Two politicians who are vying to become the first elected Police Commissioner in the West Midlands have vowed to abandon the current private partnership plans.
If elected both the Tory candidate, Matt Bennett and the Labour candidate, Bob Jones, will bin the current proposals, which they have described as “a dead duck.”
The controversial Business Partnering for Police programme (BPP) was thrown into doubt last week after the official partner in the scheme, Surrey Police, voted to suspend its part in the process.
And members of the West Midlands Police Authority voted to defer a decision to hand over any more funding to the new Police and Crime Commissioner.
It means cash for the project will run out at the end of September – two months before a new commissioner is even elected.
West Midlands Police published a 28-page business case for the Business Partnering for Police programme (BPP) which was approved with a majority vote.
The business case warned that deferring the funding decision would lead to a “level of uncertainty that will be potentially fatal to the programme.”
Bob Jones is the Labour politician who is bidding to become the new commissioner. The Wolverhampton councillor, who is also currently a member of the Police Authority, said: “The purpose of the decision in the West Midlands was to keep the options on the table.
“But the clarification that has since come from Surrey Police is that they are minded to drop the proposals entirely.
“If that happens then it will clearly be a different offer with just the West Midlands. Surrey contributed a significant £1 million towards the £5 million consultancy costs and the pitch for any partners was to provide resources to both forces.
“It looks bleak at the moment for the whole scheme. It’s pretty much a dead duck and if I am elected I will not be continuing with the project.
“I will be looking for partners in areas of technology, like IT, but I will not be looking at a system that transports staff away to the private sector.
“I just can’t see who is going to come forward and defend these proposals and after the G4S fiasco I think public opinion will be even more skeptical.”
Former city councillor Matt Bennett secured the Conservative candidacy for the £100,000-a-year job last week.
Mr Bennett lost his Stockland Green seat on Birmingham City Council in May, but before that had been a member of the council’s cabinet with the children’s social care department.
He said: “It’s quite right that this important decision has been left to the new commissioner because it involves major changes and it would have been wrong for the authority to ram it through.
“If I do get elected I will not be going down this road. I think this whole scheme, as it stands, is far too broad and open and is clearly now in doubt. I will be very specific and clear in the areas that need to be improved, like IT. I am an old fashioned Tory who believes strongly in public services. I am not in favour of privatising the police. I will look at back office services, as is normal, but policing functions will remain in public hands.”
The West Midlands force reiterated this week that the BPP project is continuing despite the Surrey setback and the funding decision in the West Midlands. Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson said: “Despite some misleading reports suggesting that the programme has been suspended in the West Midlands, I can confirm that our BPP work is continuing. We will be holding further conversations with bidders in the summer to continue our engagement with the market a process which has proved really useful for both West Midlands Police and the bidding parties.
“I am disappointed with the decision from Surrey Police Authority, but am eager to reiterate that West Midlands Police are committed to continuing the work on BPP, ensuring that the incoming Police and Crime Commissioner has a broad set of options available to them.
“We will also continue to consult with officers and staff within the organisation, and the general public, to develop our understanding of what we can change to improve the force and deliver our services better.” Voters in the West Midlands go to the polls on November 15 to elect the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner who will have the power to set policing policy and priorities and hire and fire the chief constable.
The Liberal Democrats have yet to confirm a candidate. Several independents are also standing.
Comment: Page 24