June 10, 2006

"The police and accountability - Merger plan threatens local links"

This comment is from The Yorkshire Post, but it applies across the country.
THE countless crises to engulf the Home Office have overshadowed New Labour's determination to preside over one of the most contentious policing shake-ups for a generation.

However, there is little concrete evidence to suggest that the Government will bow to public wisdom and postpone plans to merge police forces while Ministers tackle more pressing priorities.

Chief constables received a personal update this week. And the latest correspondence to emanate from the Home Office suggests that Ministers have yet to grasp the flaws in their plan to create a single "superforce" for Yorkshire.

For, at a time when the Government is extolling the benefits of local policing, Ministers are effectively jeopardising this commitment by creating a series of "strategic" forces that will cover vast areas.

This contradiction could not be greater. Yet, if the threat to neighbourhood policing was not sufficient, the Government intends to deny many communities the opportunity to be represented on the new police authorities; the bodies that will, supposedly, hold the "superforce" to account.

At present, almost 70 councillors, magistrates and community leaders serve on the four police authorities which govern Yorkshire's existing constabularies. They play a pivotal role in setting local policing priorities and, in Humberside's case, were instrumental in preventing the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, from sacking Chief Constable David Westwood over Soham.

However, this local representation will be much diminished if Ministers succeed in restricting membership of the new Yorkshire-wide authority to just 23 people. Many areas will simply be excluded. But the threat to local democracy does not end there. For, by allowing the Home Secretary to retain the power to appoint individuals, there remains the possibility of police authorities becoming packed with Government stooges, a dangerous precedent in light of Mr Westwood's difficulties.

John Reid, the new Home Secretary, has, thus far, kept his own counsel on the plans. He has, of course, had more urgent matters to tackle, but if he is wise, he will ditch his predecessor's proposals at the earliest opportunity. At a time when anti-social behaviour is rife, any diminution of local policing – and local accountability – remains unacceptable.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home