The damning report into Greater Manchester Police that we were never meant to see
Nine months ago, as Greater Manchester Police was reeling from being placed into special measures, the mayor’s office commissioned a review into its problems.
Consultants Pricewaterhousecoopers were brought in to conduct a root and branch review - partly to see whether its initial plans for improvement were fit for purpose, but also to identify what lay behind its failures.
The M.E.N. revealed many of its key findings in the Spring, after news leaked of its damning conclusions. But at the time, it was kept under wraps.
Since then a new Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, has taken up post and drawn up a longer term improvement plan - and on Friday, the full PwC report was finally published alongside it.
It makes for damning reading. PwC’s findings echo many of the points made by current and former officers in the M.E.N’s report into GMP’s cultural problems last week, particularly around an environment of negativity, blame and lack of support from the top.
More than 700 members of staff responded to a cultural survey that revealed some of the worst findings PwC had ever seen in a police force - with particular frustration and anger reserved for the force’s computer system, iOPS.
The consultants had also found neighbourhood officers struggling with huge workloads, in some instances handling 25 cases at a time, while GMP overall did not have good enough data to be able to take good decisions. Victims were often thought of ‘last’, according to interviews with police officers carried out in March. Training was insufficient and inconsistent; Wigan in particular had been allocated too few officers to meet demand; morale overall was low.
Many cops felt particularly ill equipped to deal with the scale of the mental health cases GMP was now attending.
Speaking to the GMCA on Friday, Andy Burnham said the report had only ever been intended for internal consumption, but that the Chief had decided to publish it with his agreement.
It had been commissioned in the first place, he said, ‘so at this point in time there was just a full picture, everything was faced up to in its entirety’.
“And while it was never intended that that report was going to be published - because obviously we wanted people to be able to speak freely to that report - we have given that commitment and it is being published.
“I was quite clear that this was a report to the Chief Constable to support him in his decision making, in formulating this plan. And I was also clear that it was his decision to publish, but that was the decision that we both made, and when that should be done.
“So I just want to make it absolutely clear that those were policing decisions as opposed to anything else. But that has been done because we needed at this moment in time to face up to everything that we need to face up to so that we rebuild in exactly the right way.”
GMP now has a detailed improvement plan, informed in large part by the PwC report. But now for the first time we can detail exactly what that 100-page report found.
Leadership: ‘Quick to push blame down’
Some of the most damning findings in the review related to leadership and culture.
The frontline, for their part, reported a pervasive culture of blame.
“The force is disillusioned with leadership. There is a lack of top down direction and a sense that leadership does not understand the realities of the frontline,” reported PwC, noting that was particularly the case in relation to the Policeworks element of the iOPS computer system, first the source of whistleblower frustrations more than two years ago.
“There is a perception that leaders are quick to push blame down and the frontline does not feel appreciated or valued, despite being the first person victims engage with.”
PwC carried out a huge cultural survey, responded to by more than 700 members of staff, as well as holding workshops and focus groups attended by dozens more.
It found consistent themes, including a ‘cynicism’ towards the organisation, one that was leading many officers to treat it as a stepping stone on their career path.
That was then leading to loss of expertise and institutional knowledge, with neighbourhood policing officers particularly inexperienced - and struggling to mentor one another as a result.
“A survey of 700+ officers and staff returned some of their most critical qualitative responses seen by PwC’s culture specialists,” said the report.
“The survey, which has been delivered at three other law enforcement organisations reveals a wide disconnect between frontline staff and the leadership (senior officers) of the organisation, which has eroded trust and confidence. Whilst police officers and staff retain a strong sense of public duty, there is a belief this is hindered by ‘chaotic’ organisation in GMP.”
The force had ‘not responded consistently’ to police inspectorate findings over a number of years, it found, ‘leaving it lagging other forces in innovation and performance’.
“In interviews with senior leaders (chief officers) there was a lack of operational accountability, corporate governance and capacity to lead change.”
While other large police forces had invested in a better blend of skills at the top - including more senior civilian staff - GMP had not done so.
There were many strengths among frontline staff, found PwC, including huge resilience and a sense of public duty. Cops were proud to be police officers and wanted to do the right thing.
But problems in the way the force was being run meant that they were relying on an ‘extraordinary effort’ to keep the show on the road.
A ‘fear of failure’ was widespread and was negatively affecting individual members of staff, found PwC.
“Across the force there is a sense of competition rather than collaboration and a tendency towards shifting blame, fear of failure and a reluctance to own up to mistakes.”
‘Angry and frustrated’: iOPS
A major theme from interviews with police officers related to the force’s computer system.
That had first prompted the frontline - and civilian staff - to contact the M.E.N. with frustrations and fears within days of its introduction in summer 2019, but it would be this year before the scale of its problems were fully publicly acknowledged.
PwC confirmed what officers already knew: the Capita-built system, or at least the part used by most cops, lacked the basic functions they needed. And it meant they were wasting hour upon hour waiting for it to load.
Instead of helping, Policeworks was ‘hindering GMP’s ability to deliver its service’.
“iOPS Policeworks is limiting police officers’ ability to carry out their roles,” concluded the report.
“Feedback from officers and staff is that the system does not have the features they need and its performance increases time spent carrying out administrative tasks.
“Some of these issues have been dismissed as ‘user error’, however they are widely vocalised across staff and officers from all parts of the force and some of the basic functionality expected of a records management system does not exist.”
The performance of Policeworks was 'consistently described as poor, with hours lost per day waiting for crimes to load’.
