. Northumbria Police has benefited from an increase in the council tax precept of £24 for band D properties in 2019/20.

The force has been using its reserves to cover funding gaps since 2010. General reserves reduced from £71.0m in 2010 to £9.4m in March 2018, a reduction of 87 percent. The force understands that the use of reserves isn’t a sustainable option, and that this strategy must change. A recent survey by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society (PACCTS)’s technical support team found that, in 2018, Northumbria held the second lowest levels of all forces in England of both earmarked and general reserves (as a percentage of net revenue expenditure).

The force has a four-year medium-term financial strategy to achieve the savings needed to operate within available funding.

Leadership and workforce development

The force must do more work to develop its understanding of its workforce’s leadership skills and capabilities in the medium and long term. With the forming of the people service directorate, there is an opportunity for the force to review its approach to leadership and develop a strategy to improve the leadership effectiveness across the workforce.

The standard of behaviour expected of officers in Northumbria Police is described in its competency and value framework as well as in the Code of Ethics. The framework now drives people processes including recruitment, selection, promotion and development. The force is increasingly putting more emphasis on personal development review (PDR) conversations that aim to support it in moving towards a learning organisation with a focus on personal responsibility and performance management.

For the past year, the force has been running a leadership programme – the Achieve Programme. This includes induction and leadership development for newly promoted sergeants, inspectors and police staff. Additional management courses, the LEAD Scheme (accredited by the Chartered Management Institute), 360-degree feedback, and mentoring and coaching are available for anyone looking to develop and improve their leadership and professional development. There is a push to embrace supportive leadership and the force has used the programme to embed that.

Development for police staff is done more on an individual and team basis rather than as a comprehensive force-wide approach. The force is trying to include staff more through initiatives such as the management toolkit. Work has been undertaken with teams to help them develop, for example, continuing professional development. It is still in its infancy and is reactive. The plan is to roll it out across the force, but it was recognised that the force needs to invest more resource because the current structure doesn’t have the capacity. The feedback to date has been positive. There is a leadership and talent strategy and the force is building awareness and understanding of skills, strengths and aspirations.

Succession planning for senior leaders within the organisation could be improved. Senior leaders at superintendent, chief superintendent and police staff equivalent levels would benefit from a more structured formalised development programme focusing on developing ability and leadership skills.

Ambition to improve

The force has shown that it has the ambition to improve. The new operating model aims to transform the way it provides services, maximising effectiveness and efficiency, while supporting the wellbeing of its people. Different areas of the plan have been reviewed by the College of Policing, private sector organisations and peer reviewers including Durham and Cleveland police forces. The force has also visited other forces while designing the operating model and brought in transferees at a senior level. It now wants to bring in an experienced manager to oversee the change programme and has decided to accept direct entry from private industry. With a dedicated team working on this, the force clearly wants to develop a better understanding of demand, capacity and capability gaps, and innovative solutions.

In 2018, the force changed its priorities regarding income generation and collaboration. Previously, the decisions were about meeting short-term needs and, as a result, the force felt these efforts tended to be fragmented and unsustainable. It now approaches collaboration opportunities for long-term success using a growth matrix, which identifies the type and maturity of these partnerships. Using the collaboration matrix, the force plots future potential, and explores opportunities to grow communication and information sharing to become a collaboration where all partners are altering activities; changing how they do things for the better; and sharing resources, such as skills and equipment – all for a mutual benefit. As an example, with the emergency services collaboration group, the force plotted purely statutory and emergency services collaborations on a sub-matrix to help prioritise efforts, as well
as to help decide on how far they hope to progress some of the opportunities to work together.

Even though the force is increasing its change capacity, it needs to make sure that plans for the future are based on a clear understanding of future demand, workforce capacity and capability, and all achieving the strategic vision.

Summary for question 2