Policing and the private sector - dispelling the myths - 30 May 2012
Speech by John Shaw, Managing Director, G4S Policing Support Services at the National Collaboration Conference, Derby
“Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today. I want to talk about collaboration in its widest sense and how the private sector can help you to increase efficiency and reduce costs. First though I would like to take a couple of minutes to dispel some myths and rumours about that have been making the news about private sector involvement in policing.
Private sector involvement in policing
If you didn’t know better then you would be forgiven for thinking the private sector has had no involvement in policing to date. The truth of course is that we have had a long and good working relationship with forces, in our case for over 20 years, and you can trace private sector involvement pretty much back to the days of peel.
So why all the controversy now? From my point of view this seems to be led by a minority to get public opinion to challenge the 20% cuts the government are imposing, and perhaps we in industry are seen as an easy target and a way to drum of popular support by suggesting that policing is up for sale to private contractors. This is of course nonsense.
Some people say those in private sector are not as accountable as police staff. I believe that is plainly wrong. Unlike most internal police departments, we have a contract with key performance indicators, (KPIs). This ensures we maintain - and often have to improve performance - at an agreed level or we are subject to financial penalties and even to having our contract terminated.
In addition, I wrote to the IPCC two years ago and went on record stating that we at G4S would work openly with the IPCC on any investigation that they undertook. In fact one of our Lincolnshire KPIs is our compliance with HMIC, IPCC and other investigatory and regulatory bodies. Furthermore I confirmed that we would accept any recommendations or sanctions in the same way as any member of police staff, making us as accountable as a police staff member. That is why I have today written to the Home Affairs Select Committee to say that we support the IPCC’s call for the power to investigate all civilian staff.
To my mind this scrutiny combined with our KPIs makes us more accountable than many of our public sector colleagues.
Privatisation is a word that has been bandied around in relation to private sector involvement in policing. I am clear, as are all sensible commentators that the recent outsourcing initiatives do not represent privatisation. In fact all the services currently contracted and proposed are already being performed somewhere in the country by outsource providers. This is evolution not revolution.
It is an interesting shift where we are now demonising those who seek to improve public services. This is not progressive. It casts a shadow over the police service and gives credibility to those who say that the service doesn’t want reform. This surely cannot be a good thing, isn’t it better to enter into a sensible and rational debate?
Profit before public safety
The call from the Police Federation is that we in the private sector put profits before public safety. I am almost lost for words at these statements. We do not and will not put profits before public safety if only because the two things are linked. A failure to put the public first would be damaging to our reputation and in breach of the contracts we have with our customers.
It is also an insult to those staff who have transferred from the public sector to our business. Do you really think that on the 31st march all civilian staff in Lincolnshire were public safety focussed then on the 1st April when they transferred to G4S left that behind? Of course not. I believe it is about time we set the ‘us’ against ‘them’ attitude aside that has stifled collaboration in the policing sector for far too long.
So, where do I think the private sector has a role to play and what is the choice?
Let’s start with back office functions: do we really want to see more spent on than is absolutely necessary? I personally would much rather see more police officers policing the streets and any savings that can be made put towards this end.
So, let’s assume the nay- sayers have their way and the involvement of private companies is ruled out. Where is the alternative strategy? Because on this point they have been very quiet. How they would address the problem of reducing budgets? Do they just want to wait to see if the Government backtracks and hands out more cash? In the absence of any other proposals that’s all I can see them targeting….. And in the current economic climate I think that is a target they are unlikely to hit.
Irrespective of your financial position, I believe all forces have a duty to provide a high quality police service for the best value that can be achieved. One way this can be achieved is through collaboration and another through outsourcing. Neither approach is mutually exclusive of the other and both offer great benefits. In order to level the playing field and demonstrate best value we would suggest that a standard set of KPIs is implemented so that proper bench marking with other public bodies and the private sector can be undertaken and transparently show the costs / benefits of both approaches. I certainly would welcome the challenge this would set.
Evolution not revolution
Private sector involvement is a fact, has been for many years and will continue to be, perhaps even more than it has been.
So where do I think the private sector has a part to play? In Lincolnshire we are providing services in a number of areas - but even so we are only picking up 18 functions, which account for only 18 per cent of their annual budget:
• Resource management unit
• Human resources
• Learning & development
• Fleet management
• Facilities and estates
• Criminal justice unit
• Crime management bureau
• Custody services
• Force control room
• Town enquiry officers (police station front desk)
• Collisions unit
• Firearms enquiry officers
• Central ticket office
What we don’t want are front-line policing roles – we’re here to support front line policing not replace it.
We are also here to help innovate, creating solutions which improve efficiency, value for money and service delivery. From Bridewell custody suites, modern centres built on brown field sites using the latest technology solutions and staffed by civilians under the watch of a police custody sergeant, to the ‘street to suite’ concept – picking up arrested individuals from warranted officers and then transporting them back to custody suites and carrying out the booking in process. These aren’t all about saving money or putting warranted officers out of a job – they are about freeing officers to spend longer with the public.
Lincolnshire police contract now
Two months in we have successfully transferred 575 staff to G4S; made sure everyone was paid the right amount on time, and have maintained all KPIs in the green i.e. all are being met. Lincolnshire has also been able to free up 97% of their officers to frontline duties. All this while at the same time as reducing the cost to the force by 14%. You won’t see too much about that in the press as it seems good news isn’t particularly newsworthy.
As one of your colleagues said yesterday “when nothing happens in our business that is usually the result of a lot of hard work”
As Neil Rhodes has said, any force named on the OJEU can buy services through the framework which include those above and others which were listed but have not been taken up at this time, these include:
• Strategic development
• Information management unit
• Canine unit
• Underwater search team
So in summary I would ask that the debate about private sector involvement is moved on to a sensible footing, one which recognises the role we already play, and one which identifies where the boundaries between public and private provision should be.
I would commend any force that is looking at shared services to look at the framework Lincolnshire police have created and to benchmark your internal proposals against that. It is a true partnership and one which I think should be viewed as a powerful and positive step in the right direction in giving police officers the best quality support and the resources to do what they do best: protecting the public.”