More on the Surrey Police outsourcing initiative

We planned to publish this piece earlier this week but delayed it when other news (Ian Watmore etc) came up. Then, last night, we heard that the outsourcing initiative has been put on hold for "further consultation". Hooray! We'd like to think our previous comments  and FOI - see below - might have played some tiny part in that decision.. Anyway, here's our post, written pre the latest news.

We featured a while ago the outsourcing of pretty much all or any of their activities to a single private sector partner by Surrey and West Midlands Police. The Times reported recently that  Kellog Brown and Root (KBR) is one of four firms now in the running as favourites  – highlighting the fact that KBR built part of Gunatanamo Bay! Anyway, we asked Surrey Police  a few questions about the  initiative. I’m a resident of that fine county so I have an interest on a number of levels.

We got a response to our Freedom of Information request the other day. Here are the key elements. Firstly, we asked them what support they would be getting from consultants.

“We are currently engaged in a procurement process both consultancy and legal support for the programme and for commercial reasons are unable to provide details of that process. However, we can confirm that an OJEU notice was issued for the consultancy support in December and we are using the accelerated restricted process, and that the legal support is being procured from an existing government framework. The cost of commercial and legal advice to the programme up until 31st March 2012 was £353,000”.

So, they’re well into the procurement process – PQQs being assessed now we believe - before they’ve engaged support to help them run the procurement, which is a bit of a worry.

Next, they won’t tell us how the consultants will be incentivised (commercial confidentiality) even though we pointed out that NHS South Central wasted £1million in consultancy recently for their aborted procurement outsourcing.

They did however point us towards their Business Case which makes interesting reading. Dave Orr will be concerned to see it doesn’t make much mention of accountability – for instance, will the “Partner” have to respond to FOI questions? The other concern is the complete lack in the Business Case of any discussion around how the Partner will be managed. Do the Forces have the contract and supplier management skills to avoid being ripped off something rotten? But, to be fair, the document does fill in a lot of the detail we haven’t seen about the plans.

It also makes plain how much push the Home Office are putting behind this – they’re chipping in £2 million of funding, 40% of the estimated cost of the process. They’re obviously very keen to see this happen.

Back to Surrey - the vote at the Police Authority meeting was very close. “...approval was given by majority vote, with 9 Members in favour, 6 Members against, and two Members being absent”.

And “the minutes show that no personal or prejudicial interests were declared”.

We asked whether they had considered the option to have multiple suppliers rather than a single partner. That single partner strategy worries us more than anything, and it seems to be driven by expediency rather than business benefits.

“Yes and we would consider multiple supplier options, however we do expect that there will be a “prime contractor” through which we as a client will receive services. The prime contractor will be expected establish appropriate relationships with the wider supply chain as required to deliver a suitable transformational solution”.

That doesn’t make us any more convinced really. We also asked, “given that no firm in the world can meet all your requirements, how will you assure yourselves that the winning Prime has the capability to manage potentially complex supply chains and sub-contractor relationships?

This will be assessed through the procurement process” was the answer. So that’s OK then.

So, we’ll stick with our original conclusion. This is “Stupid Sourcing”. Going for a single partner purely because “it will save further procurement exercises” is a really bad reason for making a very dubious strategic decision. The sub-contractor / consortium structure will lead to internal frictions amongst the different service providers, and we have little confidence in the Force’s ability to manage a supplier with the commercial savvy of a (e.g.) KBR, Capita, Serco, or Accenture, particularly as they will have to manage a complex network / supply chain beneath them.

And we’ll no doubt be coming back to this at it progresses.

Voices (5)

  1. Phoenix:

    I strongly suspect that corners have been cut to accelerate the project and get a solution in place as swiftly as possible, either for budgetary reasons (possible) or political ones (probable). The Accelerated (OJEU) Procedure says it all.

    Spending time strategising over the best way to approach the market pre-PQQ with a carefully-selected consultant on board is a luxury they obviously feel able to manage without. But I don’t doubt it’s a decision they’ll come to regret.

    How many 10, 20, 30-year public-private partnerships fail because of (a) lack of proper consideration given to commercial strategy up-front and (b) lack of decent investment in the capacity to manage the relationship and protect the client’s commercial interests for the full term?

  2. David Orr:

    I asked an identical set of FOI questions from both of them (W Midlands and Surrey Police Services).

    W Midlands Police simply avoided answering, whilst Surrey had a go.

    But…if they are working from the same project documentation then shouldn’t the answers be the same?

    I wanted to see of they had looked at the problems in the IBM-led Southwest One contract with Avon & Somerset Police and be able to answer some very basic issues of principle on governance & accountability.

    CONCLUSION: They are winging it! They must end up relying on the specific requirements being carried out by the contractor once they are made preferred bidder. This has the potential to make SW1 look like a minor blip in the history of “Stupid Sourcing”.

    FOI QUESTIONS:

    1a. Have the WMPA examined the public accountability & disclosure
    issues that have arisen in Southwest One? Please disclose the
    report/analysis/case study.

    1b. Will the WMPA ensure that supplying companies & major
    contractors are required to be a public body under the FOI Act so
    that transparency & accountability are maintained to current
    levels?

    2. Have the WMPA examined the conflict of interest issues in
    Southwest One around the Chief Constable serving on the Board as a
    Director? Please disclose the report/analysis/case study.

    3. Do the WMPA think that partnerships or similar vehicles with the
    major contractors should be setup as a public body?

    4. Do the WMPA think that that partnerships or similar vehicles
    with the major contractors should fall within the FOI Act (like the
    WMPA)?

    5. Do the WMPA think that that partnerships or similar vehicles
    with the major contractors should publish papers and meeting
    minutes (redacted only for genuinely commercially confidential
    matters)?

    6. Will the WMPA support Police Officers (including Chief
    Constables) or Commissioners having positions on the boards of
    partnerships or similar vehicles with the major contractors?

    7. Does the WMPA think that that partnerships or similar vehicles
    with the major contractors should set governance standards for
    operation, accountability & disclosure that at a minimum are at the
    same level as Police Authorities?

    8. What role do the WMPA think that the Police & Crime
    Commissioners should have in the partnerships or similar vehicles
    with the major contractors?

    W Midlands gave a PR answer:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/have_w_midlands_pa_reviewed_avon#incoming-277206

    “This matter has now been reviewed and I confirm that WMPA has no information as it has not undertaken any review on this contract. In my response I drew your attention to the public Report to the Authority meeting on 5th January which does contain references to that contract”.

    Surrey Police at least had a go at answering (so much for being in a partnership & having project-level co-ordination then):

    “I am writing to request an internal review of West Midlands Police Authority’s handling of my FOI request ‘Have W Midlands PA reviewed Avon & Somerset Police’s SW1 “failing” contract with IBM?’.

    This refusal to answer under the FOIA as to whether the information is held or not is incorrect.

    Surrey Police answered an identical FOI thus:

    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/10

    You have failed to supply a similar response to Surrey Police under the FOIA as to whether the information is held or not held (amongst the procurement project documentation within the project management methodology).

  3. bitter and twisted:

    Why are West Midlands and Surrey in bed with each other ? – they arent neighbours or particularly similar in any way. Isnt WM twice the size as well?

    How about a FOI to W.Midlands – anyone brave enough ?

  4. John Diffenthal:

    I don’t mean to be naive, but if the procurement is at the PQQ stage, isn’t it a tad premature to have a group of favoured suppliers? Or was the advertisement so forbidding that only four expressed an interest?

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