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Emergency Services collaboration — the successes and pitfalls

The PEEL report looks into the successes and pitfalls of police-to-police collaboration.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published the PEEL report into police-to-police collaboration. The report observes that whilst collaborations were brought in to help forces create efficiencies and provide a better service for the public, nationally forces are spending over a quarter of a billion pounds on collaborations every year without achieving the desired results. The report traces these issues through four themes:

  • purpose;
  • benefits and cost analysis;
  • leadership and governance; and
  • skills and capabilities

The report is welcome in that it encourages a greater focus on outcomes. It shines a spotlight on the fact that a number of collaborations are either not properly thought through from the outset or struggle without effective governance or skills. Collaboration in itself is pointless unless it achieves its key objective which is to secure greater efficiency and effectiveness whether between police forces or other emergency services. An unfortunate result of the Policing & Crime Act 2017, which introduced a statutory duty to collaborate between emergency services, has been a tendency towards tokenism and collaboration for collaboration’s sake. Given that a number of collaborations require change management, this is something that cannot be taken lightly and the requisite degree of planning and focus needs to be applied if it is to be a success.

The report sets out a number of pertinent observations:

  • too many collaborations do not have a clear purpose or objective that is understood by all involved;
  • some forces are not tracking the benefits of collaboration and fail to think beyond financial savings;
  • complicated and bureaucratic decision-making undermines the effectiveness of many collaborations; and
  • some forces are failing to put people with the right skills in their collaborations and are not effectively sharing learning.

The report is fairly high level and drawn from a number of case studies - it identifies areas where parties are going wrong but provides less guidance as to how to avoid the problems occurring in the first place. Instead, it suggests further guidance from NPCC and the Home Office. Future guidance will need to focus on giving parties the correct tools to navigate the collaboration journey to reach the required destination and avoid being too prescriptive. Whilst template section 22 agreements can be helpful, they create a tendency to assume one size fits all and are often followed without any real focus on the fundamental requirements of the collaborated activity in question - especially where the subject matter has a more corporate/administrative focus.

Even without further guidance, solutions already exist that can assist police bodies to deliver better results. Successful collaboration is always practical in nature and depends on building strong relationships and effective communication. If the parties work from the outset to develop trust, adopt a focused, collaborative mindset rather than resorting to protectionism, and ensure they understand a few key guiding principles, this has a significant impact on the success of the project. After all, collaboration is the term for what the private sector would call a joint venture, and the architecture of successful joint venturing is something that is widely published and the disciplines involved are easy to follow and apply. We have applied this in our work on a number of police and emergency service collaborations.  

In common with the report, it is vital that from the outset the parties have a shared vision and a number of simple tools can be employed by police bodies to get to that point. One way which we have found successful is to test the extent of any shared vision through the use of a collaboration questionnaire and workshop process at the outset. The questionnaire takes parties through a number of key questions which helps the parties identify their desired approach. Often parties who thought they had the same objectives realise how different their ideas are in key respects once they have responded to a number of fundamental questions. This process helps the parties develop the necessary detail through the workshops so that they are in a position to go forward and plan how their shared vision will be achieved and monitored.

Another helpful tool is joint business planning, in particular for collaboration projects involving a small number of parties.

With the right approach, objectivity and leadership, police to police collaboration should be able to thrive and deliver the service efficiencies and improvements parties are seeking.

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