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Comment: Police Service - Sale Now On

As accusations of a policing monopoly are made, a real life game of Monopoly has begun, says Royston Martis

Roll up, roll up.

The Police Service in England and Wales is going to be broken up and sold off.

This week we discovered that policing is – and I quote – a "monopoly public service".

We heard this catchy phrase from police minister Nick Herbert as he addressed MPs on the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

Less than an hour later, we also heard the term "monopoly public service" from Tom Winsor – the government’s choice as the next HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary – as he took his turn to address the same MPs.

What a coincidence that both these learned gentleman full of wide, educated and varying vocabularies used the same soundbite to describe the Police Service in England and Wales, during two separate hearings in Westminster.

A quick internet search shows a monopoly is ‘a situation in which a single company or group owns all or nearly all of the market for a given type of product or service”. By definition, monopoly is characterised by an absence of competition, which often results in high prices and inferior products.

So that is what the government – and its new friends – think of the service. That it provides an inferior product to the public it serves. Private companies could do better.

Need confirmation? Here’s more from Mr Winsor at HASC: He accused the Police Service of not “managing its assets intelligently” adding that the private sector “does this because it has competition. The Police Service does not”.

That is that then. Let us hive off huge parts of policing to the private sector and we will improve the service to the public.

A good theory it may be, but I see massive problems with this. If you are employing people who do not have the warranted powers of the office of constable to carry out traditional policing roles then you are losing the independence of the service.

Let us not forget that officers in this country are accountable to the public they serve and not to boards of directors or shareholders. They don’t have to make a profit margin on those shares.

From an operational standpoint, privatising policing roles loses flexibility and resilience to respond to incidents like last summer’s riots.

By cutting the police budget by 20 per cent, the government has created a reason for ACPO officers to look for cheap alternatives – such as privatisation.

If you thought Surrey, West Midlands and Lincolnshire Police were going to be the only ones privatising our police, you will be sadly mistaken.

The sale of the Police Service is gathering pace. A game of real-life Monopoly is underway and intensifying. Do not pass Go – do not collect £200.

The “monopoly public service” is going to get broken up.

After all, that is what governments do to monopolies.

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