We live in austere times you know. Thought I’d just mention that in case you’d been living down a remote Peak District cave for the past half decade and hadn’t heard.
The last few years have been cut this, cut that, cut the other – not just in policing, but in all the essential emergency and public services.
It may appear somewhat perverse or at odds to simple folk like you and me, that an immense amount of money has been spent in the last few years telling us how to cut costs and save money but it has !
Looking just at policing, across the land, Chief Police Officers have had to make some very difficult decisions about how to reduce the amount of money spent on policing, whist still trying to provide an acceptable level of service to the public.
Whether they have so far been successful or not will depend perhaps on your point of view – public, police of bean counter. Yes, a thankless task I will agree and maybe subject material for another blog other than this, but some of the seemingly ‘odd’ decisions taken do make me stop and think ‘really ??’
Take for instance police stations .. well actually, someone already has because there aren’t a great deal of them left. Many have been sold off across the country, and at what cost to the respective local communities. And at what ‘actual’ cost to the respective forces.
Let us consider the closure of one hypothetical police station in a small town somewhere non specific where the staff based have been moved to a central station around 15 miles away in the name of efficiency. After all, 15 miles is not a long distance in the bigger scheme of things is it ??
So you sell the building, for say £250,000, nah, let’s be generous, say £300,000. Some capital released there, and a bit of a saving on ongoing running costs; water, electric, rates, etc.
Trouble is, once you’ve sold that building, you can’t sell it again.
What can you sell off to cut more money next time in an organisation where the vast majority of your operating costs are in staff salaries and now non existent real estate anyway ?
You’ve still got to house those staff. And when they are based somewhere else they will be adding additional costs onto the maintenance and running of wherever they are then posted. Not as much as the costs at the station just closed of course, but it’s certainly not a ‘zero cost’ option.
And then there are the cars. You still have to police the areas covered by the station you have just closed so the officers now based elsewhere will need to drive further to get to their place of work in the first place.
And because you are now further away, you might even need more cars – because for instance, the Neighbourhood Team, who traditionally walked everywhere, are now also 15 miles from where they need to be and it’s gonna be a long walk for them.
On a good day I’m sure it could be a very pleasant walk, but when it’s chucking it down with rain or 2 feet deep in snow, maybe not so much fun.
On top of that, the average walking speed is 3.1mph. So it’s going to take them about 5 hours to walk to get on patch. And that’s assuming those pesky Neighbourhood Teams don’t stop and talk to anyone on the way, which is something they have that annoying habit of doing.
And when they get to where they need to be to start work, it’s another 5 hour walk back to the station to book off.
The average Neighbourhood Team shift is 8 or 9 hours long. So, every day, if they just walked to patch then straight back, they would already be into overtime, and will not have even done a single thing when they got there.
Maybe not an entirely realistic approach but you can see the point.
And back to those cars. Let’s say you now have three police patrol vehicles to cover that patch.
It’s 15 miles each way to get from the station to ‘on patch’ so each police vehicle has a 30 mile round trip from station to patch and back before it does any actual patrolling.
And you have three cars. So that’s 3 x 30 mile round trips a day – 90 miles, before you do any police work.
And of course, there are three shifts a day to account for. So that’s 3 x 90 miles – 270 miles a day travelled just to get the police vehicles on patch.
Not a single bit of patrol done yet and not a single incident attended remember !
Ohh, and another thing – there are 365 days in a year (yes, I know about leap years but stick with me) and as response teams work every day of the year (feel free to take note some of you Specialist Units) that’s 270 miles a day x 365 days a year = 98,550 miles covered per year by three police vehicles, just to get from a police station to where they need to be to start work for the day.
Now, I don’t profess to be an expert on these matters, but I’d stick my neck out and suggest there’s a fair old amount of money required here for extra fuel and running costs, plus additional wear and tear that was never needed before … so suddenly the financial savings from closing that police station begin to diminish just that little bit more.
It wasn’t that long ago that operational vehicles were replaced at 100,000 miles anyway, so by those figures, just getting to patch and back would cost an additional panda a year for every three you already have !
Then the replacement intervals went up to 120,000 … and then 150,000 … and the odd one or two of our vehicles has got a fair few miles more than that on the clock !
In fairness, the modern motor car IS better built than those of yesteryear, and as such should be able to manage a longer lifespan and higher mileage than it’s grandpappy built 20 years ago, but don’t forget, the police don’t use their 1.3 basic spec diesel Astra’s / Focus’s / Hyundai’s or whatever in the same way that Granny Smith from number 73 does; popping down to the post office once a week and then off to see Auntie Joyce on a Sunday. Police vehicles are in use, commonly hard use, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Much as many would have you believe, they aren’t ‘souped up’, they aren’t ‘chipped’ and they aren’t that quick either ! What they are is falling apart every five minutes because they are a domestic product being used in a commercial environment being held together by copious amounts of gaffa tape and a workshop who’s own staffing levels have also been decimated . Try using your £150 house washing machine in a laundrette and see how long it lasts, that’s where we’re at !
And I’ve just remembered something else I forgot to throw into the equation – staff. Those pesky police officers and PCSO’s that have to drive those rattle-bang police cars and go to those incidents.
