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18.07.11

Having authority

When Nottinghamshire Police and its police authority were found to be failing, the Government demanded urgent change. Former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Alan Given, was brought in to solve the problem. He here speaks to PSE:

Just over a year ago, Nottinghamshire Police became the first force in the country to be made subject to a Capability Review and faced Government intervention to deal with the vast gulf between its performance and that of comparable forces.

More recently, however, the force has been trumpeting its best set of crime figures since 1981.

One of the people behind this rapid turnaround is Alan Given, a former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police as well as being a recipient of the Queen’s Police Medal. Given had previously been chief executive of Nottingham’s Crime & Drugs Partnership, before being appointed as ‘change manager’ and later interim chief executive of Nottinghamshire Police Authority.

He spoke frankly with Public Sector Executive about the problems the authority and police force were facing – and the importance of partnership working in turning the situation around.

He said: “It was very challenging, really, for a whole range of reasons. Police authorities across the country don’t have a fantastic reputation. There are questions about how they work and what they do. That’s one of the reasons the Government is looking at new police and crime commissioners because they’d like something else from the bodies overseeing the police.

“But if we look at Nottinghamshire Police Authority on its own, it was subjected to the first and only Capability Review, undertaken by senior people and necessitated by Government because it was considered to be failing.

“They looked at the police service at the same time and both of those were given anything other than a clean bill of health. They were found to be failing in a whole range of areas.”

New leadership

“They wanted to put new leadership into the police authority, and new, additional leadership into the police service,” he continued, “but turning up under those circumstances doesn’t necessarily make a person particularly popular. The people about whom the Capability Review was written were very much in denial about the problems – and about the ‘capability’ of people undertaking that Capability Review. They didn’t necessarily agree with the findings, and they thought some of it was focused too much on their authority, and not authorities in general.

“The police authority felt singled out for particular attention because the police service hadn’t been doing very well.

“So it was tough, turning up in those circumstances; things had become very difficult and performance was very poor. The same people were still in place, and that made things very difficult. It was clear we needed a new plan to take the police service and the police authority together in the same direction.

“But the overwhelming majority were against that idea, because they didn’t agree with the findings in the first place.

“We spent a fair bit of time on this. I took a couple of people with me who I’d worked with on the Crime & Drugs Partnership and we spent some time making our way through the findings of the Capability Review and previous HMIC inspections, and other reports, trying to find the areas of commonality and the things that seemed to pop up more than once or twice.

“From those, we developed an action plan that we took to the police authority. That first meeting with the authority was crucial. It was the one where we were going to get them to agree that changes had to be made, that not everything was their fault, but that they needed to improve and needed something against which they could be held to account.”

But the police authority ended up agreeing to the action plan in its entirety – and when Given and his colleagues asked if they wanted any more added to it, nothing was mentioned.

He said: “That led me to believe that they were either uninterested in it, or that we had captured everything, and I certainly don’t think they were uninterested, because we were talking about their livelihoods and reputations. Nobody wants to be part of something that’s failing, but it’s quite difficult sometimes to say that it is failing; we can all understand that.”

The action plan was also overseen by HMIC and the National Policing Improvement Agency, who featured in the last edition of PSE.

Oversight

A key failure of the police authority before Given’s time was actually overseeing the police service’s performance, which many would see as its main reason for existing. But “it hadn’t been doing it at all”, according to Given.

He went on: “The police service was producing figures to the authority that showed improvement but that weren’t necessarily very challenging and weren’t necessarily being challenged. They might have said ‘look, we’ve had a reduction in crime over a certain period of time’, and everybody would say ‘that’s good’, but the reality was that the forces against whom they were being compared were so much better anyway that the gap between them and others was getting bigger.

“Monitoring was being based on different baselines and different types of data, so it was very difficult to narrow down how things were being done and how performance was being measured.

“We spent a long time with the police and the authority agreeing a performance framework that everyone could sign up to; we all knew what we were trying to achieve. That was so successful that we no longer had to have an analytical capability within the police authority, we were able to use the same data the police service were using, because we all had access to it and all were able to look for reports from that data that told us what we wanted to know.”

Things improved quickly from that point. Given said: “We were no longer in a position of the police service saying one thing, the police authority saying something else, and the press saying something different again.

“We had the information, that everyone could share, and everybody understood. People hearing that might say ‘that’s an obvious thing to do’, and I guess it is, but getting people to sign up to it is enormously difficult: it means throwing away what they were doing before, or saying what they were doing before wasn’t good enough. That’s very difficult, in any organisation.

