Lib Dems and Policing – Abusing Freedom of Information

Chris Huhne has commented on data derived from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about cost of vehicles in policing, published here on the party website.

So police forces and authorities spend quite a lot on hiring vehicles.  My first response to seeing the title was “so what”, and my reaction having read the article was still “so what”.  I’d expect the Home Affairs spokesman to come up with something substantive on the issue, not just regurgitate a bland statement about spending money efficiently and effectively.

The Liberal Democrats aren’t the only party to treat the results of FOIA requests like this, Conservatives and Labour politicians are just as bad, but this instance is pretty appalling and highlights possible issues in the central support to the party.  I’m working on the basis that Mr Huhne didn’t research this himself, but that it was done by a researcher in Cowley Street who then briefed him.

What it’s done is left me disappointed in how the party have researched the issue and prepared the statement, since there are very clearly a number of questions to be asked.  Police Authorities and forces do have an obligation to use the funds that they have available responsibly, but it’s not out of the question that they are doing so already.  they need to be asked if they can prove it, one way or the other.

From an economic perspective I’m very much an advocate of outsourcing where it makes sense to do so, and many police forces already do that for the provision of vehicles.  There are four main divisions of service provision contract:

  • Provision of the whole vehicle fleet – Vehicles to support community and response policing, special purpose vehicles and general purpose vehicles.
  • Provision of any subset of the previous contract type, allowing the force to in-house some of the fleet and outsource where it makes sense, such as general purpose vehicles.
  • Provision of a surge capacity, allowing the force to retain a capability and call on the contract on an as-required basis.
  • Provision of a core capability and a surge capability alongside it.

All of these could reasonably end up in the figure quoted by the FOIA request, if the team in Cowley Street do have more information then they should have briefed their principal better, if they didn’t then I’d question just how effective the research is.  To be meaningful they should have done more work on the information.

From the home affairs perspective it does drive some questions to be asked of the forces concerned.  Can they demonstrate that they are looking after the money and using it effectively?   This should be demonstrable from the outsourcing business case, and if it’s not then the Chief Constables concerned should be challenging their contract managers.

Of course it could be that the sub-text of the statement is that Mr Huhne thinks that the vehicle provision should all be done in-house, although I’m pretty unconvinced that’s a sensible use of the available funds.

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One Response to Lib Dems and Policing – Abusing Freedom of Information

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