Yes, I know they are already there so they don’t cost any more no matter which station they are based at. But it does cost by moving them – in their time, the additional time travelling between stations; the time between when one shift leaves the town to travel back to the new station to hand over to the oncoming shift who then have to travel back, the time when they are not ‘on patch’ doing their job, serving the public.
What are we really saving in the bigger scheme of things ?
Many moons ago, I worked in the buying office. Well actually it was a shared office where I did all the marketing/promotional & sales support work for the company and I shared it with the Buyer, but I used to help him out as well as he was generally busier than I, and so I learned a lot in quite a short space of time.
The first lesson he taught me, and one that stuck in my mind from day one, and can be applied to most situations, so stand by and get ready to make notes is ….
the cheapest price is rarely the best value !
This can often be translated more simply as ‘buy cheap, buy twice … or in police terms three or four times’ …
It’s a concept which seems to have past swiftly by the memory nodes of the vast majority of people in purchasing departments of most public sector organisations like a Japanese Bullet Train that’s three seconds behind schedule !
Think about this for example ….
When I helped in the afore-mentioned Buying office, we used to handle some rather large accounts, including some Government departments (and the odd police force or two as it happens)
One of the organisations we had the contract to supply a particular brand of photocopier paper to used to have some of the equipment they purchased made in the United States. This equipment had to have instruction manuals with it and because the equipment was coming back into the EU, those instruction manuals were to be printed on A4 paper.
This led to two problems for the American supplier of their products to our client back here in the UK.
Number one was that the Americans, for very complicated reasons I’m not sure I even want to think about, don’t use civilised paper sizes, they have their own, and they can’t even decide on that completely, so they have 2 common sizes; US Letter and US Legal, neither of which are the same as A4
Their number 2 problem was that as part of their contract, they had to produce their products using materials authorised by their client back here in Blighty, even down to the instruction manuals, which had to be produced to A4 size, using the ‘authorised’ brand of paper, which we held the contract to supply.
Still following ?? I bet you can guess what’s coming next.
Because of the way these Government contracts worked, this massive multi-national conglomerate on the West Coast of the USA was compelled to buy the paper for it’s instruction manuals from a small business in sunny old England.
And, because, as many manufacturing companies do, they operated on a ‘just in time’ principle, they would place an order with ourselves and demand delivery within 72 hours.
Have you ever considered the concept, and cost !!, of shipping pallets of paper from England to the west coast of the USA in 72 hours.
I have …. and I became quite an expert in it. It can be done. On some days we could trim it down to less than 48 hours end to end. Suffice to say, even back in the early 90’s, I could have brought a fairly decent new car every couple of weeks with the money being thrown at shipping costs alone.
Now, it’s easy to say that a multi-national can afford to do this but, don’t forget, they were building these costs into their tenders and ultimately selling products back to us, the UK taxpayer, so we, as UK plc were in effect paying for all of this unnecessary buffoonery. But no one could change it because that’s the way it was !
Being the helpful, diligent people we were, we even tried to come up with ways to make this process quicker, simpler and cheaper – all those qualities that work well out there in the real world.
We soon established that the manufacturer of the ‘authorised’ paper brand actually sold the same product in the USA in commercial sheet sizes, and so it seems easy, and obvious to us, that we could arrange for the processing mill in America to cut large sheet sizes into European A4 and supply from there … but no, that could not be done.
The paper company were happy to oblige, but both the equipment manufacturer and client over here wouldn’t have that because …. wait for it …. the very same paper is sold under a different brand name in USA so is not on the authorised supply list. You really could not make it up but that appeared to be public sector purchasing for you !
There is another tale I could tell about us being asked to take over the end of contract for supply of Post-It notes, you know those little yellow sticky message notes, after the company with the contract went under, and the Gov department for whom that contract existed, was paying 50% more than retail and refused all our attempts to offer the product at a greatly reduced price because ‘we can’t change the contract price’ but I’ve bored you enough already.
And anyway, this blog is supposed to be about staples and sticky tape !
As part of the afore-mentioned austerity measures, it has been brought to my attention that some bright spark has taken it upon themselves in at least one force to try and cut costs a bit more by only putting one staple into officers pocket notebooks instead of two.
Now these little things are our life and blood, No, not the staples, the pocket notebooks … although drawing blood from a badly stapled staple was not an unusual occurrence in itself. Everything of note has to be recorded in a police officers pocket notebook and it is a disclosable document which can be used in a court of law.
Aside from the almost necessary requirement of drawing silly little pictures in the pocket notebook of any officer who leaves their’s lying around unattended (disclaimer: I have only ever heard rumour of this and never seen any real-life examples anywhere .. ever .. at all ) they do need to be kept in a reasonable condition and looked after.
Most officers would lose count of however many times a day they take their pocket notebook out of their … well .. pocket … write in it and put it back again so you can imagine the amount of wear they take – they are only a thin card cover and paper pages inside after all.
So, when they only have one staple in them, in the middle, all of the pages ‘wobble’, become loose and very quickly start falling out. And there belies the problem.
Someone decided saving one staple per pocket notebook was going to help solve all of the financial crises facing the British Police Service.
What they didn’t count on was the much larger costs incurred by police officers now having to use roll upon roll of sticky type to fix the pages back into their pocket notebooks because the damn things keep falling apart !
And that one small example completely typifies where we are going wrong in trying to save money in policing and massively missing the whole point of the exercise.