To be clear the question states ‘thoughts’ rather than ‘fully researched facts’ on this complex and longstanding issue and that is how I have approached this question.
As a serious candidate for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire I am making it my business to find out a great many things to gain the knowledge I will need to fulfil the role. I am aware that to act in the interest of the public and in the best interest of the officers and staff of Lincolnshire Police will take constant learning on my part as well as positive leadership. I have taken time to ensure that I have listened to the views of both serving and ex officers as I have travelled around the country researching aspects of the PCC role and morale is never far from the top of the conversation.
It is vital that a PCC knows when matters fall under the control and leadership of the Chief Constable and does not cross the line into interfering with operational issues. This has been a huge problem in some areas where an ‘ex-job’ PCC has been in post. It is important for the public to understand that having someone as PCC with 25 years plus operational experience can be more of a hindrance than a help to achieving a healthy relationship between the top tiers that need to work together. Their knowledge and skillset is based around the operational and the urge to get involved with the Chiefs’ role could become overwhelming.
I know that the above seems to be a diversion from the question at hand but far from it. In answering the question I wish to explain my thoughts rather than getting hung up on where the PCC role starts and finishes on the subject of staff well-being and morale. I will cross over into areas that I fully understand are not within the role of PCC to flesh out why I believe the role can assist with this hugely important issue.
Anyone wishing to read up on the subject of morale and well-being in the workplace will have no shortage of texts to fill their day and those specific to policing are equally numerous. Unfortunately some of the most current and interesting come at a price. Papers such as Well-being, austerity and policing: Is it worth investing in resilience training? By Ian Hesketh of Lancaster University for example to name but one.
So, specifically to the question, or as it is, questions.
My thoughts on officer morale:-
I would start by referring to this report Challenge and Change: Police Identity, Morale and Goodwill in an Age of Austerity by James Hogget, Paul Redford, Deirdre Toher & Paul White at Bristol University.
I would recommend pages 110-115 in particular but the whole report is very interesting to read.
On a more ‘my thoughts’ level though, the PCC’s role in my view is to help the Chief Constable create space for a positive culture within the force whist achieving the outcomes that the public expect and deserve.
Good morale in any workforce comes from feeling valued as an employee but firstly and vitally as a person. We all want to feel that our efforts are appreciated which is why it’s a constant surprise to me that I choose to take on roles that usually attract criticism for the thing that didn’t go to plan rather than the 100’s of things that went well. I guess I can appreciate in some very small way the lot of an organisation that attracts the same from the media and wider public.
If those providing strategic direction within an organisation ensure that the cultural expectation is one of listening to its people, acting to ensure they are valued and providing firm, fair leadership then you have at least the basis for morale to grow in a sustained way. Open, transparent leadership is the only way to achieve cultural change of the magnitude needed. The listening ear cannot be overvalued, as long as it is done with all sincerity.
If elected as PCC in May I would want to understand the roles and challenges of the officers and staff within the force at a meaningful level. Not in any way to interfere with the Chief’s role but to enable me to do mine to the best of my ability and ensure the team that is Lincolnshire police can use that listening ear and challenge directly what they believe needs questioning. I would wish to spend one day a month alongside officers and staff, shadowing their work to aid my understanding and provide that vital link between the strategy and the end result of its implementation. Making decisions is all very well but seeing the consequences and results of those decisions is not always easy. It does however lead to greater understanding and respect from both sides of the fence.
It is worth noting at this point that Lincolnshire Police face some challenges that most forces do not, in fact it could be argued that they face the hardest challenges regarding staff morale and retention because of some unique factors within the county. It is well documented that the funding formula that contributes significantly to pay for policing in Lincolnshire perversely favours urban areas and areas of high density and penalises counties such as Lincolnshire for being a large rural area. This effectively means that our force is smaller yet has to cover a vast stretch of England leading to extra pressure on officers and the force as a whole. Having spoken directly to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on this very subject I know that this is now a situation that has been accepted and as PCC I would continue to urge the need for formula reform.
Regarding the second part of the question, the issue of retention. This is obviously hugely important to the organisation on several levels. If we start to address the morale issue then this area should improve also. It is worth looking at the website http://www.policewellbeing.co.uk/ for information regarding the relationship between wellbeing, resilience and leadership
The bottom line for me comes back to culture. The PCC role is to aid the Chief in creating a positive culture that people want to be part of, not run from. Officers need to feel comfortable in saying that they are struggling with something and that keeping it in is bad for them and the force. I have heard from officers past and present from around the country who are clear that they felt unable to be open about things affecting their work and their state of mind. We need to change this culture nationally to see openness as a positive rather than a weakness.