You Get What You Pay For

“You get what you pay for” is a well known and used maxim. I’m sat typing at the dining room table looking at the wind blowing the fence panels in the front garden. They are quite poor quality and will at some point soon need replacing. I will have two options when that time comes. I can go to a cheap supplier and get a whole bunch of panels and have them fixed into place. I will save myself some cash and on the whole it will look ok. After 12 months or so the quality of the workmanship and materials will start to show. Bits will start to fall off, joints will start to splay and constant wet/dry/wet processes from the weather will have warped them so they flop around in the concrete posts. In no time at all they will look a mess and need replacing again.

Alternatively I can go down the road to an independent fence company. They hand build all their own fencing. It’s robust, good quality and built to last. The downside is it’s going to cost me more on the initial outlay but the superior product will stand the test of time, maintain its finish and last considerably longer than the cheaper version. In the long run, whilst the cheaper option gives me a quick fix it will eventually cost me more and cause me more mither than getting things right from the start.

When I joined the police we had civilian staff. We call them police staff now but the point is they are not new. They form a fundamental part of policing operations. I have no criticism of police staff. They are employed by the police and they do a job. I do have a criticism of the way police staff, who are not warranted officers were brought into the police arena. Last year police staff in Nottingham went on strike. I blogged on it here.

The police service is a 24/7/365 service. We have to be there. We are expected to be there and believe it or not… we want to be there for you. Police staff have gradually increased over the years. They no longer just cover admin roles and HQ positions. The man the front desk, they take the emergency and non emergency calls, the operate the radios, they do scenes of crime work and so on. Over the years their responsibilities have increased and they now perform in many cases an “essential” function. This sounds great but in many regards it’s a gaping hole in the resilience of the police. Police staff have vastly different terms and conditions of employment to police officers. They are backed by a union and they have all the industrial rights of any other employee in the country. As such, like in Nottingham, they can walk out. What happens then?

What happens is a force would then try to find police officers to cover these essential roles so that the wheel stays on, public order is maintained and a service is provided. We cannot strike, we can be expected, yes even ordered, to stay on duty for long hours to deal with matters that arise and such things as working time directives can be ignored on the basis of public security and the exigencies of the service. Police officers are a massively flexible workforce and in order to provide that permanent level of cover we have to be.

The problem arises in the fact that no police officers, or at least very few, have any knowledge of the IT systems and the operations of the departments that police staff now cover. Therefore, you can call an officer in on a day off to cover the control room or to answer the emergency calls but he/she is likely to have absolutely no idea what to do. They are for all intents and purposes no more use in such a situation than an ornament.

Lincolnshire Police are on the verge of signing a contract with G4S. The article explains how police staff will be transferred into the employment of G4S and they will build and manage a police station, custody suite and many HQ functions such as finance and HR. There is no reason for this proposal other than to save money. The government is turning the screw on police funding and Chief Constables and police authorities are looking at ways to reduce their spend. G4S want this contract. Why? To help out Lincolnshire police? To throw them a lifeline and save them? No. They want it because they see an opportunity for profit. They have vast resources to throw at such a project enough to most likely run at a loss initially. This makes the final figure seem very appealing to the police authority I’m sure who can look at the bottom line and see the savings. Much back patting will no doubt follow on how well they have done at coming in  under budget.

Policing is a NOT FOR PROFIT organisation. We cannot outsource such work to private companies. They are not interested in policing. They are not interested in community safety. They are interested in bottom line profit returns and happy shareholders. To that end corners will be cut, standards will be lowered and the people who will ultimately suffer are you.. the public and the officers out on the streets.

Press reports indicate that 10 other forces are watching this contract with interest. G4S have other security interests across the country as do similar companies GSL and Reliance. The Lincolnshire case is new and I would expect that G4S have their eyes on increasing this scheme as soon as they possibly can. I speculate but Lincolnshire may well be a loss leader for them. In order to entice Lincolnshire into the project a very competitive package has probably been offered. Other forces will see this too and jump on the bandwagon. They then have a much bigger capture and the losses will be recouped.

