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Grant Thornton finds police sector adapting well to ‘biggest shake-up in a generation’

New research from Grant Thornton UK LLP suggests that the police sector has adapted rapidly to some of the biggest reforms in a generation around governance and accountability. Based on a survey of senior people within the police sector, it finds that 84% of respondents believe police and crime commissioners (PCCs) are effective in holding their chief constables (CCs) to account. Those surveyed all agreed that both parties have a shared vision for policing over the next three years; however some structural aspects are still developing and will take time to embed effectively, in particular joint audit committees and police and crime panels.

These are some of the findings published in Grant Thornton’s report entitled ‘Police reform: a developing picture’, evaluating how the sector is responding to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (PRSRA). The report acknowledges overall progress, while outlining three areas where there are opportunities for the sector to develop: governance and accountability; partnerships, collaboration and commissioning; and public communication and transparency. 

Despite the positive response to the new PCCs, the results of the study highlight that some measures introduced by the PRSRA are taking time to become fully embedded, especially around governance. While PCCs and CCs are officially charged with governance in their organisations, only 10% of respondents said they thought CCs drive good governance, and only 9% thought that of PCCs. In comparison, 27% felt the CFO or treasurer was responsible for this. 

Commenting on the findings of the report Paul Grady, Head of Police at Grant Thornton UK LLP said: “The PRSRA has introduced significant changes to the decision making structures in the police sector. Overall, PCCs and CCs have responded positively to these changes. However, the next steps are to ensure strong governance frameworks are in place that permit innovative and flexible solutions and maintain transparency, accountability and effective risk management. Ultimately, PCCs and CCs need to be seen as champions of strong governance, assurance and accountability frameworks in their local areas.

“In addition, more can be done to develop effective cross sector approaches to preventing and reducing crime, providing PCCs with a lever to achieve their objectives in this key area. Police perceptions of PCCs' impact on partnership working is markedly more positive than those in the wider local government sector. It will be important for PCCs to track and alter negative perceptions in this area if they are to demonstrate a beneficial impact from partnership working." 

The report also found that, although PCCs may not be meeting all of the statutory transparency responsibilities, they are successfully engaging with the public and many have embraced social media as a way to do this.

When asked about the effectiveness of police and crime panels in holding PCCs to account, only half (54%) of respondents agreed that the panels are fulfilling this role. The study highlights that this is caused by a lack of clarity around the exact role of the panel.

“By working collaboratively, panels and PCCs could also provide a lever for effective partnership working, particularly around crime reduction and prevention activity. PCCs will need to make brave decisions about the future shape of their service delivery models – striking a balance between crime prevention and crime fighting strategies.” 

The report recognises that effective crime prevention measures may require PCCs to think differently about the services they commission, but that "it would be a brave politician who announces a reduction in police numbers to fund more preventative measures. Notwithstanding this, police areas should still seek to be assessed not on the inputs provided – for example, the number of officers – but on the outcomes they achieve. A mature evaluation of performance would judge them on the absence of crime, rather than their response to it. Moving to this position requires a shift in attitudes in the sector and more importantly in the minds of this assessing performance and holding the sector to account."