“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..