Managing the Met

Head of internal consultancy at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)sultant (CMC) profiles, Sarah Taylor interviews Anne Wheeler, head of internal consultancy at the Metropolitan Police Service. is not everyone’s dream job, but 48 year-old Anne Wheeler has been there for 20 years and still looks forward to the daily challenge of improving the Met’s performance.

Having graduated from Edinburgh University with a BSc in mathematics she spent two years working as an O&M (organisation & methods) officer for the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board. She went on to gain an MSc in Management Sciences at UMIST specialising in operational research in the health service and then worked in the Nursing Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh.

Her interest in public service management led her to the MPS which she joined in 1977 as an operational research officer in the Management Services Department and she has been there ever since. “There seemed to be a logical progression from my work on nurse staffing levels and delivery of care, to management services at the Met,” says Wheeler. “I’m a great believer in both these public services.”

At the time there were about 30 staff in the department most of whom were O&M officers, work study officers or police officers. There are now 45 in the consultancy group, mainly scientific graduates or occupational psychologists with a small number of police officers. “Over the years the group has been ‘professionalised’,” says Wheeler. “Most new recruits are from outside the police service and are either recent graduates or people with relevant experience. The role of the group has also changed from providing traditional management services to business oriented internal consultancy.”

Wheeler is now deputy director of Consultancy and Information Services (CIS) with direct responsibility for the Consultancy Group which is divided into a projects support office and four teams, each headed by a business manager who is responsible for a number of MPS business groups. These report directly to a member of the MPS policy board which is chaired by the commissioner, Sir Paul Condon.

These days the Met, like many public services, is run as a business with devolved budgets and increased accountability. The consultancy group “shadow charges” the other business groups for its services and aims to recover its annual costs of over #2m. Formal contracts are issued with agreed terms of reference which ensure that the group’s time is allocated effectively.

The Met is under constant pressure to improve its performance and demonstrate that it is providing value for money. This requires a considerable amount of business consultancy, most of which is provided by Wheeler’s team.

A recent review of support services concluded that business consultancy should not be outsourced, that the group was “valued by its customers as an independent body which offers objective help and advice” and that “members of the group understand the police culture, the internal politics and the emerging strategies in a way that would be virtually impossible for external consultants”.

External consultants are used from time to time to provide the specialist skills or objectivity which the internal team is not always in a position to offer. Teams or individuals from the large practices often work directly with the business groups or alongside the internal consultants providing departmental reviews, business analysis or facilitation.

Typical internal projects for the Consultancy Group include:

Assistance with the development of a crime reduction strategy including facilitated sessions.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of initiatives such as operation Bumble Bee, when police roadshows display recovered stolen property to the public.

The group will compare costs with objectives such as public perceptions and education, making recommendations for future campaigns.

Developing a national Management Information System for the Police Service.

Interpreting statistics and information about the London communities which will inform policy-making. MPS policy has to reflect the changing local scene and it is the role of CIS to keep the appropriate groups informed of such developments.

Competency work with senior officers, for example, for managing public order incidents.

Internal and external selection.

Preparation of a development model for resource allocation across the service.

Not surprisingly the CIS Consultancy Group is the biggest of its kind in the country and although its primary role is to service the MPS the group does do some work with other bodies such as the Home Office, the Prison Service and the London Taxi Board.

“While the Consultancy Group does not formulate policy it does inform management decision making,” says Wheeler. “Its role is to support the policy board as well as the front line officers who often bring the day-to-day management issues to our attention.”

The imminent move to a Greater London Authority and borough based policing will have considerable impact on the organisation. “Our biggest challenge at MPS is the pace of change,” Wheeler explains. “It is essential that our consultants network constantly at all levels, keeping in touch with internal and external developments. We sit on policy-making groups and we have to keep up to speed with national issues in many areas, not just policing.”

Wheeler shows great loyalty to the organisation that has been her employer for so long: “It is a very friendly and mutually-supportive organisation.” She cites different occasions when senior people within the organisation, not always her bosses, gave her practical or moral support, such as advice on how to present to a room full of police officers, or diffusing tension at the start of a meeting. She claims that such human touches are not uncommon at MPS stressing, “I’ve found it a very caring organisation.”

As a profession, policing has a poor reputation with regard to equal opportunities, but Wheeler is keen to point out that she has personally never encountered sexism in the MPS and that attitudes towards women have improved enormously. The consultancy group has an equal male/female split and there are now many more women in senior positions at MPS than 20 years ago. The civil staff are also very representative of the London community.

Wheeler became a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) earlier this year (her certificate takes pride of place on the wall of her office) and stresses the importance of external accreditation of her consultants and the group as a whole. “Our clients are becoming more professional, be they management, police officers or academics, and in the face of increasing competition from external consultants we have to maintain our profile,” she says.

“We also want to attract staff with experience, not just new graduates.

External accreditation helps to do this. The IMC’s Code of Professional Conduct and ethical guidelines are particularly important in an organisation like this.”

When Wheeler joined MPS she had no idea she would be still be there 20 years later. “In retrospect, that was a decisive point in my life,” she says. “I didn’t realise there would be so many opportunities for me to progress and such a variety of projects. I haven’t had a chance to get stale! The organisation has changed too over that time. Twenty years ago our focus was on business requirements, now there is more emphasis on policy development.”

Wheeler has headed up the consultancy group for over two years now and was instrumental in the introduction of its own corporate identity and logo which has helped to raise the group’s profile internally. She is not complacent about the future, one reason why she applied for CMC status, but wants to continue to develop the group. “I have enjoyed myself hugely and hope to continue doing this job as the MPS continues to develop and change.”

Her current challenge is to move the group forward. “Managing a group of consultants is one of the most difficult jobs around,” she says. “They are all intelligent, questioning and challenging individuals. My job is to channel that talent and to maintain a happy and healthy group of well-trained professionals. I couldn’t ask for more. I’m doing a job that’s needed in a challenging environment.”

For more information about becoming a CMC please call the IMC on 0800 31 80 30

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