Concerns over potential police service merger

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

The Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner of the Devon and Cornwall Police Service have both raised concerns over the potential merger of Devon and Cornwall with Dorset.

Earlier this year a plan was put forward to merge the Devon and Cornwall Police with the neighbouring constabulary Dorset, by 2020.

This would cover as far afield as Bournemouth and the Isles of Scilly, as well as across Devon and Cornwall.

Subsequently this has led to an influx in questions regarding the future of policing across the West Country and how this may affect us all.

Issues raised include impact on number of officers, how localised they may be as well as potentially an increase in council tax to cover some costs. Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer has said that if a planned merger with Dorset would mean fewer police officers then it will not happen. He also said that if the merger does go ahead then he hoped it could help to unlock an extra £55 million for policing in Devon and Cornwall.

Public consultation is currently taking place over the plans to create a new, larger police force which would cover all three counties.

The police have said that there are operational reasons to support the merger but the plans have come up against opposition in Cornwall, Plymouth and Devon from councillors who
say they are unsure about the benefits and the finances around the plans.

The Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel said that it needed to see the full business case before it was able to indicate whether it supported the merger.

Cllr Chris Batters has stated he has “grave concerns,” feeling it would be far harder to run an organised force across such a large area.

And Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans launched a scathing attack against the plans saying it was a ‘bad thing’ for the city.
Conversely however, Cllr Martyn Alvey feels the force will benefit as the merger will allow for a larger force and an increase therefore in ground covered.
Chief Constable Sawyer said that he understood the concerns of councillors and said that he shared some of those same concerns.
He also added that if the merger would result in less local policing or would end up costing people in the poorest areas of Devon and Cornwall more, then it would not be acceptable.

The Chief Constable did concede that the merger did make sense in order to provide a police service which is fit for the 21st century, highlighting the problems of tackling cyber crime as a need to change the way that policing operates. He also said that cutbacks had led to Devon and Cornwall Police reducing the amount of preventative work being done with policing “increasingly reactive.”

He said: “I would say that operationally it makes sense but those other aspects may not be in the interests of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

‘Some councillors seem to think that this is a done deal by the chief constables and crime commissioners but it isn’t. We will make the decision based on the evidence we have.”

He added: “In order to protect our communities I believe that a bigger force will help them, but if that is at the expense of local policing then it is not worth it.

‘It is to protect what we have got and make it better.”

The Chief Constable also said that he was “fed up that the voice of the South West is continually not heard.”

He said that funding for policing in Devon and Cornwall is at 46p per person per day. But the average for police forces is 55p per person per day.

“If we were an average force we would have £55m more a year in funding. It is not good enough for the government to say “we look at deprivation.” There is a metropolitan centric view of deprivation, but we have some of the poorest parts of the country here.

‘We have some of the highest suicide rates in the country because people here are giving up.

‘We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but it doesn’t mean we have less depressed people or any less people looking to commit cyber crime.

‘There is a view that if you live in the country then it is better, but it really, really isn’t. It is a little bit condescending to say that cities get more (funding) because they are likely to have more problems.”

He added: “We all know that there is this inner city generation of kids who are unhealthy, but there are kids here who are not getting out and not living healthily.

‘It is made worse here as in cities they have good local transport links while here local government is trying to save bus routes.

‘I can’t remember the last time a tube station closed or a tube line closed, but I can remember bus services going.”

The Chief Constable said that if the merger happened it could help to get fairer funding for policing.

“The voice of Cornwall and Devon would be stronger as it would be ‘hello, we are the fifth biggest force here and we are mainly rural.
‘All those big forces are nine or ten pence (per person per day), or more than that, better off than we are. They (the government) would have to listen as we are much bigger.”

Asked whether securing a potential £55m for policing in Devon and Cornwall was a key goal for the merger plans, the Chief Constable agreed.

But he added: “It would only make us an average force.”

Police Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Alison Hernandez is all ears to the proposed idea but has her own apprehensions. Interviewed recently she has been quoted saying she is in “listening mode” and that she will “need to be sure that the merger will deliver more officers and a better service” for her to even consider the proposal.

However, doubts and questions will remain until a more concrete business plan is produced, identifying to what extent our current force will be affected.

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