Stop Police Privatisation
Unison’s Narmada Thiranagama shares her views on why privatising aspects of the police service is unwelcomed and how the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections, can help to halt this process.
On 15 November, the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners will be held for the first time in England and Wales. It might be the best chance we have to halt the government’s damaging programme of police privatisation. This dangerous sell off of services vital to local communities has happened by stealth, without any proper consultation with the public, the people who have most to lose. If police privatisation goes ahead unchallenged the face of UK policing will change forever - and young Black people might have the most to lose.
Hit with 20% budget cuts, police forces across the country are shedding thousands of jobs, and are being pushed to compromise their accountability by selling off vital operational functions of policing to private companies. UNISON is warning police authorities against falling into the trap of thinking that the private sector is the answer to the coalition’s budget cuts. Private companies are answerable to their shareholders - who want them to make profits - not to the public.
Since no force has released information on how contracts have performed, there is no evidence that privatisation will offer good value for money or decent services. The only evidence out there shows that privatisation doesn’t work. In 2007, Avon and Somerset police formed a partnership with IBM, Taunton Dean Borough Council and Somerset District Council called ‘South West One’. It is now being described by Somerset Council as a ‘costly failure’ having made ‘staggering losses’ with few of the promised savings having materialised.
After the failure of the G4S Olympic contract, it is clear that even if a service is privatised, the public sector still carries all of the risk. If anything goes wrong, the public sector – and ultimately the taxpayer – will have to step in as local police services are too important to be allowed to fail.
The public will also lose their right to take a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Unlike the services directly provided by the police, a private company is not answerable to the IPCC. Given the concerns many young BME people have about their treatment at the hands of the police, this is deeply worrying.
To make matters worse, some of the leading companies bidding to win the contracts for police services have a troubled record in dealing humanely with certain groups – including BME indiviudals. This is deeply worrying when you consider that the services up for grabs are core aspects of policing. If privatisation comes to your local area, you could be dealing with a private company when you ring 999, walk into a police station and talk to the front desk, have a crime investigated, are visited by a police forensic team, use victim support services, and are taken into custody. In fact, you could access these services without at any point coming into contact with a public service.
If you are feeling scared about police privatisation then you are not alone. A poll by UNISON in June found that 62% of the public reject police privatisation and that 50% said they would trust the police less if a private company ran their local services, with more than 50% saying they would feel less safe.
In these unsettled times, the public – especially people in BME communities – need to have trust and confidence in their local police. We know that privatisation will damage that trust, jeopardising years of work spent in building a more positive, if still fragile, relationship between local communities and the police.
In our campaign, UNISON is reaching out to build support and make sure Police and Crime Commissioner candidates know that the public do not want their local police services to be privatised. We need as many people as possible to add their voices to the campaign. Talk to your friends, family, to colleagues and neighbours. The campaign will hot up around the Police Commissioner elections on 15 November 2012.
To find out more, visit www.unison.org.uk/stoppoliceprivatisation.
Narmada Thiranagama,National Officer, Policy Unit, UNISON
Picture: Neville Lawrence, pictured with Unison members, who backs the campaign.