Police HR professionals face a daunting few months as controversial plans to merge forces in England and Wales are set to resurface, a chief constable told MPs yesterday.
The head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Norman Bettison, said yesterday that police mergers were “inevitable” to cope with 21st century policing demands.
Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee about policing in the 21st century, he said: “Mergers are inevitable. Police forces are like a patchwork quilt, there are 43 offices, and all forces are required to cope with the things that 21st century life throws at us. I predict that these are the events that will bring us back to the agenda [of merging forces].”
The changes could result in “the biggest reform of policing that the country has seen for 30 years”, according to Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.
Initial plans to merge 43 police forces into as few as 12 were announced in 2005 by the then home secretary Charles Clarke, after a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said forces with fewer than 4,000 officers were not equipped to fight sophisticated modern crime.
However, less than a third of forces backed the plans, largely because they would ultimately mean cuts to back-office jobs, including HR.
However, Peter Neyroud, chief constable and head of the National Policing Improvement Agency, said at yesterday’s committee meeting there were some policing tasks that should be seen as one national agenda rather than 43 separate programmes. “We have got to start thinking about whether some functions can be seen as one rather than 43,” he said.
But Bettison recognised that there was a strong feeling across many forces that merging would ultimately see fewer resources available for each force.
“There are some barriers [to merging]. If it was starting from scratch it may be possible. But starting from where they are it means finding new money to make the transition.”
He added: “Small forces feel that all the resources they had will be put into the urban centres, but the urban centres feel their resources will get dissipated. There is a strong feeling this could happen.”