August 24, 2006

The cost of a folly

This blog has really run its course now that these foolish schemes have been shelved. But there is one last item of business.

The cost of planning and then aborting the Home Office's proposals for police force mergers could be more than £11.5 million, it has emerged. A survey carried out by The Daily Telegraph has found that an average of £268,668 was spent by each police authority on developing plans to amalgamate with neighbouring forces. It comes on top of the Home Office's own costs, which are reportedly more than £1 million.

Who pays? Why you do, and we do.

July 13, 2006

It's official

It's official, Police force mergers will not now go ahead.
In an embarassing climbdown Police Minister Tony McNulty told a meeting of police authority members that he wanted a '' new emphasis on collaboration between forces.''

In a speech in central London, he said: "Are the mergers going to go through in one way or another eventually? "I think the definitive answer to that is "No."
Opposition to the plan was led by Cleveland Police which threatened High Court action if ministers pushed through a merger with Durham and Northumbria.

The Minister stressed that police forces had now been asked to discuss with the Home Office alternative ways of dealing with shortcomings identified by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

This blog will keep readers informed of developments.

July 12, 2006

Size matters

Hell hath no fury like a former Cabinet minister scorned.
Sacked as Home Secretary two months ago, Charles Clarke has launched a strong attack on the government over the possible collapse of the police merger programme.
He criticised the decision to halt the voluntary merger between the Lancashire and Cumbria forces - and said the decison would jeapordise the government's entire police reform programme.
As the paper published by Owen Patterson MP (available on our side bar) details there is no country where effective policing is achieved with police forces modeled on the system the former Home Secretary proposed.
Owen Patterson's researchers examined police 'best practice' accross the world, from Europe to America and Japan. Many examples of effective policeing could be found but none in units of the scale proposed by Charles Clarke. Further examination of polic structures will confirm that nowhere in the 'Western World' is size regarded as the chief cirterion on which force capability is judged.
The former Home Secretary should be big enough to admit that the merger plans were rushed into print principly to placate John Prescott's regionalisation plans.

July 11, 2006

No police force mergers

The Times reports that "Plans for a £1 billion merger of police forces across England and Wales have collapsed.... John Reid, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce the decision tomorrow." Full text in the post below.

What seems to have happened is that the voluntary merger collapsed through lack of money, so it looks pretty clear that the unwanted ones won't go ahead. Charles Clarke called the decision "weak".

We are not surprised. There had been no political preparation for this policy, which proved to be unpopular. Plenty of people saw themselves as losers, and hardly any as winners.

It also emerged that there would not be enough new money to cover the substantial costs.

Charles Clarke seems to have proposed this policy on a whim without thinking it through. Now the decision to scrap the policy for England and Wales has been taken by a politician from a Scottish constituency.

Graham Booth MEP, the UKIP spokesman on regional Government, said, "This is marvellous news. It is a great victory for county police forces and local people. The United Kingdom Independence Party has campaigned against these ideas ever since the Government proposed them. We are all delighted that the powers that be have finally seen sense".

UKIP added

The planned merger was all part of the Government's attempt to create regional power structures on the lines of EU planning. Having been heavily defeated by the 'North East says No' campaign against an elected regional assembly, John Prescott's department concocted the idea of police mergers. By removing police out of County Council authority, the Government could then have claimed that elected regional assemblies were necessary to correct a deliberate democratic oversight. These plans are now in ruins.
Mr Booth pointed out: "We must not get complacent and rest on our laurels. The Government still has plans to regionalise ambulance services, and has no intention of slowing down its drive to create regional power bases. The regional assemblies must be stopped, they are unelected, unwanted and unnecessary". And, one might add, they cost taxpayers money.

The debate over these proposals has exposed police forces' performance to greater scrutiny, as police forces and authorities sought local public support for their stances. Hopefully this will lead to greater local accountability of the police - the opposite of what these reforms would have achieved.

Mergers scrapped ?

The Times this morning thunders:
'' £1bn police mergers to be scrapped ''
In exclusive article in The Times today Stewart Tendler and Philip Webster report:

''Government plans for a £1 billion merger of police forces across England and Wales have collapsed John Reid, the Home Secretary, is expected to officially announce the end of the mergers plans on Wednesday.''

The article continues:

''The decision marks the end of the biggest police reform for 40 years which was proposed after concern that smaller forces were failing to cope with high profile investigations such as the Soham murders and counter-terrorism operations.
Tony McNulty, the Home Office Police Minister, today called in the chief constables of Cumbria and Lancashire, who were keen to merge, and told them that the money would not be available to facilitate the amalgamations.
Later, every chief constable in the country was warned by Ken Jones, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, that, "as we feared, the necessary financial support for mergers has not materialised and mergers including voluntary ones will not take place".

After the merger scheme was announced, Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, offered £125 million to pay for amalgamation. In April, Mr Clarke offered to foot the total bill put at up to £1 billion.

One chief constable said that the funding plans for the mergers were "chaotic and never backed by a financial case that stacked up".