“Officer time is wasted waiting for systems to load, when time is better spent responding to incidents and solving crimes.”
Some cops had come up with workarounds in order to avoid the system’s glitches, involving filling out spreadsheets. But that was wasting more time and duplicating work.
Among those using Policeworks, ‘it was their strongly held view that their concerns had not been taken seriously’.
And there was a further problem, one which PwC suggested was putting both cops and victims at risk. It was a fear officers had already been reporting to the M.E.N. since August 2019: intelligence.
The lack of background intel available in the system - the kind of information that an officer needs in order to weigh up risk to both a victim and to themselves, if they are responding to an incident - simply wasn’t there.
“Officers and members of the public are put in danger if the full intelligence picture is not understood,” noted PwC.
Overall, the system had ‘not delivered the intended benefits’ of an IT transformation designed both to save money and overhaul the force’s performance.
Instead, it had ‘impacted productivity and left the workforce angry and frustrated’.
Victims: ‘the last thought’
A key part of the report’s purpose was to find out why GMP was failing victims in the first place, as outlined by the policing inspectorate a few months earlier.
In fact, found PwC, a whole array of structural problems were overlapping to mean victims were not getting the help they needed.
Despite new training at that point being rolled out, police officers reported victims being ‘rarely thought about first’.
“Feedback from interviews and workshops suggested victims were always the ‘last thought’, rather than being central to all processes,” wrote PwC.
Teams set up specifically to help victims were not being well used. Victims were not being kept up to speed and often cases were being closed without them being told.
PwC found that behind lay huge inconsistency between different divisions, with nobody at the top maintaining a clear picture of what was happening overall, in large part due to GMP’s data being unreliable and governance poor.
Some districts might send an officer to a burglary; some wouldn’t. Police officers were not being distributed to different places according to demand - so some places with higher demand didn’t have the necessary cops.
“Resources are not allocated to districts in a manner that reflects the demand experienced in each area…there is not a consistent, demand based approach,” it found.
“Wigan is an interesting example which illustrates this point.”
Wigan, it noted, had the highest crime demand in the most recent month for which they could get clear data, which was last December. Yet Salford, Bolton and central Manchester all had more cops.
Neighbourhood officers themselves were sometimes handling 25 cases at a time, reporting that they simply didn’t have time to investigate properly. Under the ‘omnicompetency’ model introduced across GMP in 2015, specialist teams had been scrapped and neighbourhood cops were now struggling to do too many different things.
“Within the omnicompetency model, neighbourhood police officers are carrying large workloads, including significant volumes of paperwork and investigatory work,” found PwC.
“This is adversely impacting the force’s ability to respond to calls for service.”
They were also ‘not given the basic training to do their job’, such as driving courses. There was a particular concern among many officers that they did not have the training necessary to deal with huge volumes of mental-health related incidents.
GMP wasn’t meeting its response targets, by quite some way - in fact just over 40pc of ‘grade two’ incidents, the second most serious, were being responded to within an hour on many divisions.
“GMP’s inability to consistently attend incidents within target has the potential to put the public at risk, as they are waiting longer for an officer than they would if targets were met,” found PwC.
“This is particularly pertinent given GMP performs most poorly in relation to Grade 1 and 2 incidents, where the potential risk of harm to service users is greatest.”
But PwC also found that many incidents were being wrongly graded by call handlers at the outset, with many staff in the communications branch not having had the training they needed to assess risk.
Ultimately, GMP simply didn’t understand the nature of the demand it was being hit with. It couldn’t analyse it and then act accordingly. There was no performance monitoring framework, so decisions were not evidence-based.
“GMP need to get these basics right before embarking on further long term change,” found the report, noting that many officers felt the force had ‘lost its way’.
PwC’s report also criticised GMP’s approach to other agencies - although it suggested, too, that some responsibility may now lie with the system here as a whole, particularly the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which is overseen by the mayor.
It noted the particularly high levels of mental health and social care related cases being dealt with by the force and a volume of calls to its switchboard that could potentially have been dealt with by other agencies.
Even so, GMP itself lacked any kind of strategy of its own to deal with other agencies, noted the report.
It had been inconsistent in its dealings with other bodies and had more than 100 different email addresses into which outside agencies - including those responsible for safeguarding - were meant to refer concerns.
Around two thirds of those email inboxes were being closed down at the point PwC visited.
“Examples of good partnership working exist, but are very limited across the force,” it added.
Nevertheless, not all the findings were limited to GMP itself.
The report suggested a wider approach was needed across the Greater Manchester system to deal with a range of complicated social problems.
‘Across the force’, people in GMP said they couldn’t deliver the services people deserved ‘unless other agencies play their role’ through a ‘wider Greater Manchester led approach to partnership working’, it said.
“The force believes more could be done by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to facilitate partnership working and to provide or commission a sufficient number of services to meet GM’s health and social needs.
“They feel that if they were able to refer people into more specialist support earlier, there would be a reduction in police demand relating to mental health and social issues.
“This would both free up officer capacity and ensure individuals receive the support and services they need.”
In a region that prides itself on public sector partnership working, that may now be a top priority not only for the new Chief Constable, but those running other organisations across the region.
For GMP’s part, a great many of PwC’s findings run through the force’s new ‘forward plan’, unveiled by the Chief Constable on Friday, which can be read in full here.
PwC’s own analysis can be found below.
Part two of our investigation into GMP - looking at how the force itself and political oversight of it will now be fixed - will be published later this week.