West Midlands Police faces an uphill battle to convince the public they can have confidence in plans for a “business partnership” with the private sector.
That battle only becomes harder as time goes by and the scheme looks increasingly chaotic.
West Midlands Police Authority has decided effectively to put the whole process on hold until a Police and Crime Commissioner is elected in November.
But it also approved the force’s business case for the scheme – which warned that cash to pay for the procurement process is due to run out in September.
The simple fact that £5 million is being spent on trying to make the partnership work, before a single contract is signed, at the same time as the force is trying to make massive savings, might worry many people.
It’s true that West Midlands Police is not meeting the entire cost itself. Surrey Police and the Home Office are also contributing.
And perhaps the fact that the Home Office is directly contributing £2 million towards the partnership process is worth considering.
While Surrey and West Midlands Police appear to have entered into the process voluntarily, it’s also clear that they have been encouraged in this regard by the Home Office. And this appears to be linked to a 20 per cent cut in government grant that police forces across the country are currently trying to cope with.
Critics describe the business partnership plan as “privatisation”. West Midlands Police objects to the term, insisting that the police force is not being sold off. Instead, the force insists that plans to bring in private sector partners are simply about providing a better service to the public.
But the justification for the scheme has not been consistent. Initially, the force said the partnership was not about saving money.
More recently, it has said that it is being forced to change the way it operates as a result of spending cuts, the implication being that the private sector will be able to provide services at a cheaper cost than people employed directly by the police.
It may well be possible that West Midlands Police, like many large organisations, is able to make efficiencies.
But outsourcing of functions with the intention of saving money, which seems to be what is really planned here, rarely results in a better service.
Candidates hoping to become the region’s first police commissioner have warned, as we result, that they will reject the partnership scheme.
In the circumstances it is unlikely they will receive much criticism for doing so.
But with the benefit of hindsight, it seems inevitable that whoever was elected would want to review, and quite possibly scrap, a controversial partnership strategy which they had no part in making.
Surely it would have made far more sense to begin the process only after the commissioner was in post – if it is needed at all?