Yorkshire crime tsar wants debate on merging police forces

19th February 2013. Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
19th February 2013. Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
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A YORKSHIRE crime commissioner says the current model of 43 police forces in England and Wales may not be sustainable amid dramatic funding cuts and has called for local policing officials to be given more powers to raise tax to pay for services.

Mark Burns-Williamson says the debate about devolution to the English regions in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum should include whether individual police forces should merge to save money.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for West Yorkshire says his force faces a 30 per cent budget reduction between 2011 and 2016/17, the equivalent of £160 million in savings.

He added: “So it begs the question, is the current model of 43 police forces in England and Wales sustainable in such circumstances?”

Mr Burns-Williamson, who was elected as PCC in 2012 and previously served as chairman of the old West Yorkshire police authority, said last year’s merger of eight forces in Scotland to a single force “seems to be working”.

And he said the Scottish referendum, after which Prime Minister David Cameron promised to devolve more powers north of the border, “now opens up a debate around devolution of powers to regions”.

He said: “What happened in Scotland, which has a similar population size to Yorkshire and the Humber of five million or so, provides us with an impetus and now is the right time to look at whether reform of services could be tied into that devolved democratic debate that needs to happen.

“In order to meet the challenges we all face, we need more resources not less and regionalisation could mean reassessing the way the funding formula is applied.

“Eighty per cent of the West Yorkshire Police budget is currently allocated centrally through a flawed funding formula. The remaining 20 per cent comes locally through police council tax.

“When you ask the public if they are willing to pay extra for policing they generally are, but then central government puts a cap on how much you can raise locally which fundamentally mitigates against the concept of PCCs and devolved decision making...it needs to change.

“Collaboration is essential and a good thing to do and all four Yorkshire and Humber PCCs, and police forces, are working together with various collaboration agreements in place around policing services, but through experience there is only so far you can go with collaboration.”

Mr Burns-Williamson’s suggestion for the number of forces to be reduced comes days after a similar call by Police Superintendents’ Association president Irene Curtis.

Speaking ahead of the association’s annual conference in Warwickshire, Ms Curtis said: “It is increasingly obvious that we do not need 43 forces across England and Wales. Some forces are trying to address this by forming strategic alliances which means that they are virtually merging in all but name and senior leadership ranks.”

Police forces in Yorkshire are already sharing a number of services including IT, human resources and procurement.

But last summer a “fifth police force” providing services across the entire region was disbanded because the way it worked was too expensive and bureaucratic.

Mark Burns-Williamson: Why the time is now right to take a serious look at policing