Behind the Move: Mike Ottaway’s Insights on Transitioning from the Private Sector to a Blue Light Service

What does your job as Head of Estates for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire & Isle of Wight entail?

My role at the OPCC is to provide leadership and direction on all matters related to the built environment which the Constabulary operate from on behalf and in support of the Police & Crime Commissioner for Hampshire & the Isle of Wight. In our policing area, the Commissioner is the duty holder over the estate, whereas in most police areas this responsibility is owned by the Constabulary themselves.

In conjunction with the PCC, I support the strategic direction and operational parameters for all matters relating to the Estate including Facilities Management, Utilities, Asset Management and Health & Safety. Since joining the OPCC we have changed the way the estate is managed and are now working on a significant transformation program for the services which support the estate and also the working environments we provide to the Constabulary officers and staff.

Ultimately, our purpose as the OPCC Estates Team is to ensure that the built environment is supporting Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary in providing as effective police service as possible. There’s a lot more to do, but I feel that we’re on a better path now than has been for the previous 10 years.

What attracted you to the OPCC as an organisation?

I had spent nearly 20 years working in the private sector prior to joining the OPCC, and whilst I was grateful for every minute of my time with Carillion and latterly CBRE – I started to feel that my skills and experience could possibly be put to use in a way which helped to bring about improvements more generally for society. When the opportunity to join the OPCC for Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, the place where I have lived for all bar 6 months of my 37 years on this planet – it was an opportunity I didn’t feel I could overlook.

I get a different sort of job satisfaction working for the OPCC, seeing some of the things I’ve been involved in being reported in the local and national news, being able to work with the Commissioner and have the opportunity to influence the future of the built environment for Policing where I live is something that I don’t think too many roles or employers can provide.

Having the spent most of your career in the private sector, how have you found the transition into the public sector over the past two years?

There’s no getting away from it, I am still transitioning from the private sector into the public sector. It has been tough at times. The way purchasing has to be completed, governance structures, the fact that every penny we spend has been generated through taxes you and I have paid – these are all very different to the private sector.

That said, I think the public sector environment has had to bend to my way of working in places locally, not accepting that things are the way they are – because that’s how it always has been and not accepting standards because something is “public sector” – there are opportunities to drive improvements and do more with what we have. It’s a different mind-set from generating sustainable revenue and margin, but the principles are not so dissimilar that you can’t apply them to how we do things – just the outputs which are different.

What has been notable has been the reaction my way of working has received from the services market – every conversation we go into as an organisation with the market is met with a sigh of relief that we (most of my team have extensive private sector services and project management experience) go into conversations with an understanding of how opportunities are approached in the industry. It also means we know what to look for in tender returns…

What do you foresee to be the greatest opportunities for the OPCC and its neighbouring public sector partners to continue to collaborate to achieve shared estate related objectives?

This is an easy one, in my opinion we are going to have to get our ducks in a row collectively to support the futures of our fleet and the inevitable move to alternative fuel technologies and increased fleet electrification. Whilst fleet doesn’t fall into my official remit, within force it is probably my most aligned area of the operational business and I sit on various governance boards where our future requirements are being mapped out. There’s some really exciting stuff in the pipeline for Hampshire & the Isle of Wight – but I suspect we will need to work with our partner agencies in the region to ensure that we all have the capability & capacity required to provide our public services as the vehicles of the future become a reality.

Do you see opportunity for the public and private sectors to work more closely in relation to future and ongoing asset utilisation?

This is an interesting question, had you asked me 12 months ago you’d have got a different answer. My honest opinion is that these opportunities are not as prevalent or workable as they might once have been. Certainly in Hampshire & the Isle of Wight – our numbers are growing after the implications of the public sector spending review to support austerity in the 2010’s. We are a space hungry organisation, we don’t just need desks and chairs – the ancillary and supporting infrastructure policing requires is significant and it makes us difficult roommates when it comes to space collaboration.

We’re also a security conscious organisation. This can’t be understated as the threat to the UK remains a consistent discussion point for our organisations. We have to be careful who we work with and ensure that we’re protecting ourselves from potential security issues.

That said – there are examples of our operational footprint in multi-tenant properties, but I wouldn’t say there’s any drive or strategy to work more closely with the private sector. When it can work, we’ll make it work. I think this is easier for other public sector organisations who aren’t so security focused – where the need is more desk and chairs, I don’t see why opportunities can’t be explored.

What do you see as the key priorities for an estates leader presiding over a blue light portfolio?

For me, the main priority is understanding the requirements. Everything we do is driven by the policing requirements for the counties. Our Commissioner appointed a new Chief Constable earlier this year and in doing so, the fundamental requirements of the estate have changed. We’ve had to move resources on mass and are now working on a number of refurbishment briefs to make our buildings fit for the future of policing.

I feel that we have a strong understanding of the requirements and strong relationships with the Chief Office Group within force who we work with to ensure our understanding is correct.

I also think that it’s incumbent upon the estate leadership to recognise the really tough job our officers & staff have to do. I think it’s easy to overlook or conveniently forget that those who run towards danger whilst others are running away from it, especially in policing where the demand is higher than ever is one of the toughest jobs a civilian can choose to do in this country. Those who know me know I’m not one for the soft and fluffy – but there is absolutely a place in our estate for spaces which reflect that fact that it is entirely foreseeable that our people could have to go to a horrific incident or deal with someone who only sees the uniform and they might want to be able to walk away from that experience for 5 minutes. I think we’re getting better at it but there’s a way to go as it has be part of the design, not shoehorned in as an afterthought which can be difficult on its own

How would you describe your experience with MRG?

I feel like I’ve been extremely fortunate to get to work with Stephanie and the wider MRG team over the past 2 years. In addition to my placement, MRG have supported the OPCC with further placements of which one in my team has led to the placement being my right hand person, and someone I would consider a friend.

I’ve found the way MRG approach our organisational requirements to be refreshing, they’ve taken the time to get to know who we are and what we’re trying to do, forming relationships with the right people and being part our organisational go to for senior appointments.

From a personal perspective, the relationship I have with Stephanie is really valuable to me (it’s certainly very one sided) as it has given me a sounding board and way to measure the market when thinking about how we move our organisational requirements forward and also acting as a reference point for me to check what I’m hearing elsewhere.

We will continue to work with MRG as our organisation develops and no doubt I will work with MRG in future roles and organisations.


Learn more about blue light services with MRG by contacting Stephanie Howe.

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