Collaborators Corner: Chief Constable David Shaw

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Chief Constable David Shaw of West Mercia Police spoke to Collaborate recently about Warwickshire and West Mercia forces’ Strategic Alliance.

The Alliance, which was established in 2011 to tackle police force budget cuts, was one of the greatest reorganisations the forces had ever experienced. This collaborative partnership between separate police bodies is committed to joint collaboration through the sharing of all operational resources, all back office facilities, force systems and support teams. The Alliance’s objectives include protecting people from harm, providing a more efficient and effective policing service, greater resilience and flexibility in the use of skilled specialist staff, and a reduction in duplication of roles and resources.

Warwickshire and West Mercia forces' Strategic Alliance

What was the main reason for collaborating with Warwickshire?

It was a mixture of necessity with Government demanding strong evidence of collaboration and the various challenges we faced at the time, including the cuts.

As you know, collaboration isn’t just sharing ideas. How did you both manage the practical arrangements of collaboration?

From the outset, it was agreed that all infrastructure in the Alliance had to be aligned in order to make use of our shared resources. We therefore worked to create one workforce. So we harmonised terms and conditions and wherever possible, ICT, systems and practices. It’s not perfect but we’ve come a long way and this has been the bedrock of getting the other organisational change delivered. Critically we also designed a joint Chief Officer Team and governance structure. This sent out the strongest possible message that we are leading this from the top.

Are you pleased with the Alliance’s record to date?

What gives me greatest professional pleasure and pride is that in spite of the huge changes, the really significant cuts and the extra demands we have placed upon everyone in both forces, I believe we are looking after the public at least as well as we were before and in many respects even better.

Has it always been good?

We have made some mistakes along the way but if we get it wrong we listen. A good example of this is the way we designed response policing along the Herefordshire/West Worcestershire border. The PCC, our communities and our response teams said it was not working so we have changed it. We are certainly proud of having undertaken something so ambitious but in the end it’s all about looking after the public.

What assets or strengths led to the Alliance’s success?

Through our tasking and coordination process, which is held every day, we are now able to call upon the resources of two forces to protect the public. There’s no debate about where they come from. It’s a simple case of where the threat or risk is. So we can genuinely claim that the public is better served by having the Strategic Alliance than if we were still working alone. That’s really important to me.

Did others share the vision of the Alliance?

The support of the Police and Crime Commissioners has been invaluable. Within 48 hours of being elected, they both gave a ringing endorsement of the strategy. That does not mean they have simply accepted everything put before them. We sometimes spend long hours looking at options, testing our thinking and being very challenging with each other. But through this we have undoubtedly forged a very strong ethos. I must also thank the officers and staff from both forces. They have backed us all the way even if it has been a difficult journey at times.

Are you surprised the collaboration has continued to grow?

In one sense, yes, because this was and remains new territory for everyone. But if I have learnt one thing about policing during my career it’s that we do deliver, we have a can do attitude and a real determination to make things work.

Were there any challenges in collaboration?

Plenty. It was very challenging for many colleagues who were being asked to help design something that could effectively put their own jobs at risk. I think we saw the public sector ethos at its best because in spite of this, we have delivered some ground-breaking work. It has also been difficult to bring together two workforces with different cultures but we have tried to overcome that by saying it’s not a case of the Warwickshire way of doing things or the West Mercia way, it’s about doing it the best way and that often means new ways of working for everybody from Chief Officers all the way across to front line colleagues.

In terms of outcomes, what are you most proud of?

This may sound strange but the fact that the public doesn’t seem to have noticed the Alliance means that two already good performing forces are continuing to do a good job together but with far fewer resources, which can be seen as a good indicator of general performance.

Having led the Alliance for four years, what would you say is the one downside of collaboration?

Decisions can be slowed down sometimes because we have a slightly more complex set of governance arrangements. However, this is time well spent because we make joint decisions where all parties’ interests are recognised. Of course we sometime have to give ground on some issues. But we never compromise on protecting the public and we always remember the bigger prize here which is the long term health and strength of both forces together rather than thinking of things from a one force perspective.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

In retrospect, we may have pushed change a little too hard in some areas in the early days, but you have to remember it was very new territory for us. At the time, the spending cuts looked daunting and there was pressure to get started. I take full responsibility for that. However, we have learned from that experience and as we move towards the next phase of change we are engaging better with partners, the public and the workforce. It feels more measured, better structured and we have fantastic backing at every stage from our Police and Crime Commissioners.

In your view, what makes a great collaboration?

Trust and strong relationships. I personally believe that trust is crucial in any partnership or strategic alliance. Secondly our approach of “let’s do everything once unless there’s a compelling case not to” was a real game change. It removes one of the main blocks to collaboration which is sometimes people can be over protective about their bit of the force.

Thirdly we resisted the temptation to create an internal market. So, we never have a conversation that says “last week you had 10 of our officers for a week so we need 10 of yours this week”. We know from our demand work that overtime, this will balance out. It means those officers making the decisions about how to prioritise only have one thing to think about which is, how do we best protect the public from harm?

Finally, what lies in the future for the Strategic Alliance?

The future is about strengthening and deepening the Alliance. Is merger part of that equation? Certainly not at the moment. We have had that debate and moved on. It’s now all about the next phase of change and looking after the public as best we can and looking after the workforce as we do it.

To learn more about the Strategic Alliance, please click here.

To read the Police Foundation’s 2014 report on the Alliance, please click here.

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