Last updated on March 14th, 2019 at 02:25 pmReading Time: 7 minutes
I feel I must begin this blog with an apology. It has not been easy to write, I suspect it won’t be easy to read, and I’m not convinced that it will be easy to understand, but please try and stay with it, it might be worth it.
You may find it useful to read my previous blog on Cheshire Custody Services if you haven’t already.
It’s been a while, much confusion along the way, but I’ve finally got some answers out of Cheshire Police Authority about their failed privatisation of Custody Services. I will attempt to make some sense of it. The documents they sent me have been redacted in part, but at least they’ve provided me with something to work with.
All the way back in 2001 a Business Case was put together advocating Custody Services on a PFI basis, and this was a revised Business Case, the original plan obviously commenced some time prior to that.
The research project had identified the following weaknesses in the existing regime;
- Inadequate of inappropriate accommodation
None of the current facilities complies with the Home Oﬁice Police Buildings Design Guide or Health and Safety at Work regulations. During busy periods, there are too few cells and interview rooms for the number of prisoners.
- Inadequate use of resources-
Staff numbers are poorly matched to the number of detainees, requiring a high rate of temporary abstractions of officers ﬁom other duties to assist. Custody Officers frequently have too many detainees to deal with safely or efficiently.
- Lack of a single process owner
Custody facilities are the responsibility of the local divisional commander. There is no single point of accountability for the delivery of custody throughout the Constabulary, leading to poor consistency in performance.
- Inadequate performance management regime
There is a lack of consistency in performance management and little targeted analysis aimed at improving performance or value for money
- Inadequate support for strategic aims
The location of the cells within police stations makes disposal and purchase more difficult, reducing both the ﬂexibility of the estate strategy and the ability to make organisational changes
- Supports development programme
The implementation of centralised custody facilities will allow construction of Chester and Ellesmere Port divisional headquarters without the signiﬁcant capital cost of including custody facilities within it. No allowance has been made in the Medium Term Financial Scenario for the building of custody facilities for Chester and Ellesmere Port Division (estimated as £2m). should the custody PFI project . not be progressed.
As for the future;
The review conﬁrmed that the three-site option represented the most effective solution. It identiﬁed that the one and two site conﬁgurations had the following ‘ signiﬁcant operational weaknesses:
- The increased transport time would signiﬁcantly impact upon the safe transport of violent detainees.
- From the research undertaken the potential locations for the two site conﬁguration meant that large areas of arrest concentrations were a considerable distance from the facilities.
- The distances and availability of public transport with the one and two site options would have a severe impact on detainees and their families.
- Reducing the number of facilities ﬁom six to less than three would seriously ‘ impact upon the resilience of the Constabulary.
- The ability to isolate and deal with high risk/high proﬁle detainees would be reduced.
- These conﬁgurations would not as effectively facilitate the investigation of serious crime.
- Such configurations would have an adverse impact on other agencies involved in the criminal justice process.
The review also conﬁrmed the previous evidence that a four site option and enhanced status quo would not deliver all the beneﬁts of a more compact conﬁguration whilst materially exceeding the affordability parameters.
I am not going to pretend that I understand every word of the Business Case that I have been sent as it is full of OBCs, ITNs and NCAs, and I don’t live/operate in that sort of world, but it is clear that the Police Authority genuinely thought that there were significant savings to be made by privatising their Custody Services and freeing-up front line officers for other duties. If any of you understand these things I will gladly let you have a copy to interpret for us.
The full range of services included in the PFI contract were;
- Custody Support
- Detainee Transport
- Medical Services (including non-custodial services)
- Cleaning, Waste Management & Pest Control
- Security & Reception
- Building Maintenance and Utilities Provision
- Grounds Maintenance
- Contract Management
The Business Case does not identify the identities of the short-listed bidders, but it tells us that there were 3 bidders on the short list and we know that the successful bidder was Global Solutions Ltd. Global Solutions Limited (GSL) was formerly the section of Group 4 covering prison and court services, immigration detention centres, education contracts, meter readings and ‘outsourced services’.
