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Greater Manchester Police Authority

Category: Police

Q: Would I do it again? A: Yes I would. I can’t think of any other way we could have done it. And I never would have believed the scale of the improvement on the service side. We have better engineered buildings better maintained for the future."

Mike Pomfret, Estates Director, The Greater Manchester Police Authority

March, 2006

The Greater Manchester Police Authority came into being in 1974 through the amalgamation of the Manchester and Salford forces and parts of the constabulary forces of Lancashire and Cheshire. This single force serves some two and a half million people and covers an area of 500 square miles.

The PPP Forum interviewed Mike Pomfret who came to the GMPA in 1996 as Estates Director. At that time the force was still largely operating out of the original buildings of the constituent forces. Most were old, were the wrong size and were in the wrong place. One included a hay loft.

"When I arrived in the mid 1990s the force considered its property portfolio to be a burden and the buildings were actually getting in way of delivering police services. We had to begin a major review of all the police stations and PFI was brought in as part of that. There were two drivers to the review, our operational needs and the impact of the estate on acheiving those needs. And after following standard review procedure we came up with a strategy which needed £200 million pounds to fund it. Obviously we didn’t have that kind of money and there were not many major capital funding routes to go down in those days so PFI looked like the answer. The problem was that PFI depends on credits allocated by central government and the amount we needed was just too much. So in the end we decided it was sensible to have a mix of funding: PFI for the major new builds; and internal resources and proceeds from sales of land to fund refurbishment of the stations we felt we could keep. It ended up being about half and half."

The PFI process began in 1999 and in December 2002 a £78 million deal was signed between The Greater Manchester Police Authority and Equion for 16 new police stations and a new traffic HQ. The contract was to design, build, finance and operate the new facilities for 25 years.

"It was a real struggle to get the deal signed. PFI was very political back then and although we had successful PFI projects in the Manchester area there was still a fair amount of opposition. We had the Treasury sending people out on missions to talk to the political opponents in the Police Authority but what was interesting was that once the political battle had been won, everyone swung in right behind us and everything became a lot easier. I would stress to anyone that if they don’t have that level of support from the top they really shouldn’t even think of starting the process. We had the Chief Constable and the Chair of the Police Authority right behind us and it was easy to get to the decision makers so we could get on with the job."

This was the largest number of facilities provided within one police PFI project. The 16 new police stations included four divisional headquarters, five sub-divisional headquarters – of which three would have special custody suites and seven deployment stations.

"It was enormous and difficult. I have to say our advisors were tremendous we would never have done it without them, they earned every penny of their fees and saved us a fortune in the long run. We got to outline business case and started the engagement process with all the local stakeholders. The problem was that we got there a bit too quickly. We felt pressure to deliver and we really should have spent a bit longer on the process. Too many assumptions were made and we ended up with a hole in the credits. That was the worst time as it could all have fallen through. As it was, because we had such brilliant support, we were able to go back and explain that the PFI was simply bigger and more expensive than we planned but still represented excellent value for money."

GMP employs around 8,000 Police Officers, 350 volunteer Special Constables, 3,750 members of support staff and 200 community support officers. It is the second biggest force in terms of organisation size in England and Wales after the Metropolitan Police.

"We actually wanted to use the rebuilding process to help modernise police services in Manchester as well as the stations themselves. We wanted to get away from the “Heartbeat” style of policing in old nooks and crannies and introduce more open plan offices. One of our innovations was to introduce standardisation on public enquiry counters. This is really important as you have to give the public access but also keep the staff secure. We put a lot of work into developing this design across all new stations. Also our 6 new custody suites which were the most expensive part of the project. We had a group of practicing custody officers headed by a police Inspector who came up with the standard GMP design. We wanted to move away from the old service mentality of having your own space and move towards functional space allocation. People now admit they were wary but the stations are working well. Lots of old stations had bars and gyms and canteens and these are now a thing of the past!"

Since 2003, there have been 60,000 fewer crimes, which is a 16 per cent reduction. This includes 17,249 fewer burglaries, 17,766 fewer vehicle crimes and 3,487 fewer robberies. GMP is no longer regarded as a 'poor performing organisation'.

"The new Chief Constable stood the place on its head and performance is climbing dramatically. I like to think the new buildings have helped with that. We now have 14 new stations up and running and they have been delivered exactly on time and on cost and with a quality design. The construction contract has a repetitive nature which allows us to go through a learning process as we build the buildings on both sides. The early stations came in on time; the later ones were 7 weeks early.

On the FM side I think the jury is still out with Equion FM. We’ve had a real settling in period with one or two problems that we’ve worked on together to overcome. At a local level it’s very positive and people have been pleasantly surprised to receive a better service than before. At the stations the contractors are like any other employees which is what I wanted. But I have to manage the contracts and at the end of the day my job is gamekeeper to make sure profits not too high.

Would I do it again? Yes I would. I can’t think of any other way we could have done it. And I never would have believed the scale of the improvement on the service side. We have better engineered buildings better maintained for the future