Posts Tagged 'privatisation'

Is it really so strange?

If you’ve seen some of the recent press coverage on the force’s Business Partnering proposals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they amount to the following – the whole police force is to be ‘privatised’, officers are to be withdrawn from the streets and instead, we’re going to pay G4S to patrol, to detain suspects and to investigate crimes.

Is this really likely to happen and can the reports be true?

The first thing to keep in mind about working with the private sector is that the proposals – and they are only proposals – are at a very early stage. Firm plans are not in place and this is because at the moment we don’t know what the private sector is able to offer.

Late last year the Police Authority gave our force, in partnership with Surrey Police, permission to explore options for working with the private sector. This is to give them an opportunity to review how we currently do things and to see if they can offer suggestions and solutions as to how we can provide a better service.

There is recognition that there is always room to improve the way we operate and that if we fail to take advantage of new technologies, we’d become outdated and inefficient. This is based against the background of a requirement for us to work with less funding and fewer staff. But it’s not purely to do with cost issues though – it is about challenging the way we do things.

On this basis a tendering notice was published with a complete list of our functions so that interested companies could approach us and engage in talks.

This list was kept deliberately broad as to repeat the tendering process again would be costly, pretty much every function that we carry out was listed.

This list had included carrying out patrols and investigations – not because these are areas considered as appropriate for private companies to take over but because by keeping the list as broad as possible, the attention of a wide range of companies would be attracted.

As it stands companies are approaching as to let us know how they can offer their support to allow us to do our job better. It’s an ‘exploratory’ process in that at the moment we don’t necessarily know what businesses can offer, in that we want them to approach us and let us know what’s available.

As an officer working on the much valued ‘front line’, I’m happy to say that there are indeed things we could do differently and that by embracing new technologies and methods of working, we could be far more efficient.

This isn’t a controversial statement – it’s why we’re looking to engage with businesses in the first place.

To give solid examples of the shape that Business Partnering might take is hard because as I have said, at the moment we are in the process of seeing what’s out there.

This said, there are examples of current practice which could no doubt be improved with a little private sector knowledge.

Take statements for example – it’s 2012 and we’re still handwriting victim’s accounts of crimes. Only the other day I was taking a statement and the victim expressed surprise that we didn’t use a tablet or something similar. I had to agree – the technology is there so why aren’t we making the most of it?

Crime scene management is another area highlighted as one that could benefit from private sector support. As a police officer, would you rather I be available to patrol and answer emergency calls or instead that I stand by a cordon for an entire shift? Do we really need a police officer or a PCSO stood by the scene tape or instead, could a company offer staff to do the job and so free up our time?

The arrest process too could potentially be improved by working with a private partner. Say we arrest a shoplifter – we have to transport them back to the police station ourselves and go through the custody procedure to get him ‘booked on’ and into a cell. We then have to go back to the shop to take the details. Could someone else not transport the prisoner on our behalf and allow us to crack on securing evidence at the shop more efficiently and effectively?

This means we would impact less on the shop owner who is already a victim of crime, detain the suspect for less time and better serve the public by allowing us to return to patrol more quickly – what we do best.

In all of these examples, benefit is gained to the police by taking advantage of services and technologies either not available ‘in house’ or that do not require the powers of a constable to perform.

As the Chief has said, the overall objective of Business Partnering is to be more ‘efficient and effective’. It’s about asking as a police officer what do I really need to be doing and as a force, what could we be doing differently?

Spending cuts are the reality and whilst I think the Business Partnering scheme has been somewhat misrepresented as amounting to potential ‘privatisation’, the consequence of not looking at our operation in the face of reduced budgets and staffing levels would likely cause a great deal of damage to the service we aim to offer.

As a police officer on the receiving end of the force’s plans to work with the private sector, I’d be unhappy if they represented a ‘privatisation’ process, if they amounted to me taking a step back from the front line.

The plans interest me because working inside the job, I know full well there are things we could be doing better and if businesses can provide the solutions and we were not to take advantage, it’s the public that’d be the ones to suffer – the same ones I joined to serve.

We have set up a special section on our website answering questions about Business Partnering which includes some further case studies on how the force could benefit and plenty of other information.

Today we’re dedicating tweets about the proposals which you can follow using the hashtag #wmpbpp and the following day there’ll be a live web chat. You can join in with it here between 12:00 and 13:00.

In addition you can check out the ‘Meet The Beat‘ interview I did with Chief Supt. Phil Kay, head of the BPP for West Midlands Police, in which he addresses some of the issues raised around working with the private sector.

