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Police watchdog may reject £1.5bn plan to outsource duties

Private-sector deals may be blocked by new elected force overseers, as unions voice their opposition

The elected figures set to oversee British policing could threaten the plans of two of Britain's biggest forces to farm out traditional police work to private- sector security companies in a £1.5 bn deal, it emerged yesterday.

Surrey and West Midlands Police met with scores of delegates from the private sector for a "bidders conference" in central London over the largest contract so far to take over functions previously carried out by the police. Two public-service unions picketed the meeting in opposition to the deal.

The contracts to run services are due to be sealed in spring 2013 – after the election of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), whose job it will be to hold Chief Constables and forces to account and also sign off on the deals. Some have already expressed their opposition to the plans.

The potential bidders yesterday included companies like Accenture, Capita, Capgemini, Ernst & Young, Fujitsu and security giant G4S, according to a list of expected attendees obtained by The Independent. The forces sought to ease concerns that plans could be watered down or "kicked into touch" by the newly elected figures after spending large sums on bids, according to a source at the closed-door meeting.

Peter Williams, chairman of Surrey Police Authority, told the meeting he could not rule out the commissioner rejecting the plan. But, he said, "if the case is made properly, I think it most unlikely" because the "option of doing nothing is not an option".

The meeting was told that prospective candidates would be included in "briefing sessions" to try to persuade them to back the schemes.

However, Mike Olley, who is bidding to become the Labour candidate for PCC in the West Midlands, said he had already set out a series of conditions to the Chief Constable before he would sign off any deal. "If he heeds those three criteria and I am satisfied, then I will sign away," he said.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Surrey Chief Constable, Lynne Owens, said: "We don't know whether they are going to be up for it. At the moment this is not a game-changer. We are at a very early stage of a long process."

The issue of "private policing" is likely to feature prominently during campaigning for the November elections of the PCCs. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Prescott – who is running for the job in Humberside – last month launched a campaign to "keep the police public". The forces insisted yesterday that the contracts would not include the powers of arrest.

The contract has a potential value of £3.5bn if other forces join in, which would lead to a quarter of all police funding in private hands, according to Unison and Unite unions. Officials from some 30 police forces or their authorities were at yesterday's meeting, according to the list of expected attendees. G4S was also due to attend. It has won a £200 million contract with Lincolnshire force to run certain services from next month.

The Government has imposed 20 per cent cuts on forces, prompting many to consider outsourcing some of their work. Ben Priestley, of Unison, said: "These dangerous privatisation plans must be stopped and stopped fast. Privatisation is supposed to save money, but this can only happen by slashing the police services on which the public rely to keep them safe and by employing cut-price staff."