Nearly three years ago, I was appointed the chief constable of Lancashire, the force I had first joined as a cadet some 27 years earlier. The fact that I was the first woman appointed to such a senior position guaranteed a high-profile start to my new job but, even so, I was taken aback by the media interest. The day after being offered the job, I was given quite a grilling by the assembled journalists. I suspect they considered me something of a curiosity; the lady from The Times even asked me what perfume I preferred.
I quickly realised that I would remain in the public spotlight for some time and, as I settled into my new role, the clamour for newspaper, radio and television interviews continued. It was not just the media putting me under pressure. There were other demands, both internal and external, that made me realise the scale of the job I had taken on.
Lancashire Constabulary still has a tremendous reputation within the police service but organisational and cultural changes were needed to keep it in step with some of the radical reforms being proposed elsewhere. For example, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act of 1994 laid the foundations for considerable change throughout the police service. The key elements of the Act envisaged police authorities as free-standing bodies with their own budgets and a special duty to secure and maintain an effective police service. It gave chief constables more authority and the power to manage the force budget.
These changes came on the back of the previous government's commitment to shake up the public sector. Politicians believed that the public sector had become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. We were seen as expensive, large, bureaucratic, top heavy and lacking in accountability.
The Conservative government considered the police service to be under-achieving in its central law-and-order role of reducing crime and maintaining a high level of public satisfaction. Despite generous funding of the service (it currently stands at over £7 billion), recorded crime continued to rise and a succession of surveys revealed a big drop in public confidence in the police.
We were under intense pressure to change. We did not need to look very far to see who we could emulate. Many in the private sector had already undertaken the sort of reforms that we were contemplating. Just like those in industry, we faced growing customer demand, we wanted to improve our quality of service and respond to the challenge of rapidly changing technology.
The private sector had harnessed these factors to develop a customer-led environment with better goods and services, delivered at lower costs.
We needed to try and do the same, focusing not just on activity and outputs but on outcomes as well.
The Lancashire Constabulary is the eighth largest police force in England and Wales, employing 3,362 officers, 1,233 support staff and 500 special constables, with a budget of £174 million. It had developed a strategic plan but this was failing to make an impact on the organisation mainly because no operational plans had been developed.
I also found that the organisation was structured along traditional hierarchical lines - with the command at headquarters and 14 territorial divisions delivering services to the public. The divisions were supported by large departments at the centre, with a centralised decision-making system based on paper-shuffling and rank. Management costs were high and there was very little financial devolution to local managers. All these factors meant the divisions were supporting headquarters and not the other way round - as it should have been.
Even so the Constabulary was considered to be relatively efficient. But I quickly became aware that the local communities wanted to see more police officers on the beat, to provide visible reassurance and community-based policing. I wanted us to become more flexible in the way we worked to satisfy the variety of demands on our services. I wanted to develop a culture in which police officers and their civilian colleagues considered themselves a team. And I wanted to change the culture of the organisation, by moving away from the old autocratic style of leadership towards an approach based on open, responsive and flexible working practices and the community.
In May 1996, we started our change programme by asking colleagues what they wanted from management. The cultural audit revealed that staff were unhappy about their lack of involvement in the corporate decision-making process. They felt that the organisation was bureaucratic, and that working within such a tight hierarchical infrastructure prevented officers from taking local initiatives to deal with crime and disorder.
After wide consultation and helped by an outside consultant, the senior management team developed a corporate strategy followed by a vision statement. We then turned our attention to the force structure: the number of divisions was reduced from 14 to six to give greater autonomy through devolution of authority and financial management. Each local commander now has ultimate responsibility for personnel, finance and resource management. At the same time, some senior posts have been removed and officers returned to divisions and to front-line policing duties. All this is being supported by our human resources strategy, which aims to put the right people in the right place at the right time, with the right skills.
Our change programme is now into its second year. It has not been easy and there has been some resistance as we have left old practices behind, but I am confident that we can keep the momentum going. The challenge now is to use our new style and structure to deliver the results that our communities need.
We need to ensure that real improvements are felt not only by our staff but also by the people of Lancashire. They deserve a police service that looks after them. My aim is to make sure they get it. In short, the changes that I have implemented with the help of the managers and staff, are intended to make our local communities feel safe, involved and reassured.