Boris Johnson has said he would be willing to consider privatising police services beyond “an irreducible core” of duties which require “the use of police powers”.
The Mayor says he believes “competitive tendering of contracts beyond this irreducible core provides a means of cutting costs considerably without making the thin blue line any thinner. It is therefore something that should be explored.”
Johnson’s willingness to privatise services was confirmed in answer to a question from Joanne McCartney, Labour’s policing spokesperson on the London Assembly.
Ms McCartney tabled a written question to the Mayor at last week’s Mayor’s Question Time asking which parts of the Met he believed “are suitable for privatisation”.
In his response the Mayor said: “There needs to be more in terms of ‘back-office reform’. The role of the back-office is an important one, but we should consider who should be performing these roles, taking into consideration costs and skills.
“Back-office reform is a means to an end, it’s not only about costs saving it’s about getting more police to do more policing (by more efficient processes or releasing officers to the frontline). Therefore it doesn’t go against public policing, but actually supports it.”
Johnson has previously been criticised for reducing the number of civilian staff in the Met and replacing them with warranted police officers, a policy Assembly Members say has allowed the Mayor to keep officer numbers artificially high.
Last week a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) predicted the Met will have a lower share of officers on the front line than other forces by March 2015.
The report says the force will lose just 4% of officers compared to an average 10% reduction across England and Wales but the proportion of police officers on the front line will be lower than the national figure.
Commenting on the Mayor’s answer, Ms McCartney said: “We urgently need clarity as to what the Mayor considers “back room” – does he mean 999 call centres and custody suites? These are core policing roles which the public would not want to be privatised. The Mayor is talking about an ‘irreducible core’ of policing duties, this sounds like they are planning to privatise the majority of the Met’s work.”
“Policing is not for profit, it is about public service and keeping us all safe. There is a real danger because of the Met’s budget black-hole the Mayor will make the decision to cut costs rather than improve services in the public interest. At the end of the day this all goes back to Boris Johnson’s friends in government who are cutting the police budget by 20%, they are going too far and too fast.”
Green Party AM Jenny Jones said: “Public services should be publicly owned and publicly accountable. All too often privatisation has proven to be a false economy and not delivered the savings hoped for. The Met could save large amounts of money if it rebalanced the workforce through increased civilianisation; this would also help free up officers to the frontline.”