Chartered Management Institute: In my Opinion

Internal investment is vital even in tough economic times, says Barbara Wilding, chief constable of South Wales Police and a Chartered Management Institute Companion.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

In any one day a chief constable moves between being a 'top cop' operationally and being the chief executive of a large public-sector organisation. I make decisions on the use of covert tactics that are deployed to defeat organised serious crime and/or terrorism, but have the potential to intrude into innocent people's lives. Meanwhile, as CEO, I lead an organisation of over 5,000 staff, of whom two-thirds are police officers, with a budget of around £275m.

We protect 42% of the Welsh population and 10% of its land mass. We are described as a strategic force: the largest of the four Welsh forces, with the capacity to deal simultaneously with resource-intensive murders, a stadium of 74,000 sports fans, and the 60,000 revellers who flock to Cardiff at the weekend. We also provide vital support for the other two southern forces.

As CEO, sensitivity to our political environment and the demands of partnership working is crucial. Under devolution, our partners in health, education and local authorities answer to the Welsh Assembly, while we remain answerable to London. Still, we have the ability to engage closely with Welsh ministers, a benefit that my counterparts in England don't have.

Yet the Home Secretary can routinely persuade Whitehall colleagues to work together on strategies that do not apply in Wales; if the Assembly doesn't support the Home Office position, our partners do not have to co-operate with us. Nevertheless, we are judged by the same performance measures as English forces.

Managing budgets is, of course, also critical. All chief constables have to juggle the 20% that is not tied up in staff costs between local community delivery and the provision of specialist assets. Many of my communities are among the most deprived in Wales, and this poses major challenges for us, particularly in a recession, which history indicates is likely to result in more crime and social disharmony.

My communities tell me that they want us to deal with youths on the street, litter, speeding, irresponsible parking and abandoned cars. Such issues create insecurity and fear of crime, despite crime and anti-social behaviour falling - the latter by 30% in our force.

However, the ACPO National Strategic Assessment dictates that we also address specialist concerns as diverse as counter-terrorism, child protection and domestic violence. These challenges demand different equipment and different skills sets; inevitably, at higher cost. I would argue that the UK needs strong police forces both locally in communities and in the provision of specialist resources, so that serious crime does not gain a larger foothold.

Security and stability are fundamental to a country's quality of life and to economic growth. The police service has a major role to play in ensuring the future prosperity of our country. Only when we create an environment that is (and looks) safe and secure will we and our partners achieve stability. Then proposals for investments become viable.

Internal investment in itself is a challenge when we need to make efficiency savings and financial cutbacks. I must currently manage under-funding of £8.5m, against £24m efficiency savings achieved over seven years. There are two areas where we must continue to invest: in the development of our people and in research that enables us to make informed decisions to improve our service delivery.

Any organisation is only as strong as the people it recruits. When I came to South Wales, I embarked on a programme that has revolutionised the way in which we recruit and train our officers, with the aim of ensuring that we have the ability, skill and potential needed to transform the future of policing.

To achieve this, and leave a legacy in South Wales that will continue to improve policing in Wales after my time, we have developed a unique relationship with Cardiff and Glamorgan Universities to create a University Police Science Institute (UPSI). Our recruits enter Glamorgan University and obtain a foundation degree, with credits for a BSc in policing achieved through career pathway training. We've invested in leadership development to make the best of the best.

Investment in research is necessary to ensure we do not 'throw good money after bad'. We need to understand what moulds our communities' perceptions of crime and disorder - as well as the factors that contribute. For instance, research conducted by our UPSI professor at Cardiff demonstrated that, as a service, we did not listen to the people who could provide the information we needed to make informed decisions in all areas of policing. That has changed.

In these economically challenging times, some police forces may stop recruitment, close training establishments and cull research. Here in South Wales, we'll continue the recruitment, training and research that will change our culture and provide the evidence base for future training and service delivery. In my view, the future prosperity of Wales will be determined by our success in these key areas. Failure is not an option.

CV: Barbara Wilding, CBE, QPM, FRSA, joined the States of Jersey Police in 1967 as a cadet just before her 17th birthday. She went on to serve in the Metropolitan and Kent police forces before joining South Wales Police - one of the largest and busiest forces in England and Wales - in January 2004, becoming the first female chief constable in Wales.

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