Hundreds of civilian police workers were facing up to an uncertain 2012 amid growing concerns over plans that could see back office departments run by private companies.
West Midlands Police is pushing ahead with radical restructuring plans that could see private firms contracted to overhaul the way back office support services are run, in what would be one of the biggest shake-ups in the force’s history.
However, it has left civilian staff uncertain over whether the proposals could lead to job losses or see their posts moved to private companies.
Lincolnshire Police has become the latest force to link up with a private company after it last week named security specialist G4S preferred bidder for a £200 million outsourcing deal which includes ICT, back office and command and control solutions.
The company will deliver the force’s ten-year business transformation project to deliver services including managing force control rooms, custody and identification units as well as a number of police bureaus.
Charlie Sarell, regional secretary of Unison, which represents civilian staff, said what West Midlands Police was currently looking at it “might not be the same as Lincolnshire”.
“But in a year’s time, will it still be different from Lincolnshire? I don’t know.”
He added: “It’s very difficult to get a clear steer on what, exactly is being considered.
“Certainly outsourcing, or privatisation is something being strongly considered. But it is not the only thing being considered in our particular situation.”
Sponsored by the Home Office and involving West Midlands and Surrey police forces, the Business Partnering Programme has been designed to look at whether long-term partnerships between the private and public sector 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 continuing to look 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.
He previously said: “The value doesn’t come from someone doing something that we are currently doing but more cheaply. The key is for them to work with us to completely transform the way we currently operate.”
The force is now preparing to move to phase two of the £2 million plan with the issuing of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice informing businesses in what areas they are looking to establish partnerships.
It is then envisaged that companies will put forward proposals on what they would do to transform the service. The force would then work with potential bidders before signing contracts with the preferred ones by the end of next year.
A special meeting of the Police Authority has been called for the first week of January to consider a report on the programme.
Police Authority Chair Derek Webley said, “It is important that the public can see the Authority meeting, and see us taking decisions openly, publicly and transparently. I would welcome any members of the public who are thinking about coming along.”
However, Mr Sarell predicted a “rocky road” ahead.
“It is an area of anxiety and something we have to watch closely,” he said. “They [the police forces] want to open up a dialogue with private companies who they hope with the best ideas of how to save money. Private companies may say that it comes with a consideration and we have a real issue with that. Because will it include them saying ‘we will tell you how to do this, but we want to run it as well’?
“Looking to private companies in terms of getting ideas to run public services is not always the answer. There may be procedures within the public sector that might be a better way forward. We have serious concerns about what it means to policing. We are raising a lot of questions.”
l West Midlands Police Authority is meeting on January 5 at 11am at Lloyd House