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Force confirms talks with G4S

Chief constable says he is keeping an open mind on potential service providers as new custody centres prepare to open

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has been speaking to private security contractor G4S about the possibility of helping deliver custody provision at three new sites, PoliceOracle.com has been told.

Chief Constable Nick Gargan said the force was speaking to the company, alongside other potential suppliers, in a bid to attain “the best service” at three new custody centres.

The centres, at Bridgwater, Patchway and Keynsham, are set to open in March 2014 and will provide the vast majority of the force’s custody provision. Together they are part of a £129 million PFI project between the force and the Blue Light Partnership consortium.

Currently G4S manages the custody facilities of four forces in England and Wales: Lincolnshire, Staffordshire, South Wales and Lancashire. Their detention officers are always under the management of a warranted custody sergeant.

CC Gargan said he had been impressed by the company’s partnership with Lincolnshire Police, after seeing a report on its first-year performance published on June 24.

But he admitted the force were “cutting it fine” if they were going to enter a procurement process – with the centres due to open in less than a year.

Avon and Somerset was not one of the original 10 forces in England and Wales that added its name to the Lincolnshire – G4S framework when it was produced in 2012. This means it would not be entitled to an accelerated procurement deal with the company, which the other forces involved can enter into.

CC Gargan said: “We are speaking to G4S at the moment – we are not at the procurement stage, we are speaking to all the suppliers and our question is ‘what is possible?’ Off the back of that we will decide whether to ask a formal procurement question of the market.”

The chief said he was currently "open minded" over the type of custody services a private sector partner could potentially provide the force with.

He said, however, that he had been impressed with the company’s “Street to Suite” scheme in Lincolnshire, which sees people arrested on certain days of the week handed over to civilian custodians who transport them to custody by van. This enables police officers to remain on patrol after the completion of a risk assessment and handover.

CC Gargan said: “I think this is yet another example of chief constables, in this case Neil Rhodes and his predecessor, showing ingenuity and innovation to deal with a difficult spending challenge and I am very pleased the contract is performing so well.”

But he said the service should not get “carried away” with some of the success claims the security giant made in the report.

This came after Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Hardwick, was quoted saying that if the other 42 forces in England and Wales could achieve Lincolnshire’s lower level of spending – as a result of G4S involvement – up to £1 billion of the national police grant would be saved every year.

CC Gargan said: “That assumes that other forces haven’t already done many of the things Lincolnshire have done and assumes everyone is in the same starting position which they aren’t.

“That is extrapolating it too far and G4S of all people should remember the dangers of overreaching themselves following the Olympics last year.”

The Lincolnshire partnership is currently the biggest private contract in policing at £200 million and sees G4S deliver a range of services, including HR, IT, fleet management, custody and firearms licensing.

The 10 other forces who added their names to the original Lincolnshire framework are Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Gwent, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire.

Although three of those, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, worked to finalise a deal with the company, it fell apart following disagreement between their respective police and crime commissioners.

The remaining seven forces have not yet entered into a contract with the security giant.

The new custody and crime investigation centres at Keynsham and Patchway will have 48 custody cells each while the new operations base, in Bridgwater, will have 36.

The Keynsham site will replace existing custody facilities in Bath, Avon and Somerset said. The new Bridgwater site meanwhile will replace old custody facilities in Taunton and Bridgwater itself.

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