Outsourcing is one of the most fiercely debated topics facing our public services.
It has also risen rapidly up the Met Police’s agenda, as the force looks to find up to £800 million of savings over the next few years.
To achieve this, the Met is developing a commercial programme which could lead to some “back-office” services – such as finance, HR and procurement – being contracted out to external providers.
There have been numerous scandals where outsourcing has been poorly organised, ineffective and costly. But what would be concerning is if the Met decided to outsource to large companies with little or no transparency in its dealings.
With the public sector needing to make even more savings over the next few years, as the Chancellor made clear in his budget today, many organisations might be tempted to look at contracting out services as a way of cutting costs. No matter what your view is on outsourcing, everyone agrees that if the public sector decides to use contractors, it must make sure that it gets a good deal.
So to help guide the Met, the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee has been exploring how the Met can reduce costs while delivering the high quality service that Londoners expect.
In June, we heard from experts in outsourcing – and then explored this further with the Met and MOPAC last week.
We’ll be thinking about the lessons over the next few weeks, but a few points stand out already.
The Met must know what it wants to achieve.
Sounds simple – but as we heard, bad outsourcing happens when a service is outsourced simply to save. Of course, saving money is an important factor – but more important is reform and clarity around what an outsourcing decision is intended to achieve.
And the Met may want to reform services before they are outsourced. As Kerry Hallard of the National Outsourcing Association told the Committee in June, “if you outsource a mess, you get a mess for less.”
Think about your staff’s pay and progression.
As we heard, outsourcing can actually create more opportunities for existing staff: HR professionals, for example, could find new opportunities if they transfer from an in-house team to a specialist organisation.
Think about 2020, not just 2015.
Crime is moving away from the streets and on to the internet. The Met needs to be able to respond accordingly and adapt to new technology. So it will be important that any contracts it enters into reflect this and won’t handcuff the Met from adapting to changing circumstances. Flexibility to respond to developments in technology must apply to both bobbies on the beat and the back office.
Learn from others.
The Met should look outside Scotland Yard for lessons on outsourcing.
For example, as Louise Bladen from the National Audit Office told our committee, “talking to the bigger forces who have [contracted out services in the past] would be very beneficial to the Met”.
And lessons can be learnt from other parts of the public sector too – particularly when it comes to experiences of ongoing management of the contracts.
Likewise, the Met needs to look beyond the usual suspects to provide services. Could engaging small and medium businesses do more?
What’s more, given the size of the Met, it needs to learn that it is a big player – and has the potential to create a new market altogether for its suppliers.
The scale of the savings will be tough. But Londoners deserve the best possible police service –the Met must ensure that it’s focused on reform and not just salami slicing its back office services.
John Biggs AM is Chair of the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee, stay up to date with the Assembly’s work via @londonassembly.