Policing needs resilience. It needs to be a stand alone system. It needs to be able to function and keep going when everything else around it is failing. Some may mock and say the dire consequences where the country falls into a state where the police cannot operate is so slim it’s not worth worrying about. Yet those people no doubt have insurance to protect their car from the unforeseen eventually that somebody crashes into them or that their house falls down whilst at work. The police are their to protect and serve when the unexpected happens to YOU.

This erosion of police resilience and ownership can only be detrimental to the service we offer to the public. On a day to day basis things will generally be ok but the real test of any organisation is when the brown stuff hits the spinny thing. I fear that when that test comes we may be found to be lacking at best but at worst completely ineffectual.

Short term gains and quick fixes like this do not work. The Police Federation are also concerned about this resilience issue in their press release.

What you get for less money is .. LESS. What you get for less money is an inferior product. What you as the public get from all of this is a reduced and inferior service and in your time of need, let alone a national emergency, we may not be there to pick up the pieces because our left hand is missing.

Imagine civilian outsourced soldiers making up half a regiment and in control of logistics and communications. The troops get right to the point of battle and then have to stop because the outsourced staff have held a shop stewards meeting and decided to go on strike. The soldiers cannot fight without communications and logistical support so have to retreat. A ridiculous situation? Too right it is and yet this is what is happening to the police.

You get what you pay for. The product of the police is being diluted to point where it will no longer be recognisable and when that big test comes we will fail.

In 10yrs time or less, I predict an MP standing up in the House of Commons and stating that the police service is spending far too much money on private security company contracts and all should be brought back in house. That the resilience of the police has been undermined by the folly of the “previous administration” and that the public expect and deserve the police to be capable to respond all day every day.

Watch this space..

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20 thoughts on “You Get What You Pay For”

  1. Unfortunately its just the vicious cycle of life which ends up playing with all of our lives. No one is a winner except for the people who end up on the payrolls of these private companies 😦

  2. Its worrying. I can understand that the police force has to evolve, but to have an international corporation such as G4 (or IBM) not just providing the service but also responsible for design and build gives more credence to the globalist conspiracy. This feels like Its based on the same model as Mcdonalds. More specifically I’d be interested to know if you will have separate Human Resource departments?, or will this just be a stepping stone to fully privatising the police force. Personally I think this is unconstitutional, out of the public’s interest and certainly not in the police forces interest. And to think if element of the banking sector weren’t such criminals this wouldn’t have happened. On a lighter note Just found this clip from Fry and Laurie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6CkltzGAxY. Thanks for your blog ).

  3. Police officers are not born. They are trained, extensively, and expensively. As in any profession, once on the job, not all the training received is required – you use the bits that pertain to your role. Over time, it has come to be realised that sometimes, certain aspects of the job, that were once reserved to only those who had received the extensive training, can be done by others trained only in that aspect.

    Take for instance the police station rep. Not a lawyer, as in, they don’t hold the qualification of solicitor, but they don’t need to – they don’t need to have been taught how to convey a property and deal with the solicitors accounts rules to attend the police station at 3am. Take prescribing nurses. They can prescribe certain drugs, in certain circumstances, thus saving on a doctor in controlled scenarios.

    They tend to do it very well – who would want the lawyer who conveyed the house, if they could have the lawyer who only ever attends police stations, and knows their way around them? I can’t remember the last time I saw an appeal based on poor police station advice, nor can I recall the last time a prescribing nurse was accused of negligence due to incorrectly prescribing drugs.

    What I am saying is, in a modern profession, regardless of what that profession is, there will be elements of the job that don’t require undertaking by a person who has been trained extensively to cover multiple scenarios.

    Here, Lincolnshire are saying that HR and Finance, and some custody roles, can be undertaken by those trained only in discrete areas. Do HR and Finance really require a trained police officer to undertake the role? Of course not – HR and Finance are business roles, and can very well be taken by those outside of the police, as they are in business every day.

