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West Midlands and Surrey Police, together with their respective police authorities, supported by the Home Office, held a conference at the Congress Centre, London today for interested businesses to learn more about the joint procurement exercise being undertaken to examine the potential for partnership between the two forces and the private sector.
Around 120 delegates from a range of business sectors attended the event. Representatives from other police forces, police authorities and police staff associations were also in attendance.
The Bidders' Conference is the latest stage in an exploratory exercise involving the Home Office, West Midlands Police and Surrey Police which is intended to establish whether the private sector could assist both forces in improving service delivery and achieving savings in a range of 'behind the scenes' activities. The conference follows an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) asking for expressions of interest from suitably qualified external organisations to work with both forces.
Attendees heard from the Chief Constables and police authorities of the West Midlands and Surrey on their ambitions and expectations for any potential partnership, along with the scrutiny and governance arrangements that would oversee it.
Both Chief Constables emphasised that working with the private sector would not be about privatisation and that full control and accountability for all services delivered would remain with them. The Chief Constables also restated their clear intention that visible patrols and powers of arrest would remain the responsibility of warranted police officers.
Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said: "Today was the first time that we have been able to talk to interested parties from the private sector to outline what we want from any potential partnership.
"The objective of joint working with the private sector is to be more efficient and effective.
"We believe that many of the routine and repetitive jobs currently carried out by police officers or police staff might potentially be done better or at less cost by the private sector, freeing up police officers to carry out frontline duties.
"For example, we would question the cost effectiveness and necessity of using officers to collect CCTV evidence or guard a crime scene.
"We would also like to be able to better use technology to the benefit of the public. For instance at the moment a victim of a crime has no way to be able to track online the progress of their investigation and that is an area we would be keen to explore."
Chief Constable of Surrey Police, Lynne Owens, said: "Joint working with the private sector could represent an opportunity to bring different ideas, skills and areas of expertise to policing. This is not about replacing officers on the beat with private contractors; any suggestion of that kind is nonsense. We want to take this opportunity to see if the private sector can deliver some 'behind the scenes' functions better and more cost effectively.
"This is not just change for changes sake. Let me be clear that we would only be prepared to enter a partnership which promised to deliver significantly more than we could on our own, one in which the Chief Constable retains full responsibility and accountability for every area of their Force?s activity."
Bishop Derek Webley, Chairman of West Midlands Police Authority, commented:
"The police authorities are the accountable bodies for the process, and we have a duty to ensure that as we go forward we maintain a police service that is fit for purpose, efficient and effective. We will ensure that a proper process for deliberation is in place, ensuring that all the necessary evidence is obtained, and all views are heard. We will approach each decision with an open mind, considering the best interests of the public at every stage."
Peter Williams, Chairman of Surrey Police Authority, added: "This is a challenging time for police forces and authorities across the country. Whilst our funding may be decreasing, the demands on the police service are certainly not. We have an obligation as Police Authorities to consider all the options for protecting and improving our ability to serve the public.
"This process has already been subject to robust debate and voting within both Police Authorities. Let me make it clear to the public, as I have with potential bidders today, we expect this scrutiny and challenge to continue throughout this process, with any outcome being much the stronger for it."