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Police Privatisation: '£5 Million Could Be Wasted'

ACPO officers face hard questions from Home Affairs Select Committee members

West Midlands and Surrey police forces could spend up to £5 million in their search for a private partnership – even though it could ultimately prove fruitless without a contract ever being signed, a committee meeting heard today.

Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, also told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the potential move to outsource some policing services to the private sector might not even save any money in the short term.

But he insisted it was the right course of action as the Police Service required radical transformation in the way it operated.

¬It is not only about making savings. This is about transforming the whole of the policing operation to give us access to better technology.¬

In an often heated hearing at Westminster, CC Sims said it was “a possibility” that both forces could eventually decide against accepting a private-policing framework, once the procurement process was at its end. The process, however, could spiral to a maximum cost of £5 million.

Committee Chairman Keith Vaz MP said: “At the end of the day you are not necessarily going to save any money are you?”

CC Sims responded: “It is not only about making savings. This is about transforming the whole of the policing operation to give us access to better technology.

“Will it transform the way (criminal) investigations work? Absolutely yes but it will not work by moving ownership of that function into the hands of the operator (a private partner).”

The meeting heard that since the two forces put a notice in the Official Journal of European Union over potential private policing contracts, 264 companies had shown an interest. This is set to be “boiled down” in the coming months as they enter closer negotiations with companies.

CC Sims appeared at the hearing with Surrey Chief Lynne Owens and both were forced to defend the proposals, including the lack of detail given over the policing services that ultimately could be outsourced to the private sector.

CC Owens said forces had to work in a smarter way and the private sector’s expertise could be a positive solution.

She added: “At the moment the police service has large quantities of technology but it isn’t quality technology.

“If you wanted to track your crime (as a victim) through the system, you cannot do that.”

CC Sims added that policing had not changed enough in the 30 years he had been an officer.

He said: “Much of it is recognisable from the day I joined the service - we have not managed to transform the core operations of policing.”

Committee member Steve McCabe criticised the proposals, saying the government “had a bad record” of private partnerships. He said: “They (private companies) are entering the process because they expect to make money.”

CC Sims said that companies would be held to account for their work and if they were not “transforming” the way the police worked they “shouldn’t make a profit”.

Both Chiefs said that front line policing would only be affected by the private partnership in terms of the way it operated, but companies would not actually provide staff to deliver front line services.

CC Sims used patrolling as an example. He said: “Patrolling will not be done by someone else. The impact of what we are doing absolutely (will affect it) – new technology for officers, better mobility, better access to data.”

Both forces said they would heed the warning of Mr McCabe who told the hearing that Cleveland Police, which entered into a large private contract with Steria, was forced to reduce officer posts once austerity measures were introduced to effectively save the deal

This was because the force agreed to the multi-million pound contract before the cuts of up to 20 per cent were announced.

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