West Midlands and Surrey police deal still on track

Contract for West Midlands and Surrey police partnership expected to be in place by next financial year

A major projects assurance review and joint programme board has reaffirmed West Midlands and Surrey Police’s commitment to their £1.5bn business service transformation plan.

The overall programme timelines remain in place, according to West Midlands and Surrey executives familiar with the procurement process.

The two forces have, however, taken on board specialist advice in regard to competitive dialogue, which argues that some initial market engagement with a longlist of suppliers would be beneficial to all parties both on the client and the supply-side.

That, coupled with a number of operational commitments, including the Olympics, Paralympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee, has persuaded the two forces that it “makes sense to avoid any key decision points during the main summer period”.

Last week, reports suggested that the procurement could be delayed, partly because of Surrey’s Olympics policing commitments, and concerns over governance and financing.

In a memo to her police authority, Surrey’s chief constable Lynne Owens recommended a “revised approach” on the planned Business Partnering for Police (BPP) programme.

Although the two authorities issued an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice in January 2012, followed by a bidders conference in March, Owens said recent discussions with police authority members, as well as media coverage and public feedback had demonstrated that one of the challenges facing the two forces is in explaining clearly what the programme seeks to achieve.

The forces say that it was always their intention to engage with the police and crime commissioners (PCC) once they are appointed in November, and “the marginal adjustment in approach allows them (should they so wish) a greater opportunity to engage and participate in shaping the outcome of any deal.”

The pioneering partnership, which is open to other police forces to join, is intended to drive significant service improvements, although the contract, which has the potential for the implementation of services such as CCTV and command and control systems, is also expected to deliver cost efficiencies.

In an exclusive interview, Chris Price, West Midlands police chief information officer, said the deal could become a benchmark vehicle for other forces to get involved.

“We’ve already had a number of interested parties which have gone through the assessment and moderation process, and it now goes to the police authorities,” he said. “There is a ‘recommend shortlist’ that is being put forward to them for the two lots covering custody and services. There are likely to be six consortia in each lot.

“Our intention is to open a dialogue with a long listed group of companies that comes out of the pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ). By doing that we will get a sense of what we can expect of them and what they expect of us. It will probably be the early part of next year before we go to a preferred bidder in a competitive dialogue that is planned to overlap the police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections.”

West Midlands and Surrey hope to have the contract, which could potentially run for up to 10 years, in place by the start of the next financial year, although they accept that options emerging as part of the contract could themselves become a campaign issue in the elections.

Expressions of interest received so far for the deal include familiar names that have a track record of scale, capability and competence exhibited in other sectors.

Price said that although the interested companies have a global capability, he would expect to see larger companies also working with a range of smaller suppliers.

“One of the philosophies of the government at the moment and one of the things we are keen to pull through is the involvement of small to medium companies (SMEs). Often these companies come with innovative ideas that don’t get exposed, because we tend to deal with the larger organisations,” he said.

“While we are absolutely keen on encouraging SMEs and their innovation, they probably need to do it through some sort of channel to provide financial backing.”

According to Price, West Midlands and Surrey are looking for a partner that can help bring a transformational capability, working “hand in glove” with what is good in British policing.

He said: “A partnership arrangement with the private sector represents a real opportunity to bring in different ideas, skills and areas of expertise to policing and bring about a fundamental transformation of the way we do business.”

This article is published by Guardian Professional. For weekly updates on news, debate and best practice on public sector IT, join the Guardian Government Computing network here.

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