Regular readers will be familiar with my recent blog about the “independence” of Mr Tom Winsor and his suitability for the role of Chief Inspector of the HMIC. You can read it here.
The speed of current events have pushed me yet again to put fingers to keyboard about the cliff-edge that the government are about to drive the police service over.
The proposals from Winsor 2 and the cuts being imposed upon the police service are making forces look at ways of operating in more cost effective ways. This involves a number of areas but the biggest issue is staffing. Forces around the country have made police staff redundant and are retiring police officers and not replacing them. Police officers are already down to 135k from 140k and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Policing in England and Wales is managed by 43 separate police forces. Each and every one operates independently of the other. This has led to a situation where forces have sought their own solutions to staffing, software and a whole host of other issues in order to operate. Forces around the country vary in size but as individual organisations their purchasing power is somewhat restricted. There may be many reasons why chief constables have not collaborated with other forces in order to make cost efficiency savings but from my perspective it’s often perceived as empire building. Does this therefore mean that ACPO are the authors, or at least contributors, to the situation we now find ourselves in?
In England and Wales we have 43 forces all doing the same job but in many cases in 43 different ways, with 43 different software systems in 43 different uniforms in vehicles liveried in 43 different styles. It just doesn’t make sense and the reluctance of forces to collaborate in such a way a long time ago is questionable.
The current reforms and cuts are being pushed through by the government at break neck speed. Chief officers are starting to pull together as a result but it feels very much that it is “too little too late”. This process is very slow and is not going to be quick enough to stop the government reforms before they are in place.
Chief constables are looking at cheaper options in order to cover what some would call back office roles. G4S have recently signed a £200 million contract with Lincolnshire police to provide many admin functions but also to build and operate a large out-of-town custody facility. They are also deep into negotiations with West Midlands police and Surrey police with regard to further outsourcing (police officers call this privatisation).
It would be fair to say that G4S are not the only interested company. However they do appear to be at the forefront and in the media an awful lot recently. They have come for a lot of criticism by police officers, myself included, as the harbingers of the destruction of policing by consent. As a private company they have to satisfy shareholders who are interested in profit returns. This raises questions as to where their loyalties will lie when profits are at risk. G4S denied this during a recent twitter event;
we will always deliver to our contracts which are specified by our public sector customers so profit is not the main driver
Now I’m not sure about you but if I were a shareholder I’d be somewhat concerned about my investment.
Senior people at G4S have defended their position and stated repeatedly that they have been involved in private outsourcing with the police for over 20 years. They have a proven track record. When asked about being able to fulfil contracts due to sickness or industrial action they said;
we don’t anticipate this happening as we are a large organisation with lots of resilience
I for one know that our police staff in the control room cannot just walk into custody and do a detention officers role or vice versa. They simply don’t have the training. You can’t train police staff in such a wide variety of skills and keep them current. In the case of industrial action their “resilience” is likely to be on strike too.
They have said that staff from police forces transferred into their employment are no less dedicated just because they have switched employer. On the face of it this makes sense. However, you don’t have to look far to realise that over time G4S will impose their own conditions on staff that will ultimately affect their mindset.
A speech by the head of the UK G4S policing services John Shaw can be found here
John entitled this “Dispelling The Myths”
This speech is completely what one would expect from a man in John’s position. In many regards he makes a number of valid points if taken at face value. However, the news and information about the way G4S operate continues to spill into the media and seriously undermine their credibility. John can be found on twitter using this name @shawjc
Let’s look at some examples;
Are G4S staff dedicated?
Can G4S be trusted?
Are G4S employing the right calibre of people?
Are G4S cutting corners to save money and retain contracts simply as a means of maximising profit as the PRIMARY driver?
The police are not lilly white. We have problems too and for all these issues we could be challenged with similar misdemeanours by officers. So are we no better than G4S?
In some cases maybe; but we are not driven by profit. We will not cut corners to save money and put the public at risk in the process. When somebody blows the whistle in the police we listen and respond. We don’t sack the informant to silence them in order to protect our contract. Meanwhile whilst G4S are falling apart at the seams here their top man wades into the foray claiming more privatisation of police is inevitable.
This is before we consider issues surrounding their management of UKBA detention centres and the strong objections many of the public have to their conduct in other countries.
Is this the type of profit driven company that you want in charge of policing operations in this country?
Sadly the Home Secretary and Policing Minister seem unwilling to listen to us. Heads down and blinkers on they rush toward their plans as though they are the panacea to all the ills of the current police service.
G4S have apparently got 647k staff worldwide. How many of those are in the UK? They claim to be big enough to provide policing services and support for less than we can. If every force in the country got its act together on national collaboration we would have more than 30% of G4S’s global workforce just here in the UK. I suspect this actually makes us bigger than them in this country.
We don’t need private companies in policing looking for lucrative contracts and profit. Policing and justice does not come with a price tag. We need 43 police forces (who can be allowed to maintain their county identities) working together nationally in all other areas.
As a final note in the fiasco this government is orchestrating we are fortunate to have video footage of Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh making a complete horlicks of an appearance before the London Policing and Crime Committee. I am confident this man represents exactly what many Police and Crime Commissioners are soon to become.. unprepared, ill-informed bumbling idiots.
* Political Scrapbook video of 2 mins has been removed. A full 22 mins can be found here
It is clear from the recent events that G4S are not fit for important public contracts.
If G4S stands for “Good 4 Some” then those people are the shareholders and the top executives drawing large salaries. It’s certainly not good for you, me, policing, the general public or the taxpayer. It’s time a line was drawn under this nonsense.
God help us all.
* it should be noted that I accept that many ordinary staff in G4S are likely to be dedicated and loyal workers.