Unions will fight plans to use private firms in police work

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Two unions have said they will join forces to fight plans to use private firms to take over police work.

Unison and Unite have called the plans a "dangerous experiment" that the public cannot afford to be part of.

Private companies interested in taking over some of the work of West Midlands Police and Surrey Police have attended a conference in London.

Chief Constable of Surrey Police Lynne Owens said beat officers would not be replaced with private contractors.

"We want to take this opportunity to see if the private sector can deliver some 'behind the scenes' functions better and more cost effectively," she said

'Privatising policing'

Work would include guarding crime scenes, patrolling neighbourhoods and collecting CCTV footage.

Ben Priestley, Unison's national officer for police staff, said: "People in the West Midlands and Surrey have not had any say in these plans and yet their safety and confidence in the police will be severely jeopardised if this contract goes ahead.

"It is true that forces are struggling with a 20% cut in their budgets, but privatising policing is not the answer.

"If the West Midlands and Surrey proposals go through, the tried and trusted British model of policing will disappear overnight, maybe never to return."

The two forces have invited bids for contracts from private firms, on behalf of all forces.

The Bidders' Conference was attended by 120 delegates, West Midlands Police said.

Representatives from other police forces, police authorities and police staff associations also attended.

Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said: "Today was the first time that we have been able to talk to interested parties from the private sector to outline what we want from any potential partnership.

"For example, we would question the cost effectiveness and necessity of using officers to collect CCTV evidence or guard a crime scene."

'Best interests'

Peter Williams, chairman of Surrey Police Authority, said: "This is a challenging time for police forces and authorities across the country.

"Whilst our funding may be decreasing, the demands on the police service are certainly not.

"We have an obligation as police authorities to consider all the options for protecting and improving our ability to serve the public."

Bishop Derek Webley, chairman of West Midlands Police Authority, said it would approach each decision with an "open mind" and consider the "best interests" of the public at every stage.

West Midlands Police Authority faces budget cuts of £125m over the next four years.

The contracts are expected to be worth about £1.5bn nationally over seven years, depending on the number of forces in England and Wales which sign up to the scheme.

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