Commercial confidentiality is endlessly cited in response to requests for information.
The horrendous, failed, wasteful and expensive Tube PPP system is a lasting monument to the inherent failures of forced marriages between private companies and essential public services.
Commercial providers want contracts that predict and price every possible event, the public sector needs the flexibility to ensure the service is delivered, even in times of unforeseeable events.
Unforeseeable events, for example, such as widespread riots and looting which require instant responses, unencumbered by the need to renegotiate a contract with a commercial partner that’s closed its offices for the day.
Now we learn that police forces and the Home Office are drawing up plans to hand policing budgets and policing responsibilities to the private sector.
Companies which if they were actually any good would make something of saleable quality that private and commercial customers would buy, will once again be encouraged to suckle on the breast of the taxpayer.
The profit element in their fees will remove investment from areas which remain the responsibility of the public sector, the inflexibilities of the contracts will be found wanting just at the most unsuitable time.
The coalition’s introduction of elected police and crime commissioners was designed to address a growing gulf between the police and the public.
The documents the Guardian has published say that the contracts are subject to approval by the PCC’s – the elections for this new role could get very noisy and centre on a single issue.
But what if PCCs do enact these contracts?
Hiving off investigations and other police work out to the private sector would place contracted barriers between those policing and the policed. Our old friend commercial confidentiality will ensure a dilution of accountability.
Want to know how many detectives your local force has? Expect your chief constable to write back advising that, at the request of his commercial partner, such information cannot be divulged.
What happens if a privatised police service gets convicted? Will it be instantly stripped of its contracts? What protections would there be to stop a privatised police service from handing back its contract in the middle of a major investigation?
How about conflicts of interest? Is it possible that one day a demonstrator could be apprehended and questioned by a private police officer working for a company owned by the tax evader or environmental polluter the suspect was demonstrating against?
Who would the public complain to about the actions and conduct of privatised investigators?
And how would the introduction of privatised investigators fit into laws banning payments to public officials?
Here’s a look at the possible future of policing courtesy of A bit of Fry and Laurie….
UPDATE: Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has issued the following statement: “In principle, public services should be provided by whoever is best able to provide them, but there are limits.
“If crime investigation that involves interacting with members of the public, patrolling neighbourhoods and ‘managing engagement with the public’ are not performed by police officers, there is a serious danger of a breakdown in the relationship between the police and the public, upon which the British system of policing by consent is based.
“If private security companies are involved in detaining suspects there are real issues of accountability and the potential to undermine the unique role of the police constable in the exercise of force.
“This is not simply an issue of privatisation, it has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of policing in this country.”
Green Party candidate and former Metropolitan Police Authority member Jenny Jones tells me: “Putting profit before people is a way of guaranteeing injustice for the vulnerable.
“Just as I think the coalition government has done all it can to make life tougher for the majority, they announce another bad idea.”