Forces urged to work harder to achieve economies of scale

31 March 2010

31 March 2010 | Helen Gilbert

A national procurement strategy to encourage police forces to buy in bulk could help save £400 million by 2014-15 and put more bobbies on the beat.

That is the claim made today in a report by the Confederation of British Industry.

A frontline force: Proposals for more effective policing argues the service rarely enjoys economies of scale when using its annual budget of around £2 billion. This expenditure covers the purchase of goods and services for the 43 forces in England and Wales.

It estimates that approximately one-third of the current spend on police procurement – £833 million – could benefit from improved collaboration, and puts forward its proposals on how to do so.

It has called for a single body to be responsible for identifying goods and services that will benefit from being purchased nationally.

Procurement should be mandated through a national procurement framework, developed with the Office of Government Commerce, the report said.

This should, as a minimum, include police uniforms and vehicles (helicopters, cars and motorcycles) and neighbouring forces should be encouraged to club together to buy services where there are clear financial and practical benefits to doing so.

The report flagged up how Kent and Essex police’s joint procurement department had saved £3 million since 2007, but added: “Even when all forces are purchasing the same goods and services – be it uniforms or vehicles – the police rarely exercises its combined purchasing power to get the best deal.

 “There is also a limited market of companies that provide services to the police, since many potential providers find the scale of procurements run by individual forces make bidding uneconomical. This means that the police service rarely enjoys the benefits of competition in a thriving market of providers.”

Without shared procurement, many forces would be unable to buy expensive items such as helicopters, the report said.

Chief constable Mark Rowley, lead on futures at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “Across the country forces are working hard to deliver efficiencies, establish effective collaborative working and do more with less.

“Most of all this report does reflect the need for properly informed debate about policing, the absence of which has recently prompted Sir Hugh Orde to call for an independent strategic review.”

* A government report, The high level working group report on police value for money, was published in February. It builds on the policing white paper and provides more detail about how savings of at least £545 million will be achieved by police forces. The head of commercial and procurement at the National Policing Improvement Agency and another top purchaser go head-to-head in the next issue of SM (15 April) to debate whether it will succeed.

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