There was a clear link between two items of news in London yesterday – the announcement that Hammersmith & Fulham Council was to reduce the Council Tax by 3% from April and proposals from the Mayor's Office for Policing & Crime for restructuring of the Met Police – innovation.
In the case of Hammersmith & Fulham, the advantage created by reaming out waste and bureaucracy, no doubt in the teeth of opposition at a political and organisational level from those who were so wedded to the status quo that no alternative approaches could possibly be entertained, has put the Council in a position to provide real cash savings for every Council Tax payer.
This is particularly relevant when one remembers this tax hits elderly people on fixed incomes hardest and that it is applied to earnings taxpayers have paid tax on already.
Cllr Botterill and his team have every right to be proud of their achievements and given the man who started the process – Stephen Greenhalgh – is now Deputy Mayor for Policing, nobody should be surprised that innovative approaches to saving money and focussing on service improvement will be apparent as the Met moves forward.
Proposals for radical change in the Metropolitan Police estate, the number and nature of police buildings have already brought opposition from Labour members of the London Assembly. No doubt the reassignment of hundreds of police officers from "specialist" units to beat duties will bring the usual howls from the Police Federation, but the Deputy Mayor is supported by senior officers in identifying that there are far too many "squads" across the Met, each operating in its own little territory, without thought for the wider implications of crime in the community.
Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne is right when he says "Most of the people that we arrest and deal with are spree offenders. By putting false barriers around how we investigate, we miss a trick."
The public will welcome the sight of more uniformed police on the streets – Constable numbers are set to go up to about 26000, whilst senior ranks will reduce in number. It's high time the Met and other forces focussed on the front line, rather than sharing the gold braid around at headquarters.
Londoners will also benefit from Greenhalgh's imaginative proposals for providing counter services. In the same way that Jessops is no longer the place they go to buy a camera, people have changed the way in which they contact the police over the past twenty years, to the point where the quietest place in a police station is likely to be the front office.
Using Post Offices, where staff are already security checked and used to dealing with private, sensitive, cash based transactions, for routine issues such as the production of documents or lost and found property has obvious potential. In a few years time, I suspect we will wonder why nobody thought of the idea earlier.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council provide the proof that innovation is the answer to grinding out the efficiencies essential to deliver effective public services against a backdrop of rebalancing public finances. What they are continuing and Stephen Greenhalgh is now doing in the Met should provide a model for the wider police service and local councils to adopt.