This morning several people are commenting upon the news story that Surrey Police Authority have decided to" scrap plans for partial privatisation" (BBC headline with full story here). I have seen several people say that they are glad that Surrey PA have seen sense and taken this decision.
Unsurprisingly, I am more cynical.
The list of the members of the PA shows that 6 of the 9 councillor members are conservatives (or should that now be 'Conserve-a-Tories' following the government's bold plan to kickstart the economy by allowing people to build slightly larger home extensions without needing planning permission). The other three are two LibDems and a 'Residents' Association' councillor. I know very little about the 8 independent members since their website gives no bios. The published "Members’ Register of Interests June 2012"* does not say much except I am left with the impression that the independent members are not exactly a collection of opposition party supporters.
Where am I going with this?
I would contend that this decision is all part of an attempt by the Conservative parties of Surrey and probably the Liberal Democrats too, to remove the toxicity of outsourcing from the PCC campaign.
They know that even traditional Tory voters recoil from the idea of having even part of the police service being run by G4S, especially after the London 2012 fiasco. And so the PA have decided to pull "out of plans to privatise parts of their services" according to the BBC. Later the article says (presumably drawing on the PA's press release) that the PA have done this because the "security firm failed to provide the agreed number of staff at the Olympics" and "a key factor was also a lack of support from candidates seeking election to run the force as police commissioner later this year".
This is arch politics.
First, the PA have not actually made the final decision as this will come later in September. Secondly, as far as I can see, they have decided not to spend any more money on the arrangements they were putting in place with West Midlands Police but not to give up privatisation / outsourcing altogether. Thirdly, why were they doing this anyway if it matters to them what the PCC 'candidates' are saying (parenthesis due to not one of them yet being officially declared). Surely the job of all PAs at the moment is to steer their ships into a safe and non strategic harbour to smooth the arrival of the new PCCs. It is not their job to take long term decisions at the moment and seek to bind the hands of the incoming PCC, in my opinion.
And fourthly is the statement "lack of support from candidates seeking election" actually true? I have browsed the website of Julie Iles' and she says nothing about G4S or privatisation that I can see. (Happy to be told otherwise of course.) I went onto the Policy Exchange website (who conveniently ask no particular questions about outsourcing) to see what I could find there. I pulled up this comparison between Julie Iles and the Labour candidate Robert Evans. Only Robert mentions G4S.
Her blog has one posting on it. Yep, you have guessed it, nothing about privatisation or G4S. Her bio says "Julie also has a successful track record in business and experience from a career outside of politics. She has the skills to ensure delivery of an efficient, effective police force making best use of our resources and funding". Again this says nothing. I mean who isn't for making best use of resources and funding?
And so to repeat: this decision my Surrey PA is nothing short of pure politics designed to pave the way for a Conservative victory in the PCC elections. This decision seeks give the impression that a) all the candidates are against privatisation and b) it won't matter anyway because everything has been shelved.
I am sure that Robert Evans and his team have already seen through what the PA are seeking to do and will be pressing Julie Iles for rock solid commitments not to continue with G4S or indeed any other massively risky privatisation experiment on the people of Surrey.
*NB Surrey publish their register of interests, whereas as Thames Valley are treating my request for a list of members' interests as a Freedom of Information inquiry since it does not appear on their website... Hmm. See new blog post above.
UPDATE: Thanks to Stuart Lister for pointing this out: here is a copy of the report from the PA Chief Executive to the Authority. Note that it says "Surrey will remain a ‘potential beneficiary’ to any contact agreed by West Midlands in future, together with the other 41 police authorities (in future, Police & Crime Commissioners) named on the original OJEU notice".
They are not really hedging their bets are they...
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