Sunday 4 March 2012

Police and the Private Sector

There is a great deal of debate underway on an OJEU notice that WMP and Surrey have posted.

The notice was signed by a number of forces who have expressed an interest in the outcome of the debate, including Cumbria. The notice does not, in my view, commit any force to privatise core policing delivery but does give rise to the opportunity for debate about a range of supporting services.

The fundamental question it asks of the private sector is this: can the private sector deliver supporting aspects of policing cheaper, and more effectively and efficiently than currently achieved by the Police Service directly? Notably, can it do so after existing reduced budget reductions are actualised ?

To “test the market” private organisations will need to fully understand policing requirements and then make viable proposals. As I understand it, forces may then choose their level of involvement and decide on what components they wish to adopt. There are many ways of looking at this. Clearly, one is the view that this is a step toward privatising policing, and ought not to be seriously considered. However, many of the services we already deliver have a private sector aspect. For example, the vehicles we drive, the clothes we wear, the equipment with communicate with or use has been purpose built by private industry − mostly to specifications made by the police. Moreover, many aspects of recording of crime (e.g. ActionFraud) or forensic technology (i.e. the many forensic service or digital recovery services) are privately managed.

It is not new for policing to look for alternative sources of directly managed service delivery. The overarching challenge will be identifying what services could be open to delivery by private sector organisations and those that must remain within our own direct control.

As police leaders we have a duty to deliver against our objectives and the Policing Plan as well as budgets set by our governing bodies, the Police Authority and the Home Office. When Police and Crime Commissioners are elected, communities may more closely dictate what and how programmes of work are delivered. Remaining outside the discussion or debate now, is not, in my view, a reasoned response.

Today, we have to deliver policing services against a substantial reduction in budgets as part of the national drive to address the budget deficit. We should investigate any reasonable opportunity to maintain high quality service delivery within our budget allocations. One option is to “open services to market forces”. This gives us the opportunity to explore where other service providers can meet the criteria of highest quality and more efficient costs. When private organisations respond to the notice we will be able to better discuss what alternative service delivery method, if any, we might consider.

We cannot predict the future or prejudge the public appetite for change (through the PA or PCC) beyond the existing reduction programmes. If Company X is capable of delivering a better and cheaper service privately than the police service can deliver, perhaps in the future then they may do so. Indisputably, the safeguards of ethical behaviour, service competence, capability, liability and risk management must always be paramount. I am not fundamentally against using private business to deliver services. The greatest challenge to private providers will be to ensure that a central ethos of public service is delivered.

Policing is about citizens entrusted with extraordinary powers to uphold the law. Where that power is exercised actions and behaviour must be accountable to the community and the state, and I believe that must always be so. However , in good conscience can we use that principle to deny others from delivering supporting services? Like most officers with whom I serve, I started my public service career with a clear intention to make life better for society and do things that are right. Our support and non-warranted staff share this vision and commitment. Whilst many do not have direct contact with the public, they work to reduce crime, mitigate victim impact, and serve our communities well. Their allegiance to the police is immeasurable. Already under threat of notice of job changes or cuts, it is not surprising that current private sector considerations are worrisome. We must remain sensitive to the concerns of all our staff and integrate their views into our decision making.

The debate about creating a more ‘contracted approach’ to policing has just begun. There is no simple answer, and the whole debate has many sides and probably no ends.

I look forward to an open discussion with colleagues about these issues

1 comment:

  1. Christopher Edwin Wright4 March 2012 at 18:10


    I have now read this article and I am quite disappointed.

    Although you state ‘all vies are your own’ your submission is that the notice – signed by forces who expressed an interest in the outcome of the debate – does not commit any force to privatise core policing is fundamentally wrong. Once signed a notice is an intention to continue the investigation into privatisation of policing with the expectation of substantial financial rewards at the other end.

    Q1 – Define “core” policing?

    Yes the police have many contacts with the private sector but if the private sector can deliver a service cheaper than the current police procedure or policy why has not the police’s version been re-evaluated. After all the private sector, who state they can ‘do it’ cheaper will also want to make a profit.

    Q2 – Why has ACPO and the management of the police allowed the bureaucracy to reach a stage where they cannot even see how to cut costs to reach a level with private industry?

    Q3 - Why are you so quick to state what ‘services’ the police can never achieve, e.g. cars and mobile phones, when you do not state what part of policing the private sector can achieve cheaper?

    Q4 – Why do you look to abrogate your blameworthiness to the Police and Crime Commissioners who are yet to be formally submitted yet alone elected?

    Q5 – If you are abrogating to P&CC’s why make this type of question of private policing at all?

    Q6 – Where you state ‘one option is to open the services to market forces’ what are the other options?

    I agree with you that ‘policing is about citizens entrusted with extraordinary powers to uphold the law’ and this fundamental statement and premise must always hold true. Policing, and all its personal contacts and inter-actions, must be undertaken by warranted persons with a sworn oath to the Queen, the community and fairness above all else.

    Currently private industry, such as Hyundai or Airwave, is merely supplying technology that has no bearing on warranted sworn officers’ impartiality.

    Look what happens when we get close to private industry, such as Metropolitan Police ACPO and News International – The Leveson enquiry is testament to the need for policing to remain, albeit a monopoly, but within the police family so accountable to the public, not a group of unelected managers and shareholders.

    Once private industry enters, in any form, those persons employed by them, are beholden to them without oath or impartiality to anyone.


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