'All over them like a rash': Lobbyists scramble to target newly elected police commissioners

Campaign has begun by firms hoping to cash in on outsourced services

Paul Peachey@peachey_paul
Saturday 08 December 2012 01:00

Private firms have launched a major lobbying campaign of the powerful new elected commissioners heading 41 police forces, who face huge pressure to cut millions of pounds from police budgets.

Security, technology and outsourcing companies will be "all over the police market like a rash" despite many candidates fighting campaigns on strong anti-privatisation tickets, one company chief executive told The Independent.

One of the most powerful Police and Crime Commissioners says that he has already turned down meetings with three firms, despite scrapping a potential £1.5bn privatisation project on his first day in office.

The privatisation project suffered a major blow following the calamitous performance of G4S at the Olympics.

Rank-and-file police organisations have fiercely opposed the encroachment of the private sector, saying it will take away police jobs and place sensitive functions in the hands of the private sector. Companies claim a greater role would lead to potential savings and improved technology.

Despite setbacks over the past year for advocates of a greater private involvement in policing, one of the long-standing major players, Steria, which provides software for police control rooms, said it was trying to secure meetings with new commissioners.

Steria UK chief executive John Torrie said: "Some of the people in there at the present moment are new into this market and they see it as a potentially huge market. They've recruited big forces of people and they will be all over the police market like a rash. This delay of the PCCs being appointed must be costing a lot of money to some of these organisations and they will be desperate to create those relationships...

"I just hope they don't shut more doors than they open by their approach – but we'll see."

The issue of privatisation is one of the key long-term issues for new PCCs. The Tory flagship law and order policy has had a troubled start with commissioners embroiled in a cronyism row after appointing close friends as deputies. One chief constable has already quit and more than a quarter of commissioners are looking for new chief constables.

G4S was part of a consortium bidding for a £1.5bn "business partnership" scheme run by the Surrey and West Midland forces. Surrey withdrew from the programme in the summer and the West Midlands Commissioner Bob Jones announced on his first day in office that he was scrapping the scheme. He has set up a new taskforce to look at a smaller technology scheme.

Mr Jones told The Independent that companies, including Accenture and the UK arm of the multinational KBR, had sought meetings with him and he had turned them down. Accenture declined to comment. KBR last night denied they had sought a meeting with Mr Jones or any other commissioner and said they had no interest in the privatisation of any frontline police role.

In a snub to KBR, the former subsidiary of the US Halliburton group that helped build Guantanamo Bay, Mr Jones warned of ethical audits for future contractors. He cited the case of Jack Stanley, former US head of KBR, who was jailed in February for bribing Nigerian officials. "Ethical procurement may come into it," he said.

In response to Mr Jones' comments, a KBR spokesman said: "Today KBR is a different place, with an entirely different leadership team."

The commissioner for Surrey, Kevin Hurley, a former police officer, said he had also been approached. "I have had a number of different private sector organisations offering me either consultancy or advice. I have not engaged with any of them."

The Policy Exchange think-tank claimed PCCs will need to talk to private companies as they plan ahead. "Given the fact that there are huge pressures on budgets, any sensible PCC should be engaging with businesses to free up officers for frontline duties," said Max Chambers, head of crime and justice.

In the spotlight: Five to watch

West Midlands: Bob Jones (Labour)

There is great potential for fireworks between Mr Jones and the Chief Constable Chris Sims who lined up on opposite sides of the debate over the role of the private sector in police operations. They sat side-by-side as Mr Jones announced he was scrapping the project. "Both of us want to make this partnership work," said Mr Sims.

Cleveland: Barry Coppinger (Labour)

This is a small force facing big problems. The Chief Constable was sacked this year and the force is at the centre of a major corruption inquiry.

Humberside: Matthew Grove (Conservative)

Memory of the victory over one of the true national figures in the contest, Lord Prescott, has faded to be replaced by a row over his choice for £45,000 deputy. Paul Robinson, a fellow Tory councillor, was appointed despite having no knowledge of policing.

Avon and Somerset: Sue Mountstevens (Independent)

The Chief Constable Colin Port announced he was quitting in the week she took office after he was told he would have to re-apply for his post.

Northamptonshire: Adam Simmonds (Conservative)

The commissioner has come under scrutiny after publishing plans to appoint 17 staff including four assistant commissioners. It emerged that one of his new assistants is his election campaign agent and another was his public relations adviser.

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