Mr Reid’s decision will be seen as a sharp rebuff to Mr Clarke and is certain to increase tensions between the two men.

A Home Office source said tonight that Mr Clarke had "nailed his colours to the mast" over police mergers and made plain that he wanted them "come Hell or high water". Mr Reid intended to deal with the issue "in a measured way".

Officials said that the talks with chief constables had thrown up issues "that we are not able to resolve" and Mr Reid would make plain that no mergers were likely to go ahead in the foreseeable future.

Mr Reid appears to have decided that within his limited resources he would rather spend the money that would have to be allocated to merging on other priorities.

The proposals were announced last year by Mr Clarke to create "strategic forces" from the current 43, but the proposals divided chief constables and met growing opposition from local politicians.

There were concerns about bills which could include millions in IT costs, redundancies and pensions. Unless government helped, the bill would fall on forces whose spending is already capped and one police report gave warning that at least 25,000 jobs would be lost.

One of the biggest areas of concern was that different forces require different levels of precept, the section of the annual council tax bill for policing.

If merged forces took the precept of the force with the highest level, that would be unfair on thousands of council tax payers. If the lowest level was set - suggested by ministers - the new forces would run into cash crises.''

The article concludes:

''Last month the Lords voted to give police authorities the right to veto future amalgamations in England and Wales. Peers agreed a Tory amendment to the 1996 Police Act to water down the power of the Home Secretary to force through changes''
So, is this the end of the forced police mergere issue ? It would be nice to assume so. Watch this space !

July 07, 2006

Council says local police too good to merge

Ripley Twon Council says their well performing police force shouldn't be penalised by being forced to merge, reports the Ripley & Heanor News.

The council discussed the proposed merger of Derbyshire Constabulary last week, it reports, and agreed that any force merger would be a bad move.

Council leader Cllr Geoff Carlile said that figures for Derbyshire over the last three years reveal a 21.4 per cent reduction in crime, with burglary figures being cut by over 50 per cent and vehicle crime being cut by over 41 per cent.

It was added that these reductions are much better than neighbouring police forces and the town council passed a resolution to congratulate the force on its achievement.

Comment - this report, and others noted on this blog, show the importance local authorities attach to the more day to day crimes. But that's not the area the mergers are designed to address!

Also in Derbyshire, the Police Authority chairman Janet Birkin said she was in an 'optimistic' mood after discussing the proposed merger with Policing Minister Tony McNulty, reports the Buxton Advertiser.
Mrs Birkin said the first meeting between police authority chairmen and the minister since a hold on the plans was announced had been very positive.

"There was a good rapport between all parties in the meeting and a common understanding that we need to concentrate on the outcomes — better policing — rather than getting constrained by a debate around structures," she said.

The chairmen will now discuss with their respective chief constables how to go about developing alternative proposals for further discussion.

Mrs Birkin said they were more confident that the Home Office recognised the need to give breathing space for the proposals to be developed and time to consult local people.

She added: "We recognise the need to change in order to make the force better able to meet the challenges of 21st century policing, but the proposal to merge, which the Government seemed intent on forcing through, is unworkable and not financially viable in its current form.

"This meeting clearly indicates that the Government now recognises this and we will now work hard at putting forward new proposals for further debate."
Will this be the way forward, with neighbouring forces combining their resources to deal with more serious crimes?

Meanwhile, Derbyshire is keeping up the pressure by continuing the public consultation.

July 05, 2006

Council concern at police merger plan

Borough councillors at Ellesmere Port have added their voice to the concerns being raised about the proposal to merge Cheshire and Merseyside police forces, reports the Ellesmere Port Standard.

They fear that the new force would be centred on Liverpool and would end up costing Ellesmere Port and Neston tax payers more.

July 04, 2006

Bullish picture from Essex chief

ESSEX's police chief has said he believes the county will witness the biggest reduction in crime anywhere in the UK in the coming 12 months, reports the East Anglian Daily Times.
Chief Constable Roger Baker said it was “time to really start to deliver” on promises of making Essex a safer place to be, with even more officers on the streets and all reported crimes investigated. It was this time last year that Mr Baker made his mark, telling those thinking of committing crime in Essex to bring a toothbrush “because you won't be going home” and branding criminals “thick”.

Since then the force has made more than 13,000 additional arrests, up by more than 30%, detection rates increased and the number of crimes dropped by more than 1,800.He said they had also exceeded targets for the number of people brought to justice in Essex.... “My belief is that we will see the biggest reduction in crime in Essex - more than anywhere else in England and Wales this year,” he said.

He revealed that when he took over Essex Police did not investigate all reported crimes - only attending about 70% of incidents. Now the police take the attitude that all crime, no matter how minor, should be dealt with.... Mr Baker admitted there had been rare occasions, due to a breakdown in communications, when officers had not turned up to a reported crime for several days which he said was “quite frankly not good enough”.

Speaking on the proposed merger of Essex Police with their counterparts in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire he said he wholeheartedly believed the force could do business differently, possibly sharing some services with other forces, but that they should remain stand alone.

However, he said it was important for the public to have their say on the Home Office merger proposals.