Who Will Really Commission the Police?

Ian Briggs

By the end of this month, 41 newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales will be facing the challenge of filling their diaries with appointments to help them get to grips with a role that is both new and controversial. Whatever their mandate from the electorate, their role will open up some very interesting possibilities around public involvement in policing.

However, behind this significant change sits a number of questions for policing in England, and near the top of the list is how policing could operate within the possibilities created by taking a strategic commissioning approach to the way that policing operates. Strategic commissioning is of course nothing new, it is an established approach in many parts of the public sector and when it is done well and with care new operational opportunities arise, and in certain cases significant economies and quality improvements can be made.

Ensuring that we, as members of civil society, are adequately protected and that crime is efficiently detected will always be the core role for the police; but the emphasis is shifting in some very important areas. Crime prevention is a core task and there are clear benefits in attaining targets through early intervention with young people and those that are more vulnerable in society. Indeed, here the police have developed some interesting and innovative experience through partnership working and aligning intended outcomes with other public bodies and agencies; but the prevailing performance mindset in policing is one of targets and rational planning and not always one of the application of imagination. Where we can see some powerful examples of the benefits of strategic commissioning in other public services it is often around the imaginative approach to the way that joined up outcomes can be achieved. This often brings with it some uncomfortable choices.  At a simple level if we took away the gritting of the highway in winter and focused our attention onto making the pathways safer and free from snow and ice, then we potentially have fewer elderly members of society having their lives ruined through shattered bones and in so doing save us, the taxpayer a fortune in the expert care they require to enable them to recover. Can the PCC now do more than merely be held to account by the electorate in budget setting and the overemphasised issue of hiring and firing the Chief Constable?

Already advanced thinking is taking place.  In West Midlands Police work is underway to look at how strategic commissioning can open up opportunities to go beyond simple target attainment and seek to demonstrate how effective policing can have a wider impact. For example, a concentration of resources upon an often deprived locality could reduce house break-ins and burglary, which in turn could impact upon a reduction in insurance premiums – and which then could put some marginal but important extra spending power into that community to make other services more sustainable.

Whatever we think about the new PCCs, let’s hope that their diaries will have some reflective thinking time and allow imagination to flourish and break free of the terror of targets that policing and communities have suffered from in the past.

Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.

Roaming Buffalos, High Speed Trains and Localism?

Ian Briggs

As the government seeks to develop measures that stimulate the economy through the relaxation of the local planning processes, should we stop for one moment and think about some pretty fundamental issues about the relationship that we, as citizens, have with the locality where we reside – issues that localism may be ignoring?

The predominant notion we have in the UK is that (with due respect to women) an ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’ – however, as the details of the 2011 Census are eagerly awaited we are aware that we have a society that is perhaps more geographically mobile than ever before – mobile through commuting to work or mobile though national or international migration. For most communities today, even those that have relatively fixed populations, the proportion of those who have been domiciled in one locality for more than one generation is shrinking. This means our emotional connectivity to place is changing – this is not to say that many localities have populations that don’t have a strong commitment to place. Rather, it implies that we see connectivity to place through economic factors more than any other. However, many communities have powerful and longstanding psychological commitments to the locality where they reside going back generations and generate fierce local loyalties that policy makers and politicians often find hard to recognise.

The concept of land ownership is not always recognised in other societies. Throughout the world there are examples of where the concept of ‘ownership’ is reversed – it is not the fact that the landowner actually has titled deed to the land where they reside but the land has ownership of the very people who reside upon it. This has been often misunderstood in places such as Australia, New Zealand and certainly parts of North America.  Where indigenous populations have been resettled there are numerous occasions where the sense of displacement is cited as the root cause for various social problems. The Native North American notion of the ‘Washee’ is not a catch all term for white North Europeans – it is a term better translated as a ‘trespasser’, as someone who this land does not recognise as within its own ownership.  This notion that the people belong to the land is more important than we have perhaps recognised – the sense of belonging to ‘place’- despite how challenging it may be to quantify or measure – is a key factor that local councillors have to account for, and a mistake that government at local and national level seem to continue to make when decisions are made that fundamentally impact upon communities.

People do have a sense of belonging to locality and this is now being demonstrated through the rather extensive and turgid consultation processes around HS2. As a resident who is impacted by this development I have been active in a number of local and regional meetings, where the debate is moving from the awareness of the economic advantages and disadvantages associated with building the railway to one of a strong sense of hurt caused by politicians’ failure to recognise the desire that many local people have to hand down the ‘belonging to the land’ from one generation to the next.