All together now…

Meet The BeatChief Superintendent Phillip Kay, Lloyd House, Birmingham West and Central LPU

There’s been a great deal of discussion recently in the news over proposals by some police forces, West Midlands included, to look at how they can work with businesses to help improve the service they offer to the public.

The basic idea is that by working with private companies, the police can take advantage of their expertise to work more efficiently and free officers from duties that may not necessarily require a police officer to do – standing on crime scenes or collecting CCTV for example.

Some of the coverage, however, has included suggestions that such proposals will lead to a ‘privatisation of the police‘ and could affect police accountability.

What is the reality though? For this special Meet The Beat interview I sat down with Chief Superintendent Phillip Kay, head of the West Midlands Police Business Partnering Program, to ask exactly what the program is all about and to address some of the concerns raised.

Chief Superintendent Phillip Kay

Welcome to Meet The Beat, as we usually ask can you tell us a little about your background with the police? Where have you worked prior to starting in your current role?

I have twenty three years police service, I started as a PC in Coventry back in 1988. I did a variety of roles there in uniform and CID, I was promoted to sergeant at Steelhouse Lane and then went back to Coventry as a sergeant. I then went on promotion to inspector with Northumbria police and spent six years up there working in Sunderland, South Shields and at Headquarters and was promoted to Chief Inspector.

I came back to West Midlands Police and worked as a Detective Chief Inspector in Wolverhampton before being promoted to Superintendent and being responsible for covert policing. After that I became Chief Superintendent in charge of operations for a while before becoming an LPU commander up until last December.

I then started on the Business Partnering Program having been asked to run the Program by the Chief Constable – I see it as an exciting and challenging opportunity to be at the cutting edge of British policing. I’m motivated by serving the public, making a difference and working out how to do things better and I think the program represents a fantastic opportunity for us.

I understand why people are a bit unsure and uncertain about it but I think the potential for us to do things differently is massive.

Much of what you do as a PC is incredibly similar to what I did as a PC in Coventry twenty three years ago – I know some of that will remain fairly constant but the world that we police has changed massively, the rise of social media and access to the internet for example, has changed hugely and yet the way we go about our business in many ways has remained the same and so part of the drive behind the program is to transform that and do things differently.

Okay, so leading on from that, how could you best sum up what the business partnering program is?

Well let me start off by saying what it’s not – some of the media coverage suggested that this was about us handing over patrolling the streets to security guards, about handing over the arrest of members of the public to private companies, about us privatising policing and it’s not that at all so the public can be reassured that their neighbourhood officers and PCSOs will continue to be their neighbourhood team and that officers will continue to attend to emergency calls. None of that will change and we’re not about to hand that over.

In terms of the companies we’re looking to partner with, this isn’t just private security companies – many of the companies that have expressed an interest are world leaders in IT, Human Resources, business transformation – really big names. It’s about looking at the way we do business, from start to finish, and asking how could we do that differently? How could we do that better?

We’re looking from receipt of a call for service up to an incident being resolved – are there ways that we could radically transform that so that the public get a better service, so the public get more choice?

To give an example, at the moment if you want to report a crime you’re essentially limited to picking up a phone or walking into a front office. What opportunities does the internet and technology present to people? If you want to track the progress of an investigation at the moment the only way to do so is to pick up a phone. When I order products online I can track the progress of the parcel anywhere in the world – why can’t a victim of crime have access to a system like that for investigation updates?

So we’ve talked about the way we do things at the moment and the way we might be looking at doing things in the future – are you able to say how you could see us doing things differently in, say, five years?

This is a difficult question to answer, partly because we’re currently in a formal procurement process. A key stage of that is called competitive dialogue which is where we sit down with a potential partner and we share information with them about what we do so we’ll say, for example, this is how we investigate a certain crime, this is how successful we are, and they then come up with proposals for innovative ways through which we could do business.

It’s difficult to answer the question because if we had the answers now, we’d not be looking for partners in the first place. Essentially the position is that we think there are proposals out there that are going to be radically different and the exciting thing is waiting to see how that progresses.

What we’re really keen to do is doing as we’re doing now, talking to people like yourself and other operational cops because there will be people out there who have really good ideas and proposals that we can make use of*.

A lot of the media coverage had focused on the document published which gave details on the type of roles that we are considering as fit for involvement with private companies. There was some concern as the list of activities including responding to incidents, detaining suspects and investigating crimes – can you tell us a little more about that document and are those areas that are being considered as capable for being taken on by private companies?

That’s referring to the notice placed in the Official Journal of the European Union which is a document that we published to inform the market that we want to procure services.

What we used to list the services that we were considering is something called the police glossary which is a document operating on a range of different levels and sets out activities that are undertaken by the police and enables us to draw comparisons between what an activity costs in place in comparison with elsewhere.

