A thinktank report into cutting costs in UK police authorities has pointed to outsourcing and shared services as a way of meeting government targets while retaining frontline staff.
The Policy Exchange's report - titled Cost of Cops: manpower and deployment in policing - recommends a programme of shared services and outsourcing back office functions.
Some reports have suggested 16,000 frontline police jobs will need to be cut to achieve 20% government savings targets. But the recent riots in UK cities brought home the importance of uniformed officers.
The Policy Exchange report calls for police authorities to outsource and share back-office functions. This will cut costs and free-up fully trained officers to return to the front line. Police authorities across the UK currently have officers working in the back office.
"Greater outsourcing will deliver resource efficiencies and redeployment opportunities that will help protect the frontline, but years of tentative steps by individual police authorities have not delivered savings on the scale necessary. Only a degree of incentivisation from the Home Office will encourage police authorities to strip out cost and free up officers for the front-line through a bold programme of shared services and outsourcing of back office functions," said the Policy Exchange report.
"The Home Office should establish an incentive scheme for early movers in the outsourcing of these additional areas and produce a menu of options for forces, so police leaders are aware of the reform and business transformation approaches available, but any deals should be brokered locally."
Police authorities' back-office investment
Each police authority traditionally has its own back-office processes such as HR and payroll. This means there is significant overlap across police authorities. There are 23,100 staff involved with the back office at the 40-plus police forces in England and Wales.
Replacing trained police in the back office will enable trained officers to fill gaps on the front line.
John Torrie - CEO at Steria, which provides a shared service to Cleveland Police - said there were vacancies at Cleveland for uniformed police officers but the authority could not afford to fill them. Torrie said putting civilians in the back office will mean uniformed officers can be redeployed.
The Policy Exchange report singled out Cleveland Police for praise as the only force to have outsourced extensively. It said Cleveland is incomparable with other forces which have not outsourced a substantial part of their civilian functions.
Cleveland Police Authority was the first customer of Steria's shared services offering targeted at UK police forces. The authority is spending £175m over the next decade on shared services and expects £50m in savings in that time. In June Cleveland Police said its plans to extend the Steria shared services deal will save almost £10m, on top of £50m already identified.
The deal is the first of its kind for Steria, which is targeting a shared services model at police authorities across the UK. It offers shared services such as finance, HR, payroll, commissioning and fleet management in Steria's dedicated datacentres. When other forces sign up, they will use the same infrastructure.
The cost savings come from efficiencies but there were no redundancies. A total of 470 civilian staff at Cleveland Police Authority moved to Steria with more than 200 remaining at the police authority. As with any shared service, the more organisations that join, the higher the savings. Although those that join later will be faced with cutting more staff because the service will be already staffed.
Audit Commission 2010 report
But police authorities are not all convinced and incentives might be key. A report last year from the Audit Commission said a lack of ambition for back-office savings in police authorities could hold back value for money. Despite the availability of shared services platforms and cloud computing, only about 25% of chief constables believe any more savings can be made in the back office.
The Audit Commission report, Sustaining value for money in the police service, concluded that police in England and Wales could save up to £1bn without reducing the availability of frontline police jobs. This represents 12% of current government funding. It said in the year 2007/08 the police made a quarter of its total £224m savings through back-office cuts. But the report said police forces need to do more. "A lack of ambition for back-office savings is a barrier to achieving value for money," said the report.
Torrie at Steria said there is a lot of activity in the market, informing police authorities of what they can do with shared services. There are also a few authorities in the market for suppliers.
Suppliers are increasing their understanding of how police authorities work. For example, Capgemini named Roy Toner as CIO of its Criminal Justice Sector unit. Toner had a 30-year career in the police force, where he held roles such as a deputy and assistant chief constable.
Toner said at the time of the appointment: "Exploiting today's technologies offers police forces the prospect of immense gains in efficiency and cost effectiveness at all levels, from front-line officers to back-office support, and my mission is to help the police across the UK to deploy such technologies with maximum speed and effectiveness. This programme will include working with police forces to exploit the potential of shared services, to streamline data handling by improved integration of IT, and to understand how to apply the power of cloud computing."
Cost of Cops: manpower and deployment in policing is not the first report to highlight outsourcing and shared services as a way of cutting police costs while retaining frontline services. It will probably not be the last. The perceived success of Cleveland's shared service, fears of frontline police cuts and the recent riots could create the perfect storm for shared back office services across police authorities in the UK.