Selling out on policing: The real cost of police privatisation
The relationship between Liberty and the trade union movement is one that stretches back to the hunger marches of the 1930s and spans our history of ensuring proportionate policing and basic employment rights and defending peaceful protest. And our common cause remains strong. We were delighted to see this year’s TUC Congress debate and pass a motion against secret courts – one of Liberty’s biggest current campaigns – and vow to expose illegal blacklisting practices. With these shared goals and common values in mind, Liberty welcomed the opportunity to co-host a fringe event galvanising opposition to police privatisation with the TUC at Congress.
Britain’s proud model of policing by consent – envied in younger democracies across the world – has undergone significant changes over recent years. But more drastic reform is now on the horizon, with the impending threat of large-scale privatisation of sensitive policing activities. Such reform may represent the fiercest threat to the constitutional underpinnings of the service in its history.
Speakers from Unite, Unison, PCS and the Police Federation, together with our Director Shami Chakrabarti, all highlighted the disastrous consequences of privatising policing functions – for both the police service and the public. A common concern was that privatisation will undermine the delicate relationship between police forces and communities. Karen Jennings, Unison’s Assistant General Secretary, outlined her organisation’s demand for a public inquiry – fueled by deep public concern about what’s happening to our public services. And Unite Assistant General Secretary Gail Cartmail stressed how the policing functions being privatised in her home borough – one of London’s most deprived – are at the sensitive frontline; from crime prevention to 999 calls.
Several speakers also highlighted how the politicising of policing, via elected Police and Crime Commissioners could intensify the problems with allowing commercial interests to usurp the public interest. People expect core public services to be independent of politics and private money. Police Federation General Secretary Ian Rennie reflected on the danger of such politicised policing for his colleagues, who act independently knowing they’re accountable not to the popular majority but to the blind scales of justice.
As a cross-party, non-party organisation, Liberty has no ideological problem with how people spend their money. But as our Director said at the event, the constitution is quite different. If someone’s arrested or assaulted they’re not a consumer – they’re a vulnerable individual with no choice over what happens to them. It’s the last situation in which you want to replace service without fear or favour with hunger for profits.
Policing isn’t perfect, of course, and the speakers recognised as much. Representation has notably improved over recent years, with increased numbers of women and ethnic minority officers, but there’s still work to do. Ian Rennie feared the task of recruiting a police force truly reflective of the community will be hampered by the combined blows of cuts, politicisation and privatisation. And the TUC’s Paul Nowak pointed out that there’s no evidence that private policing would deliver any of the benefits claimed by its supporters.
The event concluded with a strong sense that, regardless of individual interests, everyone keen to keep the police service in the public domain must come together. Despite what the government claims, this is a wide-ranging, complete transformation of British policing. It’s an issue that transcends party politics. Policing isn’t for profit – it’s a core State function and it must continue to serve the community rather than outside interests. There’s no room for the shareholder in this equation.