By Alison Dewhirst, Police and Fire Networks Advisor, CIPFA
Collaboration is key to delivering frontline policing and support services in England and Wales. Forces and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England have a statutory duty to consider collaboration with other forces where it is in the interest of efficiency or effectiveness, and a similar duty in relation to collaborating with fire and ambulance services.
But given that the legal governance mechanisms are aimed at the individual organisations themselves, how effective is the governance of collaboration?
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services commented on governance issues in their PEEL spotlight report, The Hard Yards – Police to police collaboration, published in July 2020. The report refers to chief constables not always having the capacity to collaborate effectively or being reluctant to devolve responsibility, as well as to the potential conflicts between local and national priorities and accountabilities. The report also highlighted the importance of setting objectives, the need for a strong case for entering, or withdrawing from, collaborations and the lack of governance structures in some of the case studies they examined.
Given the proportion of services undertaken through collaborative arrangements, and the public money involved, it is imperative that the same level of governance and scrutiny are applied as those for the individual entities to which they belong. When a collaboration is being established, questions should be asked at the very start about its financial aspects, including income sharing, how things are going to be accounted for in the different entities in the collaboration, an objective assessment of benefits, and how these benefits are to be tracked and reviewed.
There are other important questions, such as when should collaboration arrangements cease? What are the triggers to show when something isn’t working? What governance arrangements have been established to deal with these circumstances should they arise? When setting up a collaboration, there may be optimism bias about what will be achieved and when. PCCs and forces need to ensure from the start that the benefits are set out objectively, with an exit strategy should a collaboration fail to meet its objectives.
A new publication for AFEP members will soon set out and explore these issues. Effective Governance of Police Collaborations will outline the questions that need to be asked from the start of a collaboration to ensure its success and what to do when things go wrong. Do look out for it in the new year.
The paper is free to Achieving Finance Excellence in Policing members and chargeable to non-AFEP organisations.
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