Even with a flat budget and rising costs, Bedfordshire Police was determined to better serve its community. We helped them improve emergency response, put more officers on the street, create new task forces and upskill their people.
In 2018, Bedfordshire Police faced growing challenges: a large and increasing number of violent crimes and rising work demands. With a history of tight financial margins, the organisation was unable to respond by hiring new officers or increasing spending.
With an increase in budget unlikely, leaders knew the force needed to change how it worked instead. They decided to examine how the entire organisation operated to see where there were opportunities to improve efficiency. The objective was to find cost savings, then direct those funds to police activities and programmes that could address the community’s most pressing needs and safety concerns.
By working closely with us, and using our Align approach over four months, the police force identified £7 million in savings, freeing up funding for new initiatives.
The force also gained first-hand knowledge and experience that enabled them to conduct similar reviews in the future, ensuring they can continue to keep the organisation effective and financially sustainable.
Tight funding limited the Bedfordshire Police force’s ability to add more people and resources to serve the county’s part-rural, part-urban community. By the summer of 2018, that had become a problem as policing demands grew, fuelled in part by an increasing number of murders, youth violence and other crimes.
There was pressure to resolve more investigations quickly and investigators and analysts felt overwhelmed. Police also struggled to manage the large volumes of 999 emergency and 101 non-emergency calls coming into the control room each day - some frustrated callers simply gave up after long waits for the phone to be answered. Leaders in the organisation knew something had to change.
To make the best possible use of its limited budget, the police force needed to clearly understand how it used resources and how its services benefited the public. With that knowledge, the organisation could then make changes to improve the handling of calls, investigations and other tasks.
The police force asked for PwC’s help to assess how it worked – how it allocated funds, managed calls and investigations and more. The goal was to refocus priorities and identify ways to save at least £3 million, reinvesting those funds in areas with the greatest impact for the force and the community.
The programme focused on complex, costly activities that represented the bulk of the force’s budget: a total of £70 million in spending.
Working within a four-month time frame, we used our Align approach to help the force achieve its goals. The aim was to understand how and where the organisation created value and then identify ways to improve productivity by aligning resources up or down to meet strategic priorities.
Achieving this meant changing the force’s work culture, so everyone in the organisation needed to understand and embrace the need for change. We built support by working closely with police daily: participating in meetings, joining officers on patrols and speaking with staff about how they worked and what could help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.
As part of the transformation effort, we also organised an Align ‘boot camp’ to help break down barriers. The goal was to enable close collaboration and honest communication, which were critical to success.
Targeted training sessions provided the force with technology ‘upskilling’ and encouraged discussions about how police worked and where they saw opportunities for improved efficiency.
A review of spending and activities revealed areas where resources could be realigned to better match the force’s priorities.
For example, examining control room processes identified ways to more quickly resolve or forward calls and to manage enquiries more efficiently. This led to changes that improved phone responses and freed up £1.2 million in spending.
Other efficiencies were gained by directing certain kinds of complex investigations to specialist teams. This created a learning effect, enabling investigators to build up skills and resolve cases more quickly. It also saved £600,000.
Changing how intelligence analysts were assigned to different types of crimes freed up time for other investigations and produced another £500,000 in savings.
Building trust and enabling close, honest collaboration was vital for success. Police, who consider their job a calling, were less likely to respond to outsiders who simply told them what they were doing was ‘wrong’.
In the early stages, as with other Align projects, asking people to think about changing their ways of working led to some anger and frustration. This was overcome by demonstrating our commitment to a common cause: helping the organisation to do as good a job as possible with the funding it had.
“This isn’t a type of engagement where a couple of experts can come in and tell the police force what to do. It’s a very collaborative process that we provide and facilitate and help people make the most of. And that means building relationships with people who’ve got very busy day jobs.”
By embedding into the force, our day-to-day interactions, boot camp, training and other efforts helped create trust and overcome resistance to change. This built acceptance for new ways of working that saved time, effort and money, and helped make it easier for police to do their jobs.
Success required collaboration across the force, as well as the strong support of police leadership.
Examining processes across the targeted spending areas freed up 10% – £7 million – of Bedfordshire Police’s targeted budget. This enabled the force to direct much-needed funding toward certain priorities, including additional patrol officers and a new team focused on reducing gang activity and knife violence. And it put the organisation’s financial situation on a more stable, sustainable footing.
By the end of our four-month engagement, the force had achieved almost all of its goals – far higher than the average 50–60% rate seen in many change programmes. The new and realigned services allow the organisation to respond to citizens faster and provide a more visible presence in the community and early surveys point to improvements in public perception.
The police also gained hands-on insights into how Align transformations work in practice. This equipped leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to continue these practices on their own.
“I think it gives us the ability to make sure that the operational side understands the impact of the resources that are put into the operations,” said assistant chief officer Phil Wells. “It has helped us achieve our strategic objectives... It’s given us a better understanding of the service we provide to the public.”