I REFER to the news item concerning the proposal to transfer police support staff to a private company (G4S).
For more than 25 years police forces have had policies of releasing police officers from 'back-office' duties to operational duties and those former tasks being undertaken by less costly civilian staff. As a result of reduced central government financial support all forces are making budget reductions. Cambridgeshire in consultation with Bedforshire and Hertfordshire is looking to reduce the cost of its support services by transferring those civilian staff to G4S, who in turn will almost certainly reduce staff levels in order to make savings.
Those savings are still there to be made through the three forces working together. This has already happened in some police operational areas and could be mirrored in support services. Why is it necessary therefore, to ask G4S to undertake a task that could be done by the three forces? (Perhaps at a lower cost since there would be no profit element).
An attraction to Cambridgeshire police if the staff were transferred to G4S on April 1, 2013, would be the certainty of knowing the lower bill. All the risks of providing a service would be transferred to G4S but as experience shows with the transference of risk comes additional cost, or later renegotiated contracts when the police force is in a weaker negotiating position.
The Chief Constable says that by outsourcing these services to G4S “it might be a poorer service but that might be all we can afford. I would rather spend the money on preserving the frontline”. Support staff and police officers work together in order that police officers can undertake their duties in an efficient and proper manner. A sub-standard support service is more likely to threaten the service police officers are able to give to the public.
How suitable is G4S to undertake this work? This is a security company. Its experience in providing police support services is limited. It has had a contract with Lincolnshire Police only since April 1, 2012. It has not undertaken a project of merging three forces' support services. This would be its maiden voyage. Cambridgeshire might be the first to experience how well it works.
The merging of police responsibilities and indeed, forces is not new. It was proposed by the previous Labour Government and received short shrift from the police service. However when these duties are under the control of the Police Authority and the Chief Constable it provides greater certainty to operational police officers that they will receive the support they need.