“But if the authority hadn’t improved, and things hadn’t gone the way they did, there was a very high likelihood that there would be some ‘next level’ of intervention from Government, and that could be placing people into the police authority or police service. We don’t know exactly what would have happened because no-one’s ever been there, but it would have been fairly dramatic, whatever it was, and it wouldn’t have been in anybody’s interests, so getting it right was very important.”

Culture change

In a statement, the authority said it was the arrival of three new members of the top team at the police service with “similar views” to Given that helped achieve a real cultural change in the force and its approach to performance monitoring and oversight.

Given explained: “We shared views on how we should challenge performance and that mediocrity isn’t even nearly ok. Pushing hard at something is a good thing, but you can always push harder, and we should be pushing the authority at every opportunity. Here we had the arrival of three new people who all wanted to do that. What we didn’t have to do was argue with them about where it was the right thing to do, they accepted that.

“In fact Chris Eyre, the new deputy chief constable, wanted to push even harder than I did, which was great. We were all singing off the same songsheet in terms of what we thought should happen, performance-wise, which was enormously valuable. What you don’t have to do then is deal with the other layers of management in the police service, who can say ‘oh, but our boss doesn’t want that’ – in this case, people looked up and all they saw was people saying the same thing. That was crucial to success: everyone articulates what they want to do, and then says the same things on that journey.

“There’s no question in my mind that these changes had a direct effect on crime figures. It’s no coincidence, following the Capability Review and the imposing of new leadership in the police service and police authority at the same time, that Nottinghamshire Police are now producing their best crime performance in over 30 years. It would be madness to suggest there was no correlation between those two.

“It would also be wrong to suggest the police authority have done it alone; it’s been a joint effort and has had a dramatic impact throughout the service. The people of Nottinghamshire deserve to have much lower crime levels.

“But more needs to be done and there’s only a certain speed at which some of these things can be done.”

On target?

The force is ‘closing’ on its targets, but is not there yet.

Given said: “They will get there in fairly short order. The distance between where Nottinghamshire Police and the average was huge. That’s why the capability review took place. It was so far out of kilter that it stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Now, crime across the country is dropping, so not only is Nottinghamshire trying to chase the average, they are chasing a ‘moving average’ – because they were so far off the pace, the better they improve, the quicker the average itself was improved. But they are catching it, and they are catching it at a pace.

“They are already the best performing force in the country in terms of improvement, but I think they will become one of the best performing forces in the country overall.”

Watch and learn

Are there lessons for local government and other public sector organisations in the way change and service transformation was achieved at Nottinghamshire Police and its authority?

Given had mixed feelings: “Yes and no,” he said. “The way police services and authorities operate together is relatively unique. People might think that it’s similar to the way fire services and fire authorities work, but the police authority has a specific role to play in driving down crime for the people of the county, which makes it fairly unique.

“Where I think we can learn from what happened, and people are learning this right now because of the austerity measures, is that for people who are in charge of partnerships or groups like this, it’s their responsibility to make sure that all of the people who are involved in something understand what part they can play in making improvements.

“If we look back at the Crime & Drugs Partnership, it has five statutory members: the police, police authority, fire & rescue service, the health service and the local authority. But, as an example, it’s difficult nationally for people in the health service to understand what they can do to impact on crime and drugs and anti-social behaviour. They have fairly tight budgets. What they want to do, quite rightly, is focus their money towards their own objectives set by Government or their own boards.

“Getting them to spend money on something they may not be sure about is enormously difficult. I think we should be spending time making sure that each of the partners understand what they can do to make an impact, and why they would do it.

“Otherwise people say ‘this is our money, we need to spend it on things that are important to us’. When money gets tight, people entrench themselves in their own organisations. They retreat away from partnerships; I think they should be stretching out the hand of partnership even further. Then, you can, with small amounts of money, get a bigger bang for your buck. But you need to produce a vehicle that can do that.

“When I was working on the Crime & Drugs Partnership, we developed the Weeks of Action programme, which had been enormously successful in the city of Nottingham. They were able to articulate to each partner what they were able to do, that would impact on crime and drugs, and how it would help their own agendas – and all of the partners got that.

“If you can do that, that’s the holy grail of partnership. People won’t involve themselves in partnerships just because it’s right thing to do. You might say ‘well, they should’; but they won’t. You need to find a reason for them to do it, and we were successful in doing that in the Crime & Drugs Partnership.

“I also think we were successful with that in the police authority, where we could get them to change their focus not just because it was the right thing to do but because they could see what was in it for them: getting off the radar of the capability review and Government.”

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