Serious concerns raised about police merger

Tuesday 14th August 2018 7:51 am
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Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez ()

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Serious concerns about the proposed merger and the lack of detail around combining Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police forces have been raised by the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel.

A presentation on the exploration of merger between the two forces, which would make the new-look force the biggest in England, by geographical area, was given to the panel on Friday morning.

The panel was told that the merger would could see 100 extra police on the streets on day one, but there was an aspiration to get 430 extra police officers or PCSOs on the streets, and that the proposals will save at least £3.2million a year.

It could also mean an increase in council tax made up of an uplift of £18, along with an increase of £12 which is already included in the police budget, as the precept in Dorset is higher than the precept in Devon and Cornwall, and it is a legal requirement for precepts to be equalised.

But concerned councillors found themselves unable to scrutinise the plans as there was a lack of detail in them, with Cllr Carolyn Rule saying: “It was a nice presentation with nice words, but are we wasting our time today, as we can’t scrutinise anything?”

And even Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez and Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer admitted that they had not yet seen the full details of the business case.

Ms Hernandez said: “I have been supporting looking at the feasibility of the merger. This is a voluntary merger driven by the chief constables, looking at how it will improve public safety that we cannot deliver ourselves.

“But unless there will be a tangible difference and an increase in officer numbers that the community can see, I will struggle to support it. Just being business as usual is not good enough for such a drastic change.”

Cllr Keith Wingate said: “I can see the benefits of it, but we can’t really scrutinise it as there isn’t a level of detail yet, and the detail is what concerns us. I have a number of questions but need the full business case to see if we can answer them.”

Cllr Gareth Derrick asked for guarantees that the panel would see the full business case before a decision to proceed or not was made, but was told it would not be the case. He added: “We are bowling towards this deadline and in my view, a change of this nature should not be done just for a deadline.”

Ms Hernandez said that she shared the feelings on the tight timescale and that it may be something that influences her ultimate decision on the merger.

Cllr Hackett had proposed that the panel pushes for a delay and aiming instead towards the PCC elections in 2024, describing the move as a ‘shotgun wedding’.

He added: “We are just a few weeks short of the final deadline but there is no evidence on the table to tell us how it is going to be. The devil is in the detail. Marriage is easy, but divorce is a very murky subject, and if we get this wrong, there is no going back.”

Ms Hernandez though pleaded with the panel not to push to extend the timescale. She said: “I don’t want senior management of police naval gazing about a merger for any more than necessary. Don’t extend the timescale as I would rather we either make a decision to merge which will be time well spent, or a decision to not merge and then get on with the day job of policing.”

The panel had considered a resolution to write to the Home Secretary, who will make the ultimate decision of approval of the merger, to express their reservations about the merger based on the currently available details and that the submission to the Home Office was delayed until a detailed business case came before the panel.

Cllr Wingate said: “Our problem is with the timescale. If we can get the information to us so we have a reasonable opportunity to scrutinise it, that would be preferable than asking for any delay.”

A full business case must be submitted to Home Office by October 12, with the only Police and Crime Panel meeting scheduled for September 14.

Ms Hernandez though asked the panel to consider re-arranging the next meeting so that there would be a chance for a detailed business case to be brought before them.

Cllr Tom Wright then said: “If we get to see a detailed business case before us then makes the resolution redundant.”

The panel agreed to shift the date of their meeting so that a detailed business case could be presented to them.

The business case will answer the questions of:

Does the merger proposal have a clear economic basis (including a clear and viable path for precept equalisation)?

Will the merger improve the efficiency of the police?

Will the merger improve the effectiveness of policing in the area?

Will the merger have an impact on public safety?

Does the proposal have sufficient local support?

Concerns about the proposed merger of Devon and Cornwall and Dorset Police, which would make the new-look force the biggest in England, by geographical area, have previous been raised by Plymouth City Council and Cornwall Council.

Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans says he fears households in the most deprived areas of the city could be hit with a council tax hike to pay for more bobbies on the beat in posh parts of Dorset.

While Cornwall Council asked for an extension to the consultation being carried out over plans and to request a full business case for the merger to be given to the council so that it can make an informed decision as to whether to support the plans, following a recommendation that the council opposed the merger.

For any merger to go ahead, the two chief constables of the two forces, and both Police and Crime Commissioners, would have to all support the merger.

A full business case would then be submitted to the Home Office, with the Secretary of State making a ‘minded to’ decision in December 2018.

The arrangements would them come into place in May 2020 following the next Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Hernandez said: “It was really good to be able to say that this is not a done deal – this is very much still an issue that is open for me to make a decision along with the Chief Constable and those in Dorset.

“We’re very interested to hear the views of the panel. There was some obvious frustrations today that there wasn’t more information available to them but we are still waiting on that detailed business case which will come to us in a few weeks time.

“I look forward to engaging with panel in the future on that because it’s so important that we take the time to talk with and listen to our communities.”

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