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February 1, 2010updated 12 Apr 2017 4:27pm

Police told to watch their coppers

The Metropolitan Police (MPS), Britains largest police force, which spent nearly £50 million (57 million) in the past five years on vehicle leasing and hire (see table below), said it would be cutting down on hire.

By Jason T

Police forces around Britain are expected to downscale their use of leasing following political pressures and efficiency reviews. Jason T Hesse reports.

 

The Metropolitan Police (MPS), Britain’s largest police force, which spent nearly £50 million (€57 million) in the past five years on vehicle leasing and hire (see table below), said it would be cutting down on hire.

“Following an internal review instigated last September, we are seeking to reduce the hire element of our vehicle fleet. This will allow us to make financial efficiency savings and also contribute to reducing our carbon footprint,” an MPS spokesperson said, stressing that there would be “no impact” on the force’s operational policing capability, however.

Indeed, the MPS recognised that the purpose for hire vehicles was to fill short-term requirements, largely for back-office and support functions. The force aims to save around £2 million per year by cutting up to 500 vehicles from its fleet.

John Gorton, head of transport at Essex Police, and chair of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers’ Best Value Committee, explained that it was about “better usage” of existing fleets.

“What’s happening at the moment – and this is due to the economic climate – is that the number of hire vehicles is decreasing rapidly. Forces are getting better at making available vehicles that are already within their operational fleet,” Gorton said.

All this follows complaints from the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) that UK police forces are spending too much money on leasing vehicles. A Freedom of Information Act request carried by the party revealed that British police forces spent over £132 million on vehicle leasing and hire between 2004 and 2009, equivalent to around £70,000 a day. In 2008-09, forces reported spending £24.6 million in total.

British police forces have responded to the criticisms by claiming that they have bought, rather than leased, most of the 38,000 police cars in operation. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) estimates that the Lib Dem’s £132 million figure only represents 8 percent of all police transport costs.

They also said the Lib Dem’s attack ignores the value of leasing.

“Transportation is key in policing, and these figures reveal nothing about why hire cars may be used and provide good value for money,” a spokesperson for the ACPO said.

“Obviously marked police vehicles are used daily, but some aspects of policing – such as covert work – need unmarked vehicles, and hiring them can be cheaper than owning them.”

But Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne called the sum “unnecessarily lavish”.

“Hiring cars at appropriate times can save money, but if they are being hired while police cars are not in use, it is simply a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Gorton disagrees that there is a major problem with police forces spending too much on hire, however.

“I don’t think there are any forces out there that are doing anything out of the ordinary – most forces have a good understanding and balance of fleet management. With the right system in place, you can make very, very good use of a good external hire contract,” he said.

For example, Essex Police has a dedicated transport website for the force’s officers and staff.

Staff can input details of their journey – distance, purpose, number of passengers, and so on – to work out what the most effective method of transport is, be it to use a fleet vehicle, to hire, or to use their private vehicle and mileage allowance.

“It’s about maximising your resources and making sure that the people at the front-end of your organisation actually have access to – and understand the costs of – the different forms of transport,” Gorton said.

South Yorkshire Police, which spent £2.5 million on vehicle leasing and hire between 2004 and 2009, also defended itself against the Lib Dem attack.

Meredydd Hughes, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, said that his force was “proud of the way it uses the public’s resources”.

“This is a story that isn’t a story,” he said, adding that hire options were often “more cost effective” than outright purchase.

VT Group and Automotive Leasing, an arm of LeasePlan, which lease vehicles to British police forces, both declined to comment.

Police car spending, top five forces

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