Mass privatisation of UK police claimed

The boss of the world's biggest security firm claims private companies will be running large swathes of the UK police force by 2017, from managing surveillance to investigating crime.

Last month around 20,000 police officers demonstrated over pay and conditions - plus creeping privatisation worries. Does the public care?

Cheaper police?

David Taylor-Smith, head of G4S for the UK, thinks the British public doesn't much care either way. "For most members of the public what they will see is the same or better policing and they really don't care who is running the fleet, the payroll or the firearms licensing – they don't really care," Taylor-Smith, he told the Guardian.

West Midlands and Surrey have already taken bids from G4S and other major security operators for new contracts. According to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) the police service is set to lose more than 16,000 warranted officers over the next four years, with £163 million taken from police pay this year.

To an extent, the privatisation sweep is well under way. Security for the Olympics is being largely handled by G4S. G4S also has its mits too in several key governmental public service areas including prisons and overseeing the GCHQ communications centre.

Coalition promise?

Earlier this year G4S picked up a £200m Lincolnshire contract that saw almost 600 police officers switched to the company. Some police officers even wore a joint Lincolnshire Police/G4S logo on their uniforms. And the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire police services are currently mulling privatisation options.

In their 2010 manifesto the Coalition claimed "We will reduce time-wasting bureaucracy that hampers police operations, and introduce better technology to make policing more effective while saving taxpayers' money."

But little mention was made of how the Coalition would work with operators like G4S, whose share price in the last 12 months has soared from 214p to more than 293p.

Crown connection

Social policy think-tank Civitas has warned against the move, specifically the worry the police force is being increasingly used as a political tool: "The tradition of policing by consent, which used to make Britain the envy of the world, is in danger from political interference that is alienating the police from the public."

It added: "When officers join the police force they swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, not the prime minister. Unlike many other forces, British police have never been servants of the state: officers' powers are personal, used at their own discretion and derived from the Crown - until now."
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