Police service collaboration: front line to back office

1 May 15

The successful development of shared services by South Yorkshire Police and neighbouring forces highlights the virtues of understanding the full impact of budget cuts

Nigel Hiller

In October 2010 the government announced cuts in police funding designed to lop 20% from budgets by March 2015. For South Yorkshire Police, that meant reducing annual outgoings by about £13m, or almost £50m over a period of four years.

Nigel Hiller, finance director at South Yorkshire for 19 years, says that collaboration with neighbouring forces – all under similar pressure – has been vital in achieving these goals. Among the more significant alliances was the merger of the separate IT departments of South Yorkshire and Humberside Police into a combined Information Services function, a reorganisation that Hiller has driven alongside Paul Thrustle, IT director across both forces.

‘We had to recognise that the two organisations had differing cultures, and build a new culture and ethos,’ Hiller says. ‘So we saw this not as a technology project but as a human resources project.’

With that view in mind, steps were taken to ensure that the people involved understood life on the other side of the fence – in more ways than one.

‘To reinforce our culture change I made all our team leaders and management have operational experience in both Humberside and South Yorkshire Police,’ says Hiller. ‘One of our staff was even involved in saving someone’s life, stopping them jumping off the Humber Bridge. That really brought home the diverse work our front-line colleagues do every day.’ Managers returned with plenty of ideas about how to better serve officers in the field.

Hiller argues strongly for this kind of exposure. ‘When I was a trainee in the health service, studying CIPFA, I lived in a nurses’ home and then a junior doctors’ home at Nottingham General hospital,’ Hiller, pictured above, recalls. ‘That experience taught me much about how the health service worked at that time and as a consequence I became a firm believer in the need for support staff to understand the core business they serve.’

He argues that demolishing barriers in this way has led to better decision-making throughout South Yorkshire Police. With a clearer grasp of the practicalities, managers can be more confident making resourcing decisions or devising operational strategies, he says. Similarly, police commanders are better able to influence decisions to protect and maintain services: ‘As they are engaged in the process it also helps communicate to our partners and staff the reasons for change, and provides reassurance.’

More generally, Hiller says, establishing these two-way relationships has helped transform South Yorkshire Police ‘into an organisation which recognises finance enables and supports better policing’. 

For the past few years Hiller has chaired CIPFA’s Financial Management Panel, and has been able to make direct use of his police experiences within the work of the panel.

‘We have reduced our revenue costs by about 20% and our capital investment costs by about 15%,’ he notes, adding that many facets of the approach used are transferable to other organisations. ‘The tools and techniques we used have been shared in the latest publication issued by the Financial Management Panel,’ he says – a book called Creating services in a collaborative environment.

During Hiller’s time as chair, the panel has published numerous other guides and frameworks to support improvements in financial management. Of particular note is the Financial Management Model: ‘That has evolved from being simply a self-assessment tool into the gold standard for financial management in central government,’ he says.

The panel has also issued a training toolkit, Finance for Non-Financial Managers, which supports the Financial Management Model in developing competence frameworks for managers to better align financial and operational management.

Nigel Hiller is a member of the 2015 Public Finance Top 50 Trailblazers

  • Lem Bingley
    Content Development Director at Public Finance and Public Finance International

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