A VIEW FROM SCOTLAND
For the third and final time, I was a guest of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales at their annual conference this past week. Having similarly guested at the Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth earlier in the year, I was able to note certain commonality breaking out in the views expressed by the service across the ranks.
Clearly both conferences aimed to tackle a wide range of policing issues but, in particular, the reduction on funding and officer numbers were high on the agenda. At the Superintendents conference this issue was largely addressed by the input on ‘the future of policing’ by Zoe Billingham from the Inspectorate and Chief Constable Chris Eyre of Nottinghamshire Police who wanted the burden of the cuts shared more evenly across the ranks – highlighting that Superintendent numbers in England and Wales had fallen by 25% in recent times compared with 10% in respect of Chief Officers. It became clear that the 43 force model was being viewed as outdated with its layers of duplicated management and bureaucracy.
In the end, however, the conclusion of the Superintendents conference appeared to be that amalgamations of forces were the only way to meet the fiscal challenge, and that in addition to monetary savings new operational opportunities would result. This position appeared to echo that of the Federation conference which led to calls for a national police service in England and Wales to be considered.
Neither of these positions drew a favourable response from the Home Secretary who cited the ‘failings’ of the Police Service of Scotland as evidence of poor thinking in this regard. Unfortunately for Theresa May, however, the factual evidence she utilised in support of this position was inaccurate – for example, there was always a plan to save £1.1bn in restructuring Scotland’s police service by 2026, not overnight! Moreover, her claim that local service delivery would suffer is also difficult to support given that the enabling legislation for PSOS placed localism and crime prevention at its heart.
It is also clear to me that across the service in England and Wales there remains an opposition to the creation of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, a development hailed by the Home Office as delivering ballot box accountability but which, in reality, appears to merely spark indifference amongst the public.
The question then arises, if there is consent across the ranks that amalgamation of forces is the only way to meet the diminishing budget, from where does the opposition come? As an interested observer, I would contend that the defence of the introduction of PCC’s is allied to the opposition to mergers. Were regional or national forces to be created, the PCC experiment would be no more and an allegation of failing to properly examine the policing landscape prior to their creation would follow making the experiment a costly and unnecessary one.
It will be interesting to see these discussions continue. The Home Secretary made it quite clear that further budget reductions will follow. It is hard to envisage the service continuing to meet the needs of the public by both maintaining 43 forces and reducing budgets. A more efficient structure seems a sensible move.