Government cuts to police budgets will result in fewer fleet managers as neighbouring forces look to share services to save cash.
Collaborative working between constabularies is not new and there are already fleet managers taking responsibility for more than one force.
However, the Government’s austerity drive and cuts of 25% to police budgets is persuading more to follow suit.
“We are going to end up with fewer fleet managers,” said Richard Flint, head of transport at North Yorkshire Police and chairman of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM).
“A number of fleet managers have left because of austerity measures and I’ve seen nine retire recently and not all have been replaced.
“It’s dawning on everybody that this is the way it’s going to be and there is an opportunity to work together.”
The Home Office is keen to drive the agenda forward and issued The Statutory Guidance for Police Collaboration in March 2010 to assist forces that are considering collaborative working.
And Flint believes the trend of individual forces working more closely together could pave the way for even greater integration in the future.
“We have seen the ambulance service go down to nine regions and I think that’s where we will eventually end up,” he said. “We have already gone regional in terms of procurement; the next step could be regional forces.”
Flint points towards Scotland, where its eight police forces have been described as “unsustainable” by Inspector of Constabulary Bill Skelly. Work has already begun to determine if there should be three regional forces or a single national service.
Flint said: “If I went to the CEO of a national company and said I want to divide fleet management up into the number of regions the police has, I would expect to be shown the door as costs would spiral out of control.”
He said the police could learn a lot from the likes of the Post Office and BT, which operate national fleets.
However, Flint admits that such a radical overhaul of the police service will not happen overnight and instead the focus remains on working regionally in terms of fleet management.
An early example of regional police fleet management is that of the Chiltern Transport Consortium (CTC), which was formed in 2003.
It was initially formed to help solve the problems of Bedfordshire Police, which was struggling with its fleet costs and management structure, by creating collaboration between its transport function and that of neighbouring Thames Valley Police.
But such was the immediate success of CTC in reducing costs and streamlining the fleet management operations that two more forces have signed up – Hertfordshire Constabulary in 2008 and Civil Nuclear Constabulary shortly afterwards. Similar groups have been developed across the country, in the North East, South East and in Wales and Scotland. Martin Davis, head of transport for Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, regularly works with Gloucester, Avon & Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset constabularies.
He said: “We are currently working together on a mini tender for vehicles in three categories low performance, intermediate performance and high performance.
“As appropriate we work with other forces or organisations if there are perceived benefits. For example, we recently worked with Thames Valley on a vehicle recovery contract and with Devon County Council on a bulk fuel supply contract.”
He added: “The general advantages are those of economies of scale which can drive the costs down and or the service levels up. It can also sometimes make a contract more attractive to a supplier that may not respond to small contracts, due to the complex process of local government style tendering processes.
“The rewards can be varied from price reductions to service levels and viability. A current example of the mini tender for vehicle looks likely to save the five forces in the region of £300,000 over the next four years.”
John Gorton, head of transport for Essex Police, took over the running of the transport services department at Kent Police in May, 2011.
“Both operations are already highly regarded and efficiently run,” he said. “Bringing them together provides opportunities for standardisation and consolidation.”
Gorton, who is currently leading a collaborative mini-tender process on behalf of 18 police and fire authorities, also highlighted how the introduction of a new procurement framework is helping them save cash.
He said: “Joined-up procurement drives standardisation, a key requirement to driving economies of scale and potential discounts and savings.”
Forces were purchasing around 5,600 vehicles across a number of makes and models every year, costing around £83 million. But the new procurement framework, drawn up by the NAPFM and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), has reduced hundreds of vehicle options into 18 categories involving just 25 suppliers, cutting costs by £3.4 million every year.
“To put this into context, £3.4m is the cost of an average force’s entire fleet budget,” said Dr David Horne, NPIA director of resources and procurement portfolio chairman for the Association of Chief Police Officers.