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Collaborations: Cohesive or crumbling?

This is the speech by Vice President Paul Griffiths to the Association’s 2018 conference. You can also view this as an infographic: PSA Collaboration 2018 web PDF.

As your national team have been travelling around the country and meeting our colleagues, we started to see increasing problems emerging around collaborations and alliances.

As senior operational leaders, our members dominate the collaboration leadership and hold a unique position across the shared landscape.

We started to hear stories of collaborations and alliances being under strain.

Changes in Leadership appeared to be eroding previously strong relationships.

We were also started receiving feedback on the impact on our members who were undertaking these roles.

We were receiving stories of excessive hours, travelling great distances, managing cultures, policies, practices and personalities across different forces.

We recognised that we needed to better understand the situation through a survey for those who are currently in a collaborative roles or have previously served in one.

We are very grateful to 110 members who took the time to complete the survey and contribute to a greater understanding of the impact of collaboration arrangements

Let’s look at the impact on their leadership:

  • 96% stated they spent more time negotiating and influencing with those in senior positions than in single force roles (Q1)

 “The amount of time required to negotiate and influence change is significant and not appreciated by each force, which tends to look at issues purely from its own perspective.”

 “The difficulty I have had is dealing with two senior command teams …… everyone has a view and usually different.”

  • 72% stated that being in a collaborative role had an adverse effect on the leadership approach that they would like to adopt (Q2)

 “Everything in collaboration is done by committee to keep all the forces happy. This makes decision making over your command impossible and when you do, often one force or another will be critical. Officers working in home forces do not suffer this. It is draining, undermining and creates a poor environment to flourish and thrive in your role.”

  • 75% described a negative impact on their working hours (Q5)

“Many mistakes were made in slimming the management structure down at the start to show cost savings, which added considerably to the pressure on managers in delivering the changes: the amount of extra work , travelling, negotiating and influencing required in a collaboration is hugely under-estimated.”

  • 88% stated there was a negative impact on the travelling during their work time (Q4)

“Trying to maintain visibility over three sites that are some distance from each other is a difficult balance to strike.”

“When the collaborative area is over 120 miles long, with regional work, I can easily spend four hours a day in the car.”

  • 78% stated that there was a negative impact on their time management (Q3)

 “Whilst technology options exist, you are expected to have a physical presence at meetings, which impacts negatively on working time during the day.”

 “There are some great efficiencies and service improvements to be gained… however, differing policies and enabling department procedures build in huge inefficiencies. Having to have dual laptops, dual e mail accounts and differing command and control systems is difficult.”

Then we looked the impact on our members:

  • 61% stated a collaborative role had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing (Q7)

 “Adopting a style for each force I support – in line with their culture, causes me to regularly feel compromised.”

 “Collaborative arrangements can only go so far until they become impactive on individual’s work life balance, wellbeing and effectiveness.”

  • 68% stated a collaborative role had a negative impact on their private life (Q6)

 “I find myself working every weekend to stay on top of things and can barely get time off and if I do, I have to identify the cover myself from already extremely busy fellow Superintendents.”

Then we looked at their views from an organisational perspective”

  • 58% felt that collaborations saved money (Q9)
  • 56% felt that collaborations provide effective service to the public (Q10)
  • 53% felt that the collaborative arrangements are NOT sustainable in the long term (Q8)

Finally we asked:

Do you believe that force amalgamations should be considered as a more effective Governance arrangement? (Q11)

Incredibly – 82% said yes

 “Collaborations are only as effective as Executive Leadership Teams and PCCs want them to be. Stability of collaborations are undermined when those Executive Leadership Teams change. This cant be good for people, the public purse or the community.”

“Savings may be made for one force against no savings for the other. Therefore it may be positive for one force. However, the individual is the one who is adversely affected – diaries that are overflowing, expectations to be present at regional meetings, extensive travel and hours travelling.”

And the final comment which gets to the crux of the issue:

“If you had a blank sheet of paper would you honestly create the current system we have for policing? The current force structure in England and Wales is not fit for purpose.”

I look across the landscape of policing, with a particular focus on collaborations and alliances, and get a real sense of the huge efforts that our members go to, to ‘make this work’. However, all too often, personalities, networks, connections and preferences can easily strain joint working.

The PSA has recently written to the Chief Constables of both Devon and Cornwall and Dorset offering our full support and praising the two PCCs and two Chief Constables for potentially starting the first steps towards Force amalgamations for over 50 years.

I hope the business case is comprehensive, compelling and will be fairly assessed by the Home Office, Cabinet and Treasury. The eyes of the police family will be looking at the outcome with great interest.

As a result of this survey we will ensure our future pay survey and personal resilience survey is designed to capture data from those in collaborative roles to discern any differences, compared to those operating in one singular Force.

Whilst I recognise the complexities of the political governance, nationally and locally, this survey should be used a stimulus for a greater understanding and independent assessment of the value of collaborations to the public and assess the efficiency, effectiveness and economic value of such an approach.

It will be foolhardy to ask for a self-assessment, as the result will be predictable.

I urge the Home Office and HMICFRS to build in an honest, detailed and fair assessment of the current collaboration landscape and provide sufficient incentives and enabling support for those forces who may consider to amalgamate.

There will naturally be some collaborative successes out there, but can we honestly turn a blind eye to the overwhelming results from senior leaders who play such a vital role in collaboration?

As William Wilberforce once said:

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know”

Thank you.