The two police chiefs who attracted so much controversy earlier this month with a plan to open up their forces to a £1.5bn private sector contract were summoned to the home affairs committee yesterday to explain their ideas to MPs. But anyone hoping this would help to clarify which elements of policing might be carried out by private staff and which would remain the remit of police officers and their civilian officials would have been sorely disappointed.
Confronting the committee, Chris Sims, chief constable of West Midlands police, and Lynne Owens, chief constable of Surrey, were keen to distance themselves from the idea that they were privatising the police force. Ms Owens said:
We will not give our crown jewels to a private sector company.
Mr Sims even denied that the procurement process was an outsourcing project – claiming that while Cleveland, Lincolnshire, Avon & Somerset, Cheshire and Northamptonshire police forces had all entered into contracts which effectively hand over services to a company, this was not the model West Midlands and Surrey would follow.
He told the committee:
[Those forces] are narrowly looking at back office and primarily through the medium of outsourcing
So what exactly will his plan involve? Mr Sims explained that it would be a force-wide “transformation”:
We are trying to transform our organisations from top to tail in the whole way that they operate. It’s about allowing us to get access to technology, access to know-how in a way that transforms the way we operate.
In an attempt to provide some clarity, Ms Owens said that she would draw the line at private staff straying into operational police jobs.
I am very clear in my own mind of some roles that I would never ever, ever, even consider the private sector being part of: neighbourhood policing, beat officers, investigation, the list is absolutely endless.
But to the clear frustration of the interrogating MPs, the chiefs have not yet provided a definitive version of this “endless list” of police roles that will be excluded from the contract. This will do little to dampen the anxiety which erupted after The Guardian revealed earlier this month that the contract could allow private staff to perform some of the very operational duties Ms Owens herself denied out of bounds, such as criminal investigations, helping to detain suspects and patrolling the streets.
One possible guide in the ongoing debate about what should be “in” and what should be “out” was provided by a police official who quietly pointed me in the direction of a humble table, so far unnoticed in Tom Winsor’s 780-page opus on police pay and conditions, published last week. This list splits police roles into those which can only be performed by a warranted officer, and those which do not strictly require a constable’s skills:
Policing activities requiring specialist skills
- Public order (dogs and mounted)
- Neighbourhood policing
- Community safety & community
- Protection officers (Royalty, political figures and the like)
- Ports protection
- Marine protection
- Criminal Investigation Department
- Specialist crime units (vice/child and adult protection/sex/domestic/drugs/immigration/fraud investigation)
- Police service complaints and discipline
- Asset confiscation
- Home Office Large Major Enquiry System
- Crime and incident management
- Collision investigators
- Professionalising Investigation Programme
Roles which do not routinely require the office of constable or the associated skills
- Air support
- Department heads
- Police station enquiry desk
- Staff associations
- Staff officers
- Corporate development
- Criminal Justice Units
- Control room
- Scenes of crime
- Coroner’s office
- Personnel/human resources
- Information technology
- Clerical and administrative
- Criminal records office
- Press and public relations
- Occupational health and safety
- Traffic Wardens
- Vehicle workshop
- Vehicle fleet maintenance and management
- Drivers (unless the role is coupled with an eligible role)
- Stores and supplies
It is interesting that Mr Winsor’s list of “non constable” jobs – devised to help assess pay scales – contains a number of unexpected entries. Managing crime scenes, delivering air support (ie police helicopters) and even, cryptically “intelligence”, are all designated as those which do not require an officer’s skills. Could this really provide a future blueprint to help Mr Sims, Ms Owens and others in deciding where they should draw the (thin blue) line?