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Prescott: Police Privatisation Must Be Stopped

Former deputy prime minister, who plans to stand in first 'police' elections, says use of security firms is unacceptable

Lord Prescott has launched a campaign to "keep the police public", arguing that the radical proposal to extend the role of private security companies in policing "needs to be nipped in the bud".

The former deputy prime minister, who intends to stand in the first elections for police and crime commissioners (PCC) this November, said he found the £1.5bn contract drawn up by the West Midlands and Surrey police inviting bids to provide a wide range of services to be a grave threat to traditional policing.

"This is extremely alarming, fundamental change to our police system. It needs to be nipped in the bud now. This is about replacing bobbies on the beat with security people."

He said his opposition would form part of his manifesto if he were adopted as the Labour PCC candidate for Humberside: "The police are already having 20% of their monies cut," he said. "They are losing 16,000 staff nationally and this is the plan to fill the gap – with security people? That is not acceptable."

His warning came as the British Security Industry Association, which represents 14 leading private security companies already involved in policing, welcomed the opportunity to take over certain police functions.

Robbie Calder, the chair of BSIA's policing and public services section, said: "At present our police officers perform far too many tasks that don't necessarily require the presence of a warranted officer, for example, managing cordons, area searches and taking witness statements.

"The introduction of a new era of regulation, including company registration, will hopefully serve to increase police confidence in working alongside our industry."

The industry's trade body said companies such as G4S and Reliance already carried out local authority and resident street patrols, ran town centre CCTV schemes, served court warrants, protected crime scenes and were responsible for court security and immigration services.

The Home Office has insisted that the private sector can help make "behind the scenes" functions more efficient, freeing up police officers for frontline work.

"Only police officers have the power of arrest and they will continue to patrol the streets, respond to 999 calls and lead investigations," a spokesman said.

"The last government in which John Prescott was deputy prime minister introduced private sector involvement in police forces. Policing will remain a public service, accountable to people through elected police and crime commissioners."

Calls to 999 in at least one police force, Cleveland, are already being handled by a private company, Steria, while call handling and a range of other services are about to be transferred to G4S in Lincolnshire, along with the detention of suspects in custody suites.

It comes as 160 staff and a range of "back office" services are to be transferred back to the public sector in Avon and Somerset. They had been taken over by Southwest One in 2007 under a joint venture between IBM, Somerset council, the Avon and Somerset police and Taunton Deane borough council. The U-turn follows losses of £31m and failures to hit savings targets.

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