The idea of keeping it broad was partly because you can’t add things later – once the document is published you’d have to start the procurement process again if you wanted to add something.

Which would have an implication on cost?

Absolutely, so we kept it broad because what we wanted to do was to encourage providers to be as creative and as innovative as possible. It has never been our intention that a private security guard would go on patrol in a neighbourhood, however in terms of patrol, is there something that the private industry could provide that would help officers patrol more efficiently? Quite possibly because, for example, through the analysis of data in an advanced way we might be able to better understand when and where we need to be patrolling and gain a better control over our resources.

That was why the notice was so broad – so that we didn’t have to make costly additions which may slow the process down and because we don’t want to look at our business in a restricted way.

Thinking about crime reporting it’s important to consider how many departments become involved – response, the contact centre, forensics, the Crime Services Team – so many different points are touched. Rather than looking at what we do in a function by function way, we want to look at the end to end process to see where we can make an impact.

Are there other forces who are already working with private partners? What are they doing and how does it work?

Twenty other forces (out of forty three) already have relationships with private organisations, predominately in an outsourcing way. This is where you take a chunk of your business and give it to someone else, they then do it do the same standard but for less money.

This is different from what we want to do – we’re not just trying to do things for less, we’re trying to do them better. Other forces have outsourced shared services, custody suites are a big one and Cleveland have outsourced their contact centres. There are lots of examples already of the police working with the private sector and so the concept is not new – we think that what we’re trying to achieve with the partnering arrangement and the outcome of this relationship is different.

A lot of the discussion around the proposals of the business partnering program have surrounded the concept of ‘privatisation of policing’ – is this the likely outcome of the program?

Okay, two things – it’s not privatisation, it’s not outsourcing and I think what’s been put in the media and what people’s general perception about the proposals are that they’re about privatising policing and it’s not. It is about trying to work with a private sector partner who may have money to invest, intellectual property (skills, experience, expertise), IT, that we don’t have that by combining their skills, experience and resources together with ours gets us to a position where we’re able to deliver an enhanced service to the public. It’s not privatisation – I really want to stress that.

There’s also been some concern that where the reliance on private companies increases, the accountability of the police force and the Chief Constable decreases – is this an issue?

Accountability is a key issue and the Chief is really clear that he will always remain accountable to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the community of the West Midlands for the service that is provided. In any contract that we draw up and in any partnership arrangement that developments, this accountability will be at the very heart of it and the Chief will retain control of those resources.

Is the need to save money an influence on the business partnering program?

The reason for the program first and foremost is about improving service. We do need to be mindful that in this Comprehensive Spending Review we have plans in place that will enable us to save £126m over a four year period however the business partnering program has not been established to make these savings as they’ve already been planned for.

We don’t know what lies ahead though and so doing our business in a way that makes the very best use of our resources makes absolute sense and helps us prepare for the future.

What sort of timescales are we looking at for any changes that may be introduced? Are we at the beginning of the program?

It’s important to remember that this isn’t a done deal – any changes are subject to police authority scrutiny as we progress and will have to be signed off by a Police and Crime Commissioner. We will be engaging and consulting with the public as we go along and we would like an informed debate so that the public know what this is about. People need to understand that it’s not about privatisation, it’s not outsourcing and it’s not about private security patrols on the streets of the West Midlands – that’s absolutely crucial.

Some of the proposals would see front line officers relieved of duties that can tie them up for long periods but that do not necessarily require a police officer to do – watching crime scenes and retrieving CCTV footage for example. Might cell watches be included too?

This is about protecting the front line. The more efficiently and effectively we can perform the back and middle office functions, the better informed we are and able to use technology then the better off we will be.

There’s a danger of using specific examples as we don’t want to give people the impression that the examples are definitely going to become reality, however, imagine you had a tablet PC and you attended a burglary. You could take a photograph of the point of entry, complete the crime report and statement electronically with a digital signature, email the details off to CID and forensics straight away and then you could email the victim their crime number and some crime prevention advice too. You could give the victim an access code so that they could track the progress of the investigation online and notify their insurance company straightaway.

Such a system would be significantly cheaper and the victim will have received a much better quality of service. In addition you wouldn’t as an officer have to come back into the station as everything’s been done at the scene and you patrol time is increased. This is a hypothetical example but it does show the potential for making positive changes to how we operate through working with private companies who may be able to provide the equipment and expertise to implement such a system.

*If you’re a member of WMP reading this blog and would like to provide feedback on Business Partnering or have a suggestion on how we could improve our service, please drop an internal email to Sgt. 7857 Heidi Bell.

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