Policing by contract

26 September 2014

In 2012 the Government made the controversial announcement that police services would be opened up to private sector partnerships. Driven by austerity, outsourcing was championed as the solution to budgetary pressure. At the time, public opinion was overwhelmingly negative. Issues of trust and legitimacy were at the forefront of media coverage as journalists conjured images of consultants and security guards policing our streets.

However two years on, a very different story is emerging. Forces are reporting the financial and procedural benefits of business partnerships. Debunking kneejerk responses to outsourcing, success has been achieved in an array of contractual arrangements. As public sector leaders receive George Osborne’s warning that cost-cutting is “not even half done”, the opportunities that outsourcing can provide should not be overlooked.

In Lincolnshire, a successful partnership with G4S has translated into a cost reduction of more than 20 per cent in just over two years – equating to £5 million of permanent year-on-year savings. Contrary to initial assumptions, G4S and Lincolnshire Police were able to deliver this result without any imposed redundancies; all 575 staff-members were transferred over to G4S under TUPE arrangements. While Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary have reported that many forces are resorting to large redundancies as their primary method of cost-cutting, Lincolnshire’s decision to outsource to the private sector has enabled the force to retain its staff. Instead, changes to service delivery will create a guaranteed £36 million of savings by 2022.

However, partnerships between the public and private sector have not been without challenges. In Lincolnshire, Chief Constable Neil Rhodes has admitted to numerous clashes of culture and politics which tested the partnership. In earlier, less successful, partnerships such as the first-to-market SouthWest One project, relations were described by an audit committee as “at times…adversarial”. This 2008 initiative contracted IBM to implement a shared resource service between Somerset Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon & Somerset Police. Marred by its scale, the different needs of each agency resulted in an unworkable partnership. Retrospectively, Committee Members reflected that the 3,000 page long contract should have rung warning bells about how the partnership was being managed. Although SouthWest One did not achieve its targets, its example has offered crucial lessons for subsequent partnerships, highlighting the importance of transparency, simplicity and tailored collaborations.

In July this year, West Midlands Police announced a new 5-year partnership with Accenture. Avoiding the pitfalls which SouthWest One fell victim to, Chief Constable Chris Sims has specifically contracted the consultancy firm to transform the mobile and digital capability of the force. Far from the redundancies and corporate takeovers that the public have imagined, this partnership will capitalise on private sector expertise. Technological transformation will ensure West Midlands can drive down time spent in back office, whilst improving citizen communication and cost efficiencies.

With the General Election approaching and the promise of a further £25 billion of public sector cuts to be made – outsourcing in its various forms is an option which the police cannot afford to dismiss.

Annie Leigh, intern at Reform.




29 January, 2015

An interesting take, and undoubtedly some merit in the approach, an approach which many police forces are growing in confidence to explore. Seemingly though , it may only get you so far. Lincolnshire's decision to outsource may have led to culture clashes but they can be overcome. That the force, according to its own Chief Constable, is soon to be on the verge of non-viability, may not be so easy to rectify. That decision to outsource may have led to the short term success described, but now, facing the further public sector cuts in funding, Lincolnshire has no where to turn. Outsourcing may be one option, but the thought of turning over public money to private sector profit, without having first attempted to 'lean out' to the point of commercial unattractiveness, is one that should leave any public sector leader cold.