Vodafone is making more than £2m a year from public reporting of non-emergency crime, and has just landed another three-year contract - charging 15p per non-emergency call to police.
Calls made to the non-emergency "101" number are routed by Cable & Wireless to the nearest police authority and dealt with at public expense. All Vodafone-owned C&W does is forward the call and collect the cash.
The Mail on Sunday has crunched the numbers - 15 pence per call; nearly 27 million calls since September 2010; and 60 per cent average markup on government services in C&W accounts - and worked itself into an indignant fury based on the result.
This all adds up to revenues of £4m and profits of more than £2m, according to the Mail, just for forwarding a few phone calls.
However, as with anything involving the state, it's not really that simple.
The great thing about 101 is that while it costs 15 pence, that is a flat one-off charge; whether you're calling from mobile or fixed lines, and without regard for the call length. Calls are routed to the local police station, even if one is on a mobile phone, and callers on a border between two police forces can choose which one to speak to.
Police forces also contribute a carriage cost of around a third of a tenth of a penny per minute (~0.03p), so the 15 pence goes to C&W to cover the cost of routing the calls, mobile network charges and negotiating with all the parties concerned. The police say neither they nor the government receive any of the revenue from the 15p call charge.
That negotiation worked so well that Ofcom was planning the same model for the NHS Direct-replacing "111" service, though the Home Office decided to make it free when it was finally rolled out last month. 111 is routed to local outsourcing outfits - some of whom have let the side down lately.
When 101 first launched, back in 2006, it went badly. Hampshire's chief constable complained that the service had turned his force into a provider of train timetables and tourist information. Expansion of the 111 service was shelved when it failed to cut the volume of 999 calls, as had been hoped.
Since then the service has been carefully promoted and seems to be working better, with Vodafone telling the Mail that callers reporting stolen cars and broken windows are overwhelmingly happy with the service they've received. ®