Now I start getting confused, as far as I can establish, and all documentation points towards it, the PFI contract was awarded to GSL. It doesn’t take long before GSL has been sold to Englefield Capital / Europa Electra Partners, and the Police Authority are now dealing with a company called Cheshire Custody Services Ltd. In 2008 GLS were sold to G4S. I have been unable to find out anything useful about Englefield Capital and Europa Electra but I have discovered that one man has been a Director at GLS, Cheshire Custody Services Ltd and various arms of G4S. He is a man called Christopher Elliott, and he has had a total of 60 various directorships, a lot of them involving G4S in its assorted incarnations. A newspaper article states that Cheshire Custody Services Ltd was set up by Global Solutions before its sale, so that probably explains the transitions of the various companies, with Mr Elliott providing some continuity.
Where it starts to get interesting, in my opinion, is that Cheshire Police Authority entered into this PFI contract in 2005. It was apparently a 25 year contract, which I personally find alarming, but maybe there were sound reasons for it at the time. However by the 1st quarter of 2007 the Police Authority were already having meetings, concerned about the performance of Cheshire Custody Services and the contract, in fact serious concerns were being raised as early as July 2006., less than a year after this 25 year contract began. By 2007 more meetings were being called and by March 2007 a decision was taken to convene a Special Meeting of the Police Authority to discuss the future operation of the contract. This meeting took place on 24th April 2007 but amazingly the minutes of that meeting are not included in the Police Authority’s archive, but the meeting is referred to in the minutes of the Service Improvement Panel on 8th May 2007
On 28th November 2007 a Default Notice was issued to Cheshire Custody Services Ltd. This was intended both a means to prompt an improvement of services from CCSL but also to begin a process for termination of the contract.
By 20th December 2007 we have a report noting that services were falling well behind the requited standards, particularly in the ares of transport, medical and interpreters. It was commented upon that these services would NOT be improved by throwing more money at it, and that the contract looked increasingly unaffordable from December 2010 onwards. This is a contract that is 2 years into a 25 year period.
On 1st May 2008 Cheshire Police Authority regained ownership and responsibility for Custody provisions.
The previous dates are quite interesting in a mischievous sort of way because Policy Exchange published a report on 15th January 2008 called Footing The Bill.
On page 36 of this austere document 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”
Clearly this is a success story, except that it isn’t. If you follow the link above you will see that cracks are already appearing in July 2006. What does that tell us about the integrity of Policy Exchange reports and recommendations?
The Policy Echange report goes on to say
As they establish how to best use private providers, the Home Office (specifically the NPIA) must establish a consistent and effective approach to procurement of private
services and outsourcing contracts. If the police service is to incorporate cost-saving outsourcing successfully into a programme of modernisation, it must lay the groundwork. First, it needs to develop easily replicable models of outsourcing. Contracts which are negotiated independently without any proven framework can
produce poor outcomes for the police and the public. Such a framework of best practice in contract management and procurement will have to be developed by the
Once a reliable and successful model has been agreed forces will need to establish exactly what functions are carried out by support staff through activity-based costing
analysis. Then they can determine which tasks can be outsourced, and whether or not this should be done in collaboration with other police forces. Pensions and payroll administration are examples of back office support functions that could be outsourced. The final prerequisite for successful outsourcing is to strike a balance between local
control over procurement and driving best practice from the centre. The NPIA needs to take responsibility for driving the development of contract negotiation frameworks,
while building in a system for effective local control and accountability.
Lessons for contract procurement
A significant amount of time and effort must be invested in preparation for an outsourcing contract. Before possible suppliers are even contacted police forces must determine and clarify the objectives of an outsourcing contract, which should equate to improved efficiency and costsavings. They will also need to outline their expectations of service delivery, their strategy of implementation and the level of investment required in any outsourcing deal.
When you take into account the comments from p36 of Policy Exchange’s report and the dates of the various sets of minutes from Police Authority meetings it is obvious that not only was this project failing, it was beginning to fail spectacularly, and these failings were known prior to the publication of this report. The private company concerned was G4S under one guise or another, and leaving the Olympic Games saga out of this just for a moment, they have experienced failure at PFI ventures with one Constabulary. The Cheshire Federation must have known about this project and its failings, and UNISON most definitely knew about it. Neither of these organisations have been heard protesting about future privatisations, at least not by me, and privatisation is being lauded as the way forward. Why? What has changed since this project and the current/future ones to make them a safer bet?
As you might expect I have submitted FOI requests in an attempt to obtain the missing documents.
Watch this space.
Privatisation? Based on the Cheshire experience, good or bad? You decide.