In the UK we have a total of 45 Regional Police Forces, 43 within England & Wales and a national force in both Northern Ireland (NI) and Scotland. Further to this, we have 53 Fire & Rescue Services (FRS), again including the NI and Sottish national services, with the final entity being our Ambulance Service which breaks down to 10 Trusts/Foundations in England, a national service in each of NI, Scotland and Wales, with 4 Public Ambulance Services based on our key islands. Keeping things simple, that equates to 115 Chief Officers/CEO’s who lead these organisations at a cost of c£14.4m per annum (based on an average salary of £125,000 – there is a significant fluctation, hence an averge has been used). In what way can that make any kind of sense to anybody, either from a coordination or cohesion perspective, cost or optimisation of resources. I know that people will immediately try to complicate this very simple question and that it is extremely easy to do so. On that basis, please just answer the question as it has been put.
I understand that it is very British to stick with a regional/county based model and that by default, local people believe in the retention of their local police force, their local fire service and of course, their local ambulance service, but I am convinced that the stance is borne from blind loyalty, and takes little or no notice of the enormous costs this attracts. Loyalty is a great quality and I simply would never imply that people are stupid; the reality is, they are not being made aware of the hard facts or the options that exist to resolve this issue, whilst delivering more cost effective, efficient, capable and collaborative services. The general public isn’t aware of the lack of uniformity across and even within each of the services, or the hike to procurement costs this drives. Despite governance being in place, it is seldom followed, with CEO’s/Chief Officers having the power to over-rule such policy and buy from disparate sources; this is true on uniform, cars and any number of other items. When you then consider that cars, trucks and so forth will have individual livery applied, separate entities may still be maintaining specialist teams such as trainers and IT staff, the waste just goes on.
I want everybody who reads this to be absolutely clear that it is not an attack on our Emergency Services, for whom I have enormous respect and admiration. I have worked in the sector for the last 20 years and have seen acts of unbelievable bravery and selflessness that have both inspired and humbled me at the same time. This blog seeks to highlight an issue that genuinely needs national attention and true leadership from our government post lockdown. I don’t have the answers but surely bringing our 45 police forces down to a more balanced and manageable number such as 9 (NI, Scotland & Wales being national, with 6 regional forces in England) makes sense. The same approach could be taken with our fire services and perhaps a smaller alignment in the ambulance space should also be considered. From a cost reduction stance the savings could be mind boggling and I have already alluded to the benefits of collaboration; on an inter-service basis the sky truly is the limit.
Nothing I have stated above would prevent our “Blue Light” services from maintaining their position as the best in the world, indeed I think such restructuring would do a huge amount to underpin their position in future years. It really is time to get rid of the fiefdoms and build an ES model that is based on true multi-agency capability, has collaboration at its heart and seeks to deliver the most effective public safety infrastructure in the world!