Can a strategic partnership reduce the cost of policing?

Back in November I gave a presentation to a conference of police authority treasurers and police force finance directors about strategic partnerships in policing and I posted my slides here. In that presentation I tried hard to make sure that my comments were balanced, giving both the positive messages that advocates of private sector involvement would make and the counter-arguments. As a result of having some time on my hands I've boiled down my presentation into a one pag document which you are welcome to download. Can a SP save money


Will a strategic partnership save money for a police force

Last week I gave a short presentation to the joing national conference of the Police Authority Treasurers Society and the Directors of Finance of police forces. I have helped the police in Lincolnshire and West Midlands with the procurement of strategic partnerships but this talk was not about those projects. Instead I was commissioned to talk about the pros and cons of having a strategic partnership. I hope I achieved that. One treasurer said to me afterwards that is was "as balanced an exposition of the issues of outsourcing" as he'd heard. I guess that means I did what was asked of me.

I've posted the slide presentation on and they are embedded below. They give a flavour of what I spoke about but I like to think that you get more from a presentation when I'm presenting it than from looking at the slides in isolation. So if you want to know more about this subject please feel free to get in touch with me.



Collaborate to improve value for money


Many of us would intuitively agree with the truism that two heads are better than one but that doesn't mean that we work that way. In the public sector there are often tens or even hundreds of organisations that carry out similar functions to each other but in different localities. Despite 20 or 30 years of talking about sharing services, in one way or another, little happens. Whilst most public bodies have the power to work with others they are not obliged to do so. That is not always the case, though.

Over the last year I have been working with Lincolnshire Police. In the UK police forces are expected to collaborate with each other in order to save money. This is not so relevant for routine policing but neighbouring forces can share in the savings made when specialist services are combined into a single team. There are examples of this all over the country.

I recently discovered that the Welsh Assembly has passed an act (acts are called measures, though, in Wales) that requires Welsh local authorities to collaborate with each other with a view to improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of local government services. The measure is not prescriptive about which services to collaborate on or the form of the collaboration: these decisions are left to the local authorities to work out together.

One aspect of any collaborative arrangement that has to be resolved is what form the collaboration should take. In legal terms this could range from informal arrangements through delegation from one authority to another, a formal contractual arrangement to a joint venture company or joint committee. Recently the Welsh Local Government Association commissioned Trowers and Hamlins to give general legal advice on the pros and cons of the various collaborative arrangements that are available to local authorities. This guidance has just been published on the WLGA's website.

I mention this partly because I contributed to the document in terms of the financial implications of each of the possible arrangements. I also mention it, though, because it might be useful to managers in local authorities outside of Wales. The exact nuances of the law might be different—and any local authority, in Wales or elsewhere, should get specific legal advice on their specific proposals and not rely on the contents of a general report—but in broad terms the report can help decide which forms of collaboration might be suitable and which are not.

A partnership is not a purchase order

Whilst this article from the Harvard Business Review by Ben Gomes-Casseres is about private sector businesses it is nonetheless relevant to the public sector. Indeed with all the government talk of partnership in the last ten years or so perhaps it is more relevant to the public sector in the UK than than the private sector. I think that it is important for public managers to know the difference between partners and vendors. Having been involved in setting up strategic partnership arrangements for local authorities I know that one of the reasons for doing so is that they were looking for an arrangement that could be more flexible and dynamic than a standard contractor. 

If an organisation simply wants a certain product or service reproducing over and over again then a purchaser-vendor relationship would be fine. If the organisation wishes the product or service to adapt as the level of funding changes, or public expectations change, or politicians introduce new policies then a collaborative partnership is more appropriate. Both parties have to recognise and accept that change will happen over the term of the relationship and make a commitment to work together to adapt to the changes. Such working together requires, I think, the supplier to understand that the public sector organisation is interested in the quality and volume of outputs and outcomes; and the public sector organisation to accept that the partner is entitled to make a reasonable profit in return for its efforts. If both parties in a partnership are achieving their respective objectives then the chances of them working together to deal with unexpected events have got to be much higher than if they were not.