If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. There can’t be many more valuable lessons in life. Farming teaches it well. So does the army. I have learnt it again over the last two years. Persistence usually beats brilliance. It’s certainly easier to come by.
There have been plenty of times since being elected PCC when I’ve felt like giving up on the Ammanford private finance initiative (PFI). Now that we’ve reached an agreement I’m glad I didn’t. It means we’ll save over £3m over the next 15 years, which we can now spend on policing our communities.
When I was first elected I received a brief on Dyfed Powys finances. One item stood out. The police spent nearly 20% of their estates budget on a single police station, more than £700,000 each year. What’s more, only 60% of the station was in use. And the final insult: the station had closed to the public.
Opening the station was the easy bit. When I appointed a new Chief Constable, Simon Prince, in 2013 he looked at the situation and ensured common sense prevailed. He ordered that the station, along with all Dyfed Powys stations would be open whenever officers were in: “when we’re in, we’re open”, he said. Local officers removed the mobile police station from nearby Carregamman car park.
But the other problems were more tricky. We can’t change the building, I was told, because we don’t own it. We can’t change the contract, I was told, because it’s too expensive. We can’t cancel the contract, I was told: previous chief constables have already tried.
That was the situation when I described the station as ‘a state of the art station, in the wrong place, for the wrong price’. That is not the fault of the provider, Dolef. They signed a deal in good faith. It was the police authority who signed a bad deal. As PCC, I inherited that deal and I promised to leave no stone unturned to achieve a better outcome for the public.
After two years of work we have reached a voluntary agreement which releases me, as the contract owner on behalf of the public, from the PFI deal. That is thanks to the professionalism of my team and of Dolef. I should record my thanks to both.
To my knowledge, this is one of only a handful of PFI deals to terminate early. These are phenomenally complicated contracts, involving loans, construction, maintenance and repair. They are like a mortgage, build and a maintenance contract combined. In theory they transfer all the risk to the private sector. In practice they are hugely expensive for the public sector, which has an appalling record in contract management and is frequently diddled.
Nothing will make this PFI a good deal for local people. Too much has been spent for that. But, this agreement does make it a less bad deal. And it certainly makes it a better deal than the options I was presented with back in 2013.
We reduce the cost of the station, in today’s money, by £3.1m, compared to the cost of continuing the contract until 2030. This cost us £160,000 in professional fees, but it releases us from those annual payments, gives us full ownership and allows us to use the savings to protect frontline policing.
It shows the value of clear scrutiny, accountability and decision-making provided by PCCs. This could never have been achieved by committee. It required a strong team and clear leadership.
Most of all it shows the value of determination. Never give up. Rely on others’ brilliance, as I frequently do. But persistence works. I’ve just learnt that lesson again.