Surrey and West Midlands Police outsourcing – Stupid Sourcing ?

When we launched our Stupid Sourcing concept (see yesterday’s post) on an unsuspecting Sourcing Interests group audience last week, little did we know that the very next day we would see a strong candidate for our first real life example hit the press.

The Surrey  and West Midlands Police Forces, as we explained on Monday, have launched a procurement to find a partner who might deliver all sorts of services, from investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents... etc etc....,  managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions, such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.

We think this might just be our first new example of Stupid Sourcing.

That’s not because we’re philosophically opposed to outsourcing or even “privatisation” - we’re happy in concept with the idea of any of those activities being outsourced if it makes sense to do so. The proper controls need to be in place, and there are issues of accountability that do cause concern, having had one past experience of a policeman simply lying to justify a minor traffic charge (not Surrey or West Midlands Forces I should say). But in principle, outsourcing could be a “good thing” I’m sure, done properly.

That’s the crunch – done properly. And what worries us here is this. The whole reason for going to market for a single supplier for this huge and diverse basket of services appears to be just to avoid further procurement exercises. Here’s what a West Midlands Police Authority spokesman told the Guardian -

 "The areas of service listed in this notice are deliberately broad to allow the force to explore the skills, expertise and solutions a partnership could bring." He said not all the activities listed would necessarily be included in the final scope of the contract, but if the force added other activities later a "new and costly procurement exercise" would be needed.

So this isn’t a carefully consider strategic decision that one supplier is the best answer – rather, it is the desire to avoid the hassle and cost of running any further procurement exercises later. It is the complexity of the public procurement process that is driving the fundamental basis of the programme – the single supplier partnership approach.

No one supplier can possibly carry out all the activities defined here. We’ve seen the PQQ, and it looks for skills in "building and maintaining secure premises", but also wants experience in complex technology solutions, business change..  etc. Now there isn’t a supplier in the world we can think of who is truly expert in all these areas. So we’re into consortia I suspect, with all the problems of structuring and managing such beasts.

An entire business strategy built, not around sensible packaging of requirements, the market structure or real supplier expertise,  but around a desire to avoid running multiple procurements seems enough in itself to qualify as Stupid Sourcing.

But I’d also question the lack of stakeholder consultation and buy-in (cf NHS IT), and whether these Forces really have the capability to manage a major “partner” without having the commercial rings run around them.  There’s precious little evidence of the Police Service, or the Home Office for that matter, running successful strategic partnerships of this potential complexity and strategic importance.

Here’s another thought - £5 million has been set aside to run the procurement process, which suggests consultants will be heavily involved. So we might also ask – if you don’t have the in-house capability to run the procurement, what makes you think you can run the contract and supplier management phase?

So, it’s a little unfair perhaps, and I haven’t attempted to talk to anyone in the Forces about this (I’m very happy to do that, and as I said on Monday, I live in Surrey), and it may be we’re wrong in our initial diagnosis.  But until proved otherwise, we’re suggesting that our first Stupid Sourcing label should be firmly attached to this project.

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Voices (5)

  1. Clark Kent:

    perhaps there are levels of sophistication to this newly defined term. In Netanyahu’s terms maybe this is not just Stupid Sourcing, it’s Nuclear Stupid Sourcing.

  2. David Orr:

    KEY: “So we might also ask – if you don’t have the in-house capability to run the procurement, what makes you think you can run the contract and supplier management phase?”

    Who can accurately predict the shape of Policing in 10 years time & the coming technologies? How do you create a contract that can flex to accommodate changes without large & uncontrolled charges for change (a flaw in long-term PFI contracts)?

    Given the acknowledged “failing” Somerset experiences with IBM for SW1, I am very sceptical:

    Better service at lower cost, whilst a private contractor makes 20% gross margin and covers risks and capital costs, is a circle that I do not believe can be realistically squared.

    It will of course end in tears like IBM/SW1 here in Somerset with a £50m loss to local taxpayers from something supposed to save money:

    Somerset council takes back services from Southwest One …

    My local Police Authority meeting accepts public questions and holds the meeting mostly in public. Meetings & papers are published. They are a public body under the FOI Act and have to answer FOI questions.

    SW1 holds meetings entirely privately; does not have to answer FOI questions; does not publish papers or minutes of meetings.

    Elected Councillors for Somerset County Council and Taunton Deane Council are on the Board of SW1, but cannot report on their activity to electors & taxpayers.

    Why haven’t the Home Office and ACPO carried out any research on serious democratic issues surrounding the controversial joint venture SW1 between IBM and the Avon & Somerset Police?

    The governance, public accountability & transparent information issues are at the heart of maintaining public confidence in Policing, so need to be properly addressed, before issuing massive and non-specific tenders.

  3. woodbine:

    Holy cow, when I heard the story on the Today programme, I thought “there must be something more to it than that”, but no it really is as stupid as it sounds, and we all know if it looks like stupid sourcing, walks like stupid sourcing and sounds like stupid sourcing…

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