The sense of betrayal that many in the North American Native self governed communities feel is often characterised not by a sense of loss of entitlement to the land but that the land has something missing – it has lost its people and the arguments are less economic and more socially psychological and spiritual. The deprivation and social problems in many of the Native American self-governed communities is plain to see and has been overlooked for far too long by Washington.  It is only now that steps and measures are being taken that make better connectivity between these communities and the land they occupy. So, what relevance does this have for us in the UK? Perhaps, HS2 can be used as a litmus test and a broader set of parameters applied to considering its worthiness?

The tone of many of the public meetings and consultations around HS2 is starting to open this debate up – however strong the economic arguments are or are not as the case may be, the feelings of hurt and imposition by a government of a rail line is an issue that local councillors are going to be left to deal with for potentially generations to come. Government can perhaps be a ‘trespasser’ and impose things on the land and the people but where that strong link between place and people is broken other problems always seem to follow. If HS2 is to be completed then there could be major economic gains.  Whilst this is questionable to some it is indeed possible – the local building industry could be stimulated through a relaxation of local planning regulations – there could be a higher price to pay that may take time to emerge and leave us with many more problems to solve.

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Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.

The New Virtual Town Hall

Ian Briggs

They wear tweeds, ride fold up bicycles and have a strange obsession with bandstands, they are often viewed as being at the fringes of society – a minority interest group with a small but powerfully loyal following – they are those who hold dear to their hearts that our 19th century heritage should never be lost. They value the majesty of the Town Hall as a Victorian edifice that spoke of the power of the elected (or in most cases the appointed) in society – have they lost sight of the importance of downsizing public organisations, ensuring that we have a quasi retail approach to services and that we should administer them from anodyne, faceless replicants of a local branch of an insurance company?

Certainly for many within cities and towns the structures that spoke so loudly of the power of the local community served not just to reinforce the civic dignity of the individuals who were called upon to govern but also were – and perhaps still are important icons of civic place and power. True, they are a huge burden to the local purse but at a time of dwindling concern for the council (mindful of a story told a few days ago of a recent election in a ward where only 16 people bothered to vote) we perhaps need a kind of iconography to remind us all that choice and voice at a local level is so profoundly different from the way we have our political views represented at a national level that we need to have some physical representation of the distinctiveness of local democratic place.

All this came out in a conversation with a senior member at this week’s LGA conference here in Birmingham. How he was so troubled by the ‘Moulton fold up bike brigade’ (MFBB) who were repeatedly making his life such a misery with their expertise in the preservation of the civic heritage and their near obsessive persistence that large amounts of expenditure must be made to keep the Town Hall in the condition that our forefathers wished it to be in irrespective of the impact upon other services that he was genuinely afraid for his seat!  However, if we cannot afford the physical iconography can it be replaced with a virtual one? This became an interesting question – opportunities offered by social networking when exploited with care and sensitivity could perhaps replace or compound the iconography of the traditional approach to ‘civicness’? As we are developing our understanding of the community leadership role of councillors should we be thinking more about the overall impact of placing the locally elected in a virtual space as well as a physical space? These are skills that councillors are now just beginning to develop – they understand that their role extends beyond the importance of effective problem centred decision making to being the custodian of the local narrative. In the past the narrative has for many places been the Town Hall representing the power of civic dignity and profound distinctiveness of place. The contemporary narrative is one of connectedness, blending historical tradition with the requirement to maintain and better local conditions so the ‘MFBB’ of the future will look upon our ipads, tweets and blogs as worthy of preservation as much as the Victorian edifices are valued by some today. Watch out – it will happen.

Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.

Elected Mayors: Prospects for Change

Ian Briggs

The imperfections in our local democratic systems have for seemingly ever been a source of attention and fascination for researchers though the popular attention given to the abandonment of the old committee system and the introduction of a cabinet form of local governance has rarely sparked the imagination of the average citizen. Until now perhaps – with the advent of the powerful local mayor, he or she may provide an individualised loci of attention for local people, businesses and other metropolitan institutions.

The recent Warwick Report does introduce a few more interesting and potentially problematic issues to the ones that are aired in the popular media – the assumed acceleration of inward investment, questions around the role of the necessary ‘close political advisers’ that mayors need and not least the risk of opening the door to single issue or extreme perspectives. This latter point puts me in mind of some years ago the popular support for the executive mayor in Oslo being elected on an anti Gypsy platform.

The pragmatic part of me says that we are likely to resist this given the relative power of our two/three party system. However, the question of are we to have elected mayors or not seems to overshadow the more important question of what do we as citizens want our elected mayors to do? So far there has been little debate on this perspective – here I might suggest a list of things that should occupy them from the start;

1. The drought – we used to call them the ‘water rates’; in that we paid them as a local tax much like the rates on our properties but with shift towards the ‘consumer or customer citizen’ we pay a consumer charge to what is often a non UK based company that returns a healthy profit. True, some of the profit is returned to the country as tax but the business strategy of the provider company is their own concern and they set priorities as they see fit. Could a powerful elected mayor make life so uncomfortable for these ‘businesses’ that they change their operating mechanisms and place more emphasis upon infrastructure renewal and prevent the leakages of supply? Perhaps the mayor could set an example by only showering every other day too?

