Sir Philip Green wants a uniform approach* to Police procurement

by Peter Smith on October 14, 2010

Look, one more day on the Sir Philip Green report then I promise I’ll shut up.  Unless I do an FOI request to try and get the evidence behind the £73 box of paper…  I’d also point you towards several very pertinent comments we had on an earlier piece on this topic – see the comments here.  Thanks to all of those people.

But just to re-iterate (and this is all covered in my Supply Management piece); there are factual errors in the report and I am very suspicious of some of the benchmarking numbers.  I also find the ‘bigger is better’ thing over-simplifies matters; we need proper category approaches that will differ for different spend areas.  But his “6 clear reasons why Government conducts its business so inefficiently” should be etched into every Permanent Secretary’s forehead; and where more collaboration and centralisation makes sense, in procurement or property, action now needs to be swift.

And on that note, I thought I’d go into one area that was mentioned in some of the discussions although I didn’t see it actually in the final report.  But it is a good illustration of the issues in more detail, and I can perhaps suggest a way forward.  Like many of his recommendations, this one isn’t a new idea: we’ve known for years that Police Forces buy different uniforms.  (I speak as the first, penultimate, and interim director of the National Police Procurement Centre of Excellence in 2005. Yes, uniforms were on our list then…the Centre only lasted 2 years unfortunately).

And it is not as if every Force buys independently; there is pretty good collaboration at regional level in the Police Service, and indeed a reasonable amount nationally.  But there should be a single national uniform, that seems like a no-brainer, and there isn’t at the moment.  Why not?  Because Chief Constables, their senior uniformed officers and Police Authority members have historically wanted to have their own identity, and have different views on the ‘best’ uniform.  Half the forces think pockets in trousers are essential; half think they’re a safety hazard (for example, when you’re climbing over walls chasing a mugger, leaping onto the bonnet of a speeding Cortina, restraining suspects in a Sweeney / the Bill type manner; you know the sort of thing).

So don’t blame procurement people for the lack of standardisation, and I know the NPIA (National Police Improvement Agency) procurement team are onto this category already; but it is like herding cats!  And NPIA is on the list of Quangos that MAY be abolished; so if that happens, who will make the 43 Forces do this, manage the process, pull together specs and drive the whole process?

But anyway, there is only one way to achieve what Sir Philip wants and make this work.  We need to lock the 43 Chief Constables in a hot, small room and not let them out until they sign up to a national uniform, and agree a single set of specifications.  And the same for a national police car fleet; a national set of protective equipment; and probably a few other things while we’re at it.

And do just bear in mind the effect on the market of the sort of approach Green wants to see.  I do think it needs to happen given our economic situation, but there is another side to the argument; just wait for the howls of protest from the uniform suppliers, including no doubt SMEs, who lose out when we do go to national deals.  And where do you think the national police uniform is likely to be manufactured?  Bombay, not Burnley; or Shanghai, not Sunderland!   In any case, we need to develop very robust and effective procurement strategies for those items, and run even more robust procurement processes.  Because you can be very sure that the unsuccessful suppliers, who suddenly see their whole police sector business disappear overnight, are not going to be happy; there will be legal challenges as well as mere complaints. Good news for the procurement lawyers!

* Sorry, couldn’t resist…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew1166 October 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm
Drew1166 October 14, 2010 at 7:59 pm

sorry, ps please feel free to add the missing comma, thank you :-)

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