    Does custody? Well, G4S have been running cell suites at court and prisons for sometime now. Provided they are trained properly in transferring those skills to a police station, there really isn’t an issue – and *there* is the bit I am bothered about. In the scenarios I have given above, the police station rep and the prescribing nurse, they are trained to do those roles, and frequently assessed, in an attempt to ensure quality. Are we going to get the same with G4S?

    1. I entirely agree with you. I’m a serving cop and yes, the cuts are going to affect the way we do business. But they won’t devastate the service that some are suggesting.

      For years, the police – as with many other public services – have gotten very fat. Money has never been an object and so lots of it were thrown at more cops, more overtime, equipment so on and so forth. Projects aimed at getting X amount of cops on the books saw standards for recruits being lowered. Regional training centers were scrapped in favour of in-house training delivery – at greater cost but with doubtable results. What all this fostered was inefficient ways of working. Cops expected and in some cases relied on overtime every week. Systems thinking and Lean processes were things manufacturers worried about – not for the police.

      So now, with an economy in dire straits globally, the government are trying to claw some back. Ok – the cuts are deep and front loaded and so the problem is exacerbated. But forces are being made to think outside the box. Made to reconfigure their workforce and perform more efficiently. We don’t need warranted officers performing admin roles, inputting duties into a computer, managing HR processes etc etc. Police staff – in whatever guise – at half the cost should be doing these jobs. Warranted officers should be in a role that requires warranted powers.

      I agree with the original poster that strike action poses issues, as would certain “critical” functions such as call handling, radio operating etc being able to clock off on time without challenge. The answer to this may simply be to make sure their terms and conditions are written up well enough to negate these issues.

      I have one concern with all this – when the brown stuff does indeed hit the spinny thing, there may be a sudden shortage of cops to chuck out of their desk jobs to go an fight the good fight. More research needs to be done on this to see if it is actually a genuine concern (a lot of cops in such roles are restricted and so couldn’t be used in any case).

      In short – the service has to wake up and smell the coffee a bit. Too many people have gotten away with doing jobs that don’t need police powers for far too long.

      So whilst I can agree with some of the detail in this blog, the above reply makes far more sense to me.

    2. Licolnshires website shows them as having 1200 police staff. The BBC report shows that 540 police staff will transfer to G4S. So almost 50%.

      If we consider the size of the force and its population (quoted as just below 650,000) then I can imagine them needing no more than 60 staff to fulfil custody detention officer functions. This leaves 480 staff working in HR, Finance and IT. With the best will in the world these quoted departments are not resource hungry enough to swallow all those people. To that end and bearing in mind that the force will have a number of PCSO’s who are police staff and SOCO (CSI to some) making up the 1200 total it stands to reason that the G4S staff will be doing much more than the BBC report alludes to.

      I accept your points about training in key areas for specific tasks that don’t need police officers. Police officers don’t need to be in HR admin roles or finance. I agree. The post was to highlight, (which you Milly as usual identify the weakness in my blog) was to point out that the G4S staff will be covering roles that were once police staffed. Front desks, control rooms, call takers, detention officers and so on. These are primary functions of our service. We need that back up and support. It’s essential. Cops don’t need to do them if that’s how forces wish to proceed but geared into that must be resilience.

      That resilience is not there with police staff and will not be there with G4S; if anything it will be less. They can strike and have very different terms of employment to officers. Where officers were omni-competent and able to deal with anything thrown at them they are now often narrower in skill set and have limited comprehension of adjacent roles. We are being de-skilled left, right and centre. The net result is that when problems arise we cannot back fill because the staff haven’t been trained are not qualified or simply have no experience of the role.

      You can imagine the litigation if an officer performed duty in an area they were not trained/qualified for if something untoward were to happen. My staff are all trained and familiar with SDHP. To my knowledge not one constable is. In the event of a death in custody with PC’s back filling for striking detention officers the IPCC and the media would have a field day.