2. Winter weather – could a powerful mayor reduce to an absolute minimum the gritting and salting of urban roads? Certainly there will be a knock on effect in increased minor (slow speed) traffic accidents and  for many slower journeys to work and the shops. Could they then redirect the gritting to the pavements making it easier for people to walk? A&E departments live in dread of icy and snow covered pavements where especially older residents slip and fall and cost the country untold millions in hip replacements and that is without considering the pain and suffering caused being reduced.

3. Co-production – I have to admit I am a fan of this and I would like to see powerful mayors set an example – they are going to be very busy people so despite having huge pressures on their diaries I would want to elect a powerful mayor who makes the commitment to only work in the role for four days a week – the other two (for they should only have one day off over the week end) they should don overalls and go litter picking and undertake graffiti removal from our underpasses and urban streets. The second day they should apply their culinary skills and help feed the needy and disadvantaged who live below the line. This would really set an example – and here’s the clever bit – when they seek re election we judge them on their co production performance and not on some spooked up external performance measure.

Somehow I feel that we are replacing one imperfect system with another – it won’t be many months into a new breed of metropolitan mayors taking office before we see them falling into all old systems of operating and the perpetuation of the media, academics and politicians of all hues pointing out what they are doing wrong and calling yet again for a change for the better in the way that we citizens are represented.

Ian Briggs is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies.  He has research interests in the development and assessment of leadership, performance coaching, organisational development and change, and the establishment of shared service provision.

Have public sector leadership programmes failed so badly?

From the late 1980’s a new sub industry emerged in the UK public sector, mass sector wide leadership development programmes. The Health sector was well and truly into this game by this time with huge programmes developing future leaders and the local government sector followed swiftly behind. The very best of these programmes were based upon the assumption that investment was needed to ensure a steady supply of fit for purpose leaders and good, imaginative national programmes attracted an interesting cadre of supporters and participants, some who signed up were clearly ambitious and needed successful participation in these programmes on their CV’s to be even considered for the next job up the organisational scale, others were, on reflection pushed on these programmes to ‘cure’ them of old habits or wake them up to rapidly changing circumstances.

Did they work? Well the evidence is mixed but some who participated on these programmes are now in the top jobs and others have sunk without trace. But was the programme itself a key determinant of success? Perhaps they were destined to have sharp inclines on their career trajectories anyway and the programme was at best incidental in helping them get there. But in a world where every last penny is squeezed out of budgets to fund the front line services and the best development on offer now which incidentally is free (just browsing the net?) as the remaining option means we might be missing a trick? The research evidence on how people get into top jobs is a bit hazy – the best we can glean from it is twofold – getting early experience of project based corporate working and that past performance (whilst not always the most reliable predictor) remains as the best predictor of future performance. There have also been a few interesting hiccoughs upon the way – the National College for School Leadership was a brave if not brazen attempt to demonstrate that professional classroom competence was just not enough to lead a complex entity such as a school – even if they seem to have succumbed to the magnetic pull back into professionalism as opposed to true leadership – and the National Graduate Programme for Local Government has had a bit of a stop/start journey to where it is today.

But now, as we are hollowing out many of our public sector organisations – senior strategic staff are doing the administrative work because all the expensive administrators and middle managers have been made redundant we need to find a way of bringing these hungry, ambitious and talented people out of their shells and help them find ways of transforming our public bodies. Doing it by ‘browsing the net’ will not work. Leadership development is about carefully planned and facilitated constructive socialisation – it is not about reading and knowing more about leadership theory (as interesting as that is anyway) but unless we can find the development opportunities, at the right cost, in the right place and at the right time we are running the risk of facing all the same problems we were dealing with a quarter of a century ago.

The Centre for Leadership at the University of Birmingham (CLUB)  is starting to open up this debate once again – can we find a way to rethink leadership development and inspire, not ignore those who are on the steep career trajectories? We think there is a way – keep watching this space. Leadership development cannot be done without some investment in time and energy as well as a modest financial contribution. We need to bring those people who are genuinely striving to become better leaders together, they need to spark off each other, test out their ideas and clarify how they impact upon those they are there to lead. As someone once said “Leadership – it’s a contact sport and not a virtual reality”

 

Ian Briggs - Inlogov

Ian Briggs (Senior Fellow)
Research interests lie in The development of effective leaders, leadership assessment and the identification of potential; Performance coaching, organisational development and large scale leadership development interventions; Organisational change and the establishment of shared service provision.