Although the 43 police forces in England and Wales and the Home Office are making savings in the procurement of goods and services for the forces and are implementing initiatives to improve value for money, many opportunities remain unexploited. Police forces procure a wide range of goods and services, from uniforms and police vehicles to estate and facilities management services such as cleaning, spending some £1.7 billion in 2010-11.
The Department oversees the police service, and central government provides most of its funding, but individual forces have traditionally bought many goods and services independently. With central government funding being reduced by some £2 billion in real terms over the spending review period, however, the Home Office has taken a role in providing leadership and support to help forces improve their procurement and make savings. Many forces are now working with others to improve their buying power and make administrative savings, but most collaborations involve few forces and nearly half of all forces still have independent procurement teams.
Some forces have set up regional or national approaches to purchase common goods and services which many other forces take advantage of. However, common specifications for many types of goods and services do not exist, which reduces scope for collaborative buying. The NAO found at least nine separate specifications for each of five common types of equipment used by police officers, such as boots, body armour and high-visibility jackets. The NAO estimates forces could save up to a third of their costs in such areas, for example by agreeing a common specification for a uniform, such as that agreed by the Prison Service.
The Home Office’s efforts so far have been hampered by the lack of timely, accurate and detailed data, with national level data collection enjoying limited success and expenditure data up to two years out of date. This makes it difficult for it to target its interventions. Forces also reported mixed views about the support the Department provides. It has set up frameworks for body armour and vehicles which forces are legally compelled to use, and forces are on the whole positive about these, but it has been slow to build on this despite support from two-thirds of forces for further mandatory frameworks.
There are also tensions between the Department’s strategy to increase procurement at a national level, and its reforms to increase local accountability, such as the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners. The Department, forces and Commissioners will need to work together more effectively to identify and deliver further savings, particularly given the need to minimize the impact that cost reductions have on frontline policing.