16 October 2003 | David Arminas
Procurement within the UK's largest police force must operate in a rapidly changing environment if it is to meet the public's increasing demands.
In his keynote address to the CIPS Premier Conference last week, Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told delegates that the public is "more questioning than ever of its institutions".
Events beginning with the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York had placed increasing pressures on London's police, which has a quarter of all officers in England and Wales.
Stevens said the Met is under pressure to deliver in all areas, including procurement, which controls an annual budget of £400 million, of which £150 million is on outsourced contracts.
"We've had to look very hard at how we conduct all of our business and this has included a shake-up of purchasing," he said.
"Quite frankly, the way we have done business in the past has been pretty poor; spend and waste were quite prolific. But over the past four years, we have been able to make savings of close to £300 million, and there is more of that to come."
Stevens said opinion polls of Londoners and other benchmark studies show that policing is getting better, but support services including procurement must change for the Met to maintain these improvements.
"Everything we do needs to put the front-line [officers] first. They need to have their demands and worries put first," he said.
He expected leadership styles to include meeting the officers and public.
"Above all, we need to listen to those who know their business best, those who are close to delivery at the sharp end, a police officer on the beat or a detective involved in anti-terrorist work."
Steve Atherton, appointed director of procurement at the Met in May 2002, agreed that leadership included engaging with the public and officers, which he has done.
"Officers and the public can actually point their finger at my chest, I can listen. That is crucial to understanding what your core deliverables are," he said.
But Atherton believed an inspirational leader also needed the personality to engage.
"Procurement has traditionally been seen as a backroom function with purchasers having their heads down in processes. To move away from this, you must also have those personality traits to hone in order to inspire people."