Private firms are to bid to run back office functions at West Midlands Police after officials launched a tender for contracts.
The move means the radical restructure of the force which aims to save cash has been given the green light.
West Midlands Police has formed a partnership with its Surrey counterpart on a new project that aims to strike a deal with businesses to help transform the way they operate.
A contract tender filed with the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) stated that the project wanted to find “the best of business innovation and ways of working while preserving the integrity of the office of constable”.
And it added: “It is anticipated that the strategic partner will also directly manage some services with the forces.”
The latest development will add to the uncertainty faced by civilian workers over the future nature of their jobs, while union bosses have described it as “an area of anxiety”.
Sponsored by the Home Office, the Business Partnering Programme has been designed to look at whether long-term partnerships between the private and public sectors could help transform public services faced with swingeing government cuts.
West Midlands Police Force has to find £126 million of savings over four years. But with the financial outlook looking gloomy, the argument is that simply slicing into services will no longer work and business transformation is the only way forward.
The force’s Chief Constable Chris Sims has already said any partnership with the private sector would have to be more radical than simply outsourcing services.
However, exactly how back office functions will be transformed remains to be seen as the force waits to see what ideas private companies have before drawing up a concrete plan.
Chief Supt Phil Kay, who is overseeing the project, said: “This is about how we deal with the challenging conditions that we face and how we look to innovative ways to try and continue improving on delivering the service that we provide to the community.
“We want to explore how working with people in the private sector might be able to give us a new dimension and help us transform our service.
"The OJEU notice is in effect and advert telling the market what we want to do and give companies a chance to express an interest. Then we will go through a really detailed evaluation process to see how that might progress and the wider opportunities available to us.”
Mr Kay said there were examples of private sector companies running functions for public sector functions and said it was about improving service for the taxpaying public.
“This is about maintaining the office of constable and being clear that some things have to be done by people with warranted powers. Our mission remains to serve and protect the community.
“We also want to see what areas of business there are where we can work with partners in the private sector to deliver in a way that is more cost effective, efficient and helps to improve the service.”
The business transformation and service delivery partnership, worth between £300 million and £1.5 billion over seven years, has been split into two sections, one for all services and one specifically for custody.
At a recent meeting with the Police Authority, independent member Brendan Connor JP cautioned the force to be aware of the danger of slipping into a “super-outsourcing and a mix of private finance initiative”.
Charlie Sarell, regional secretary of Unison, which represents civilian staff, predicted a “rocky road” ahead.
Following a meeting with senior officers and the Home Office last year, he said: “It is an area of anxiety and something we have to watch closely. We have serious concerns about what it means to policing. We are raising a lot of questions.”