September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Bob Papworth explores the challenges faced by Carlson Wagonlit Travel when policing the Met’s travel account
CARLSON WAGONLIT TRAVEL (CWT) programme manager Nathan Rumgay doesn’t do many press interviews – a fact that is a matter of regret, in that he’s actually very good: informed, confident, measured, talkative and generally very useful.
His relatively limited exposure to the media does, however, have one over-arching advantage: he isn’t yet sick to death of being told that he is not obliged to say anything, but that anything he does say may be taken down and used in a feature in Buying Business Travel. Rumgay is the programme manager responsible for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) account, making the temptation to issue the cod caution totally irresistible. Frankly, it’s a wonder he didn’t hang up there and then.
He didn’t, which is just as well, because what emerges is a business relationship which works, and appears to work remarkably well, under what can only be described as “challenging” circumstances.
A DIFFICULT JOBThe MPS, or the Met, as it’s more familiarly known, is one of those organisations which gets little or no credit for all that it achieves, and an enormous amount of flak for even comparatively trivial shortcomings.
So when some nosy journalist phones up asking for details about travel expenditure, one might expect the answers to be very short. Perhaps just two words. In fact, head of travel services for the Met, Paul Wiltshire, turns out to be a mine of information – he and his CWT programme manager are clearly reading from the same charge-sheet (sorry, couldn’t resist that one either). “We actually get on very well,” says Rumgay. “We don’t do a lot of small talk because he’s a very busy chap, but I get on just fine with him and the rest of his team.
“As a public sector body, they are very well aware they are spending taxpayers’ money. Ultimately, of course, they are responsible to the Mayor of London, but they are also accountable to the public at large, and there is tremendous transparency surrounding their travel activity and spending. I actually asked Paul if it was OK to speak to you about police officers flying in business class and he was absolutely fine with that. As he says, it’s a matter of public record.”
Wiltshire himself is totally open about Met travel even though, oddly, he doesn’t have much in the way of budgetary control. “Travel budgets are monitored and controlled by individual departmental budget managers, and not through travel services,” he says. Somewhat ruefully, he adds: “As you are aware, all MPS budgets are under severe scrutiny.”
After one year on the account, Rumgay is still getting his head round this way of working. “We don’t actually interact with the different budget holders in the way that we might do with other customers,” he says. “All conversations around budget, policy and so on, I have with Paul Wiltshire himself, and for review meetings his manager, Rebecca McMahon, would be included in those conversations. It’s different – I have no other customers like this – but it works, and works well.”
The Met’s travel management arrangements are further complicated by the fact its travel services team make most of the bookings themselves. CWT tickets flights and processes international hotel reservations, but UK accommodation is handled through a separate hotel hotline. UK rail travel – which Wiltshire says has seen a “marked increase” in the past five years – is handled though MPS travel services. The increase demonstrates the Met is turning to rail as a cheaper alternative to air –2012 saw a year-on-year fall of 20 per cent on number of flights booked, from 4,638 in 2011 to 3,693 flights in 2012.
ASSESSING RISKWho goes where, and why, is necessarily shrouded in secrecy – no-one is going to let on where the specialist and economic crime unit has been, at least not until the case is resolved or comes to court. However, Wiltshire does confirm that risk assessments are made before any overseas trip is approved – the Met is all-too-often dealing with some fairly unsavoury characters.
However, no matter how tight the budgetary controls might be, the nature of MPS business is that the unexpected can often happen. “It is very difficult to foresee whether there will be an increase or decrease in future trips,” says Wiltshire. “Major incidents and events do have a significant impact on our travel needs, which cannot always be predicted.”
From Nathan Rumgay’s perspective, the tighter purse-strings add a different dimension to the programme management task. “Budget cuts present us with a challenge because part of our role is to help them achieve savings, and a lot of that is about education,” he says. “Because it is their in-house team that’s making the air and rail bookings, and they are not trained to the same level as a CWT agent, the challenge is helping them to keep up to speed with things that are going on in the travel industry.”
The educational remit is potentially diverse. Specialist units may have to travel with extra kit: anything from firearms to sniffer dogs – somewhat outside the experience of the average travel manager.
And when it does all kick off, Wiltshire is completely comfortable admitting that yes, officers can and do sit in business class. Policy dictates that travellers should opt for the most economical fare that “meets the needs of the traveller and the reason for the visit”, but business class is an option for flights of six hours or more (and regardless of the officer’s rank).
“When you have officers travelling long distances to go into often critical situations, you want them to arrive in a fit state to do the job,” says Rumgay. “It really is fascinating – they are a very interesting customer to work with, and unlike any other that I have come across.”
THE BILL AND ITS BILLS
Today, the Met has around 32,500 officers and 4,300 Police Community Support Officers, supported by more than 3,600 volunteer members of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary, 14,200 police staff – and 230 traffic wardens.
The MPS’s ‘patch’ now covers some 620 square miles, with a population of around 7.2 million.
Out of an overall annual budget of some £3.6 billion, the 2,000 staff employed in the Met’s resources directorate spends more than £850 million a year on goods and services ranging from megaphones to motorbikes and from helicopters to horses – and, of course, travel.