What On Earth Is Going On Here?

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things……

Well, this old walrus is only going to speak about one thing today, and it’s something that is bothering me, but fear not, the truth is out there somewhere.  I may have missed this, you may all know about it.  I didn’t know about it until one of our number sent me a document which enlightened me.  This document (dated in May this year) is not yet in the public domain as far as I know.  I have Googled it several ways but come up empty.  What I have been able to do though is identify other information and anecdotal evidence which IS in the public domain that tends to confirm the information contained within this document.  Needless to say I have already submitted a FOI request in an attempt to flush out this document or the information contained within it.

The facts of the matter are these:-

  • In 2005 Cheshire Constabulary entered into a PFI agreement with a private consortium to supply Custody Services and certain Transport functions e.g. transporting prisoners to/from Custody.
  • Said consortium built 3 Custody Centres at Chester, Middlewich and Runcorn
  • This contract was to run for 25 or 30 years, dependent upon which document you read, but the difference is actually irrelevant
  • In early 2006 the 3 Custody Centres opened for business and a number of Police Staff were TUPEd across to the new consortium.
  • The private consortium not only built the Custody Centres but they supplied everything including, apparently,  doctors and nurses.
  • Written into the contract was a provision for reviewing the arrangements at 5 yearly intervals.
  • In May 2009 the contract was terminated by mutual agreement.
  • The system was generally thought to work quite well by those on the ground, and some elements of it seem to have been quite popular.
  • The 3 Custody Centres were subsequently bought by Cheshire Police Authority and the 53 civilian Custody staff were TUPEd back and became Police Staff, although some were subsequently made redundant as a cost-cutting measure.

So far you are probably thinking “What’s he making a fuss about?  Nothing wrong with trying something and then putting it back the way it was”

You may be right.  This old walrus may well be over-reacting, but I’ll tell you what I don’t like about this experience and what has left me worried about similar privatisations in the future.

  • The private consortium referred to above was GSL or Global Solutions Limited.
  • Global Solutions Limited was part of Group 4
  • Group 4 became G4S
  • The reasons that the contract was terminated early included GSL’s inability to deliver all of the services that they were contracted to deliver and GSL were not making any/enough money out of the deal.
  • Cheshire Police Federation knew of this situation
  • Unison knew of this situation
  • On 21st January 2008 Policy Exchange published a document entitled Footing The Bill:Reforming The Police Service.
  • On page 36 of their report it says this “GSL has delivered custody services in Cheshire, replacing 11 outdated city centre stations with three new custody suites.  GSL was required to reduce the length of time taken to arrest a suspect. Cheshire police authority also made getting more officers on the beat an explicit goal of using privately run custody centres. GSL was able to deliver on both counts: using specialised software to deploy police vans more efficiently it has saved time and human resources.”
  • This report was authored at a time when it must have been clear to all that GSL were actually failing to deliver.

Those are the facts as best as I can establish them at the moment.

I have submitted a request to Cheshire Police under the #FOI asking these questions

In 2005 Cheshire Police took a decision to outsource their Custody functions to a private company. Subsequently, some or all of those functions were brought back in-house.

Could you please supply me with copies of all of the documents which show the reasons why those functions were originally outsourced, and exactly which services were outsourced?

Could you further supply me with copies of all of the documents which show the reasons why those functions were subsequently brought back in-house.

Finally could you please supply with the identities of all private companies that provided Custody services during that time that they were outsourced?

I doubt I’ll get an answer but there is sufficient information out there to confirm the experience.

The Policy Exchange report also contains the following recommendation which I can’t say I actually disagree with “To extract the full benefits from outsourcing and private partnerships, contracts need to be short term, flexible, accountable through key performance indicators and possibly multi-sourced. The NPIA should, through consultation with financial and consulting services experts, establish a training programme that would ensure police forces are prepared to get the best possible terms from private partnership contracts. Implementing successful outsourcing requires well  trained procurement staff who can deliver top-quality performance. That means investment in procurement and contract management skills.”   What is sad about this is that this advice seems to have gone unheeded.  Lincolnshire Police are locked into a 10 year contract with G4S.  10 years seems like a long time to me, and no mention has been made that I have heard about Review periods for the contract.

All of this has left me with the following questions

  1. Why has Cheshire Police Federation not brought this to public attention in the light of current events?
  2. Why has Unison not brought this to public attention?
  3. G4S under the guise of GSL have previously dabbled a toe in privatisation on the small scale.  They failed.  Why now are they deemed to be an appropriate body to enter into privatisation of police functions on a much larger scale?
  4. Why did Policy Exchange endorse the scheme when it should have been obvious that it was failing?

Finally I will leave you with one last question

Please feel free to enter into this debate by leaving your comments below.  If there is a debate to be had let’s have it.  If this retired and angry old walrus has over-reacted please let me know that too.  One thing is for certain, experience has shown that privatisation of police functions CAN be reversed but I suspect that it is not easy, and probably not a cheap process in the short-term.  We have always suspected that there was no profit to be made by a private company in privatising the police. GSL seems to have demonstrated that quite clearly, but G4S, once again, think they know better and will make it work.  What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “What On Earth Is Going On Here?

  1. If Cheshire managed to buy the 3 custody suites then they may have saved themselves some money over the terms of the 25 – 30 year PFI scheme. This would be a positive outcome considering the damage PFI agreements are doing to the NHS. Do you know for sure that they did buy the custody suites or are they still in a PFI contract?

    I do wonder at the lack of publicity this failure has generated, even if at the time it was not seen as significant – it certainly has some bearing on what is currently happening and it is almost bizarre that Cheshire constabulary and Federation have not made some comment and pointed people in the direction of this.

    A really good find and I look forward to seeing what the FOI requests reveal.

  2. Pingback: Cheshire Custody Services Revisited « retiredandangry

  3. Pingback: A Simpleton’s View | The Big Picture

  4. Pingback: Is the privatisation of the Probation service the right option? | The Big Picture

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