Last month Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe called for fewer police forces in the UK as cuts in public spending change the way that out services have to operate . Here Michael Dawson, of devolution campaign group Campaign for the North says the region should have a single police force;
There are many merits to Bernard Hogan-Howe’s recent statements on police reform. From his belief in an integrated public safety strategy to his acknowledgement of increasingly mobile crime networks, the Metropolitan Police commissioner has prompted a long overdue debate.
Of particular note, is Hogan-Howe’s praise for the recent Scottish police reforms and how they successfully avoided “diminishing local accountability”. For instance, since the amalgamation of Scotland’s police forces, Scots have seen a substantial decrease in violent crime and savings of over £110 million.
Therefore, there is something paradoxical about Hogan-Howe’s belief in nine regional police forces. As the police commissioner rightly states, “[criminals] seek markets with high population densities to sell drugs and steal property. They pass local and national borders with ease”.
One force for the north?
Why then should the North’s forces be split into three? The distance from Liverpool to Sheffield, for example, is only seventy-seven miles. Even shorter is the forty-four miles between Manchester and Leeds. In fact, the distance between Lancaster, located in the North West, and Middlesbrough, located in the North East, is just eighty-seven miles.
Therefore, the close proximity of the North’s urban areas makes almost every Northern city a prime target for highly mobile crime networks. It is evident that a trans-Pennine problem requires a trans-Pennine solution and that that the answer is not three regional police forces but one. One, unitary police force, as championed by the Scots, is what the North needs.
This view is put forward by David Gilbertson, former HM Inspector and advisor to Campaign for the North. In our ‘Case for the North’, he states that “the argument for a unitary policing structure for the North of England is so strong that it is difficult to see what evidence could be marshalled against the concept by bodies or individuals resistant to change”. At present, however, the coalition seems intent on slashing the police budget in a haphazard and ill-informed manner.
For example, Hogan-Howe states that by cutting £1.4bn by 2020, the Met will be less able to fight crime. In fact, in the wake of the Syndey-Siege, he disclosed that five terror plots had been foiled in the last four months and that £50 million more was needed to fund counter-terrorism operations.
Further supporting Hogan-Howe is yesterday’s Charlie Hebdo massacre. As yesterday’s events in Paris demonstrate, terrorism lurks ominously at Britain’s door and it is only a matter of time before like-minded individuals set their sights on London. It’s therefore no wonder that police security in the capital has quickly tightened as additional firearms officers patrol the streets outside Portcullis House and the Palace of Westminster.
It is very clear that if cuts have to be made, a simple slash and burn strategy is not the answer. Therefore, by reducing the North’s eleven, disparate forces, into a unitary body, the North could make huge savings and, most importantly, deliver a better service for Northerners. The illogical duplication of administrative costs and senior management salaries, for example, is a burden to the taxpayer and requires drastic reform.
Yet under the current model imposed by Westminster, such reforms are impossible to implement and largely unwanted by politicians. After Hogan-Howe’s calls for radical change, a spokesman for the Prime Minister stated that “the structure of police forces – the current one we have – is the right approach given the importance of retaining local accountability”. Once again, we see that the advice of experts falls on deaf ears under a government that is hell-bent on delivering its own agenda, as opposed to the one that is best for ordinary people. As usual, therefore, the recurring issue of centralisation rears its head and highlights that the mandarins of London continue to hold the whip hand.
Hogan-Howe is correct in stating that merging forces and revising the ways in which data is stored would go a long way in combatting the increasing threat of digital crime. But despite this, the government’s line is that the forty-three disparate police forces of England and Wales must make do and cooperate. This position is, at best, ill-thought and, at worst, illogical. The question must be asked: how is legislation from the early 1970s still suitable for policing in 2014?
Hogan-Howe has addressed this and, by and large, his ideas for radical change are forward-thinking and deserve to be acknowledged as such. For instance, the integration of emergency services into specifically designed hubs would allow for a joined up public safety policy that could make a huge difference in improving the lives of Northern people. Furthermore, through “working with some of London’s universities to develop policing for teaching and research”, Hogan-Howe has highlighted the importance of creating a society in which higher education works closely with governmental bodies and the private sector. Such collaboration will allow for the development of more knowledge-based policing that seeks to improve public safety in a logical, coherent manner.
These views are a step in the right direction but, as with many ideas devised in the South, don’t go far enough to remedy the problems that the North faces. It is increasingly clear that policies affecting the North are best considered by Northerners. In an age of devolution, only we have the right to decide our future.