      If an officer were called into HQ to staff the control room to cover striking staff they would need access to the IT system. As call handling and incident management isn’t part of their remit they wouldn’t have the right level of access. A quick call to IT could solve that but without appropriate training they cannot allow it as you may cause problems with the system and breach our MOPI compliance… then again this is pointless as IT walked out too!!

      See what I mean? It’s not so much about putting cops into roles they shouldn’t be in. It’s making sure our essential cover, provided by police staff or outsourced staff is adequately protected by terms of employment to ensure our operability is not compromised.

      I find it very hard to believe that will happen. Staff who are not part of the organisation are not fully part of the team. You end up with two camps. A them and us scenario. That is of no use to us when the big challenge comes along.

      1. In terms of the right to strike and the general terms of employment, that can be resolved by robust employment contracts, with, if necessary, Parliament removing the right to strike from those roles – and from a personal point of view, if we are going to have civilians undertaking roles where a level of service has to be maintained then I believe it should be the case.

      2. Exactly. When civillian police staff in essential roles were brought in this was not done. I do not believe that transferred staff and subsequent new staff employed by G4S will be done either.

        Parliament tried to remove right of Prison Officers to strike a while ago and much I’ll feeling was caused. They backed down on this. To me it would be far better to get this right now. Employing people with cosy T&C’s now and then slapping them later in a time of emergency is just blind planning for the future.

        Failing to plan is planning to fail.

  4. as a G4S employee albeit in a different division i have experience of how they operate it is all about targets and profit you hit your targets or you are out, i wait to see how this attitude will transfer to running a police station, i am not as confident in their ability to do this as they and lincolnshire police seem to be i hope i am wrong, policing should be left to the police as far as im concerned

  5. Interesting point about civilian outsourced soldiers. They do perform a valuable role (think Xe formerly Blackwater) but in no way replace ‘military’ soldiers.

    There’s certainly a role for non-sworn jobs in the police. Exactly which roles remains to be seen.

  6. It is my view that the governments ultimate aim is to degrade the office of constable to such an extent that eventually they will be able to turn round and say, ‘Well all they do is patrol the streets – we have civilians doing everything else’, and justify a change to a PCSO type force with only a handful of highly skilled investigators still retaining the sworn constable role. We are not a million miles away from a privatised ‘security service’ rather than a police service, especially under the Tories.

  7. I previously worked in a police station owned by a company and leased by the police (Met obviously).The person in charge of all the staff the company employed was very far up her own arse.She regarded herself as one of the SMT and used to walk about the station throwing her (considerable) weight around.
    One day she was outside the parade room.The response team had left their kit bags outside in the corridor whilst being briefed.She burst in and asked us to move our stuff as it “made her station look untidy”.
    She was ignored.
    Next day the Chief Super sent out an email saying no bags in the corridor please.
    A small example but not unique I would imagine.

    The station was very clean though and always getting painted!.

  8. The big issue that I have with this (and the NHS bill tbh) is the flawed logic that applying market forces will somehow make it work better, and cheaper. Policing together with healthcare, the military and fire service are essential services and as such the way people consume their service is massively different to how people consume a company’s products or services. An efficient commercial environment depends upon the customer having choice and the ability to make the best decision for them, which is sometimes going to be to walk away altogether. Essential services are such, because when you need them you don’t have a choice, you just need them to do the best job they can.

  9. You make some interesting points but please don’t lump all police staff together. Many work round the clock, at short notice, long shifts, don’t complain and don’t take industrial action. They see themselves helping communities and have a sense of vocation.

    1. On the contrary. We have many police staff and I as stated I make no criticism of them. They have vastly different terms and conditions of employment from officers and many are just as dedicated. They do have that option though and as in any industrial action some will walk and others won’t. It’s the potential that is the weakness.

      Police staff are employed by the police and part of that family. G4S staff or other private companies are entirely different and the risk to the service by disaffection is much higher. “That’s not my role”, “That’s not my remit or in my contract” and “You can’t make me do that as I’m not paid to do that” will become common phrases ringing through police stations around the country.

      How can politicians say we are the best police force in the world on one hand and pull it to pieces and destroy it with the other?

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