West Midlands Police set to continue with private partnership plans despite delay
West Midlands Police may have delayed plans to agree a "business partnership" with the private sector - what critics called privatisation - but it certainly hasn't abandoned them.
Trade Union Unite has issued a statement welcoming the delay, saying: "Police privatisation is on hold but it's absolutely crucial that those who care about public services keep up the pressure to kill off these plans for good."
But Chris Sims, the force's chief constable, has sent a paper to West Midlands Police Authority making it clear that he intends to carry on with the proposals, that the force has already appointed no fewer than three firms as consultants to help it work on the plans, and that it still expects to spend £1.5 million on the procurement process alone - down from the original estimated cost of £2 million.
West Midlands Police has also launched a publicity drive on its website, designed to reassure the public that police forces will not be "privatised" our outsourced.
The police website quotes Chris Sims, the Chief Constable, saying: "I want to make it clear this programme is not about privatising the police or outsourcing the service. Neither is it about private security guards patrolling neighbourhoods or exercising powers of arrest.
"These roles form the backbone of our service and will remain sacrosanct. There are ways, however, that a partner may be able to help us undertake certain roles more effectively and in doing so help us protect the front line."
We've reported previously in the Post that the force seems unable to explain what its private sector partners will be asked to do. Mr Sims once told MPs that he was inviting potential partners "to be creative" and come up with ideas, adding: "If we knew the answers, we wouldn't be going through the process of discovery."
The force is now addressing this concern to some extent, with a series of case studies giving examples of the type of work partners could do on its website.
The paper submitted to the police authority sets out the new timetable. Originally, the force intended to issue an "invitation to submit outline proposals", inviting private firms to submit their bids, in February next year.
Now, that invitation will be delayed at least until September.
In the meantime, the force will work on a "draft" invitation to tender in the period between May and September next year, in consultation with potential bidders.
The new Police and Crime Commissioner is due to be elected in November. The new timetable is designed to give them a "choice on proceeding and the likely content of any partnership".
Helping the force with this process - and with efforts to win public support for the scheme - are consultants iMPOWER, which appear to specialise in helping public services introduce changes and save money, New Networks, ditto, and lawyers Eversheds.
The whole thing is expected to cost £1.485 million (from West Midlands Police - Surrey Police and the Home Office are also contributing), but that's just the cost of finding partners and agreeing contracts with them. In the past, the force has said the contracts themselves could be work up to £1.5 billion (from both forces).