Our police should protect people, not profit
Over 200,000 staff are employed in police forces across the country, keeping the public safe whilst working with some of the most vulnerable members of our society. But despite this, the UK government is encouraging the privatisation of our police services which could see separate contracts for crime investigation, custody and detention, forensics, 999 call-handling, and other support services. This threatens to damage the operational efficiency and quality of police services – with risks of increased costs, fragmentation and unaccountability.
What you need to know
As noted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Sara Thornton, budget cuts are forcing police services to make “fundamental changes”. During a speech in London last year Theresa May pointed to the need for “fundamental, urgent and radical reform”, including the continuation of “the quiet revolution” in policing she has overseen since 2010. In 2012, for example, following the imposition of a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, May announced that frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public. Alongside this, she outlined hopes for the future implementation of a “business partnership” programme.
- Since 2010, police budgets have been cut by 18%.
- 62% of the public don’t want the private sector involved in policing.
What are the risks of privatisation?
Last year, The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) released a report outlining the negative consequences which could result from proposed moves towards the outsourcing of police services. Such reforms to the London police forces would see hundreds of jobs moving outside of the capital, raising questions of accountability. Additionally, short term solutions would create long term problems, leading to structural weaknesses within the police. For example, to put other agencies between criminals and the police may fragment the necessary chain of evidence in investigations. The MOPAC report also revealed that the possibility of keeping services in house had not been fully explored – despite the fact that, in a recent survey, 57% of 140 local authorities brought outsourced services back in-house or were considering it. For 60% of those, cutting costs was the main motive for doing so, alongside quality and control.
John Biggs, Chair of the Budget & Performance Committee (BPC):
"A key concern is that any rush to outsource is driven by budgetary pressures rather than wider organisational strength and without sufficiently considering the risks to service quality”
And alongside this, the public don’t want it - in a recent survey, 62% of the public said that they want no private sector involvement in the police at all.
After being officially contracted to provide over 13,000 security staff for the Olympic games, for-profit company G4S admitted that “it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that they had promised” - short on 3,000 guards. Following this, the government was forced to deploy the military to stand in for the missing staff. G4S has now been fined £20 million for its involvement.
The Lincolnshire Police
In 2012, the Lincolnshire Police signed a £200 million contract with G4S to employ its staff in police control rooms, custody suites, areas of firearms licensing and financial, HR and technology roles. Already, two police control room staff have been fired from the Lincolnshire Police following investigations into hundreds of false 999 calls made to ‘test’ performance. Now three more police forces in the East Midlands – in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire – are considering similar plans to outsource their control rooms, which could see 999 emergency police services run by G4S.
West Midlands Police
In 2014 West Midlands Police awarded a £70 million contract to private company Accenture UK to manage particular areas of technology and customer service. Prior to this, Accenture had been in the firing line for its failure to deliver on a £12.7 billion computer system contract signed with NHS England and Wales. The private firm pulled out of the contract in 2006, when it was already running two years behind schedule, and the entire project was eventually abandoned in 2011. Additionally, in July this year, Police Scotland abandoned a £60 million project with the company after it emerged that developments to integrate Scottish IT system networks were nine months behind schedule. In February police officers testing the systems claimed they had found 12 critical errors which made the system unusable, with an additional 76 defects.
John Foley, CEO of the Scottish Police Authority:
“Despite the best efforts of the SPA, Police Scotland and Accenture, it was clear that the technical solution cannot be delivered within expected time-frames and budget”
What can you do?
Yes! I want public services for people not profit.
Photo used under Creative Commons licensing, thanks to Christopher Paul https://www.flickr.com/photos/trojan631/