STAFFORDSHIRE’S Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Ellis, says that calls to scrap local police forces and replace them with huge regional ‘super-forces’ would be the death knell for the most local policing in all but theory.
He says that replacing Staffordshire’s police service with a West Midlands ‘mini-Met’ run from Birmingham or Coventry would be unaccountable to people in Tamworth and would mask, not fix, the financial challenges faced.
Speaking live on BBC Radio Stoke’s Breakfast Show recently, Mr Ellis said the notion of ten enormous ‘super-forces’ filled him with dread based on his experience since taking up the PCC role.
He said: “Policing in this country is done by consent – it needs to be owned by and accountable to local people. Across Staffordshire different communities have different needs which means neighbourhood policing is vital, as is decision making as locally as possible.
“I simply don’t accept that massive police forces automatically mean better value for money. With almost 90 per cent of policing costs being people, regional forces would save on costs simply by policing a much bigger area with fewer officers. My experience suggests regionalisation would bring even bigger inefficiencies that are simply hidden within bigger budgets.
“Every day I find in public services that the further away governance, decision making and accountability is from delivery, the greater the inefficiency and the greater the waste that is built into the system. It is clear accountability that drives effective, responsive, value for money services. It is also about optimal size for a public service like policing. Big enough to achieve some economies of scale but not so big that that it loses relevance and local identity to the people it serves.
“The 1.2 million people in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have a defined identity and is large enough to be viable in terms of economies of scale. As a resident of Staffordshire myself I don’t believe people in Tamworth want their police service run from Birmingham or Coventry. The priorities for policing communities across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent would be insignificant in the context of the substantial and different challenges faced by much of the West Midlands.
“We are developing good evidence that Staffordshire Police is indeed an optimal size to meet the financial challenges and be relevant to local people. Our success in improving the finances over the last 18 months is based on driving value for money through a healthy fixation on spending better whilst bringing more business-like thinking and support to policing and other community safety services.
“It is direct local accountability that is helping to achieve the better performance and sound finances that is maintaining and even improving policing for less cost. The slash and burn of regional or national police forces is a flawed option but the right option is to spend public money effectively to keep policing local and accountable locally.”
Mr Ellis believes a move towards a less local, less accountable regional police service is exactly the wrong thing to do and has inherent practical dangers for the future too:
“It worries me that some aren’t learning the lessons from the failures in accountability and millions spent on inquiries and reviews mainly around problems in the large metropolitan forces. Poor accountability and forces which are too big and too far removed from the local population are a slippery slope towards a more enforcement based way of policing our communities. That would be terrible for people in Staffordshire and other areas.
“We can build further on the improving finances here by working in an integrated way with other public agencies that serve Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. We could really go to town on bringing services together across Staffordshire where there is a defined identity and further savings to be made. The last 18 months have brought police finances back on track in a healthy position to 2020. But we have not done nearly enough to drive efficiencies through joint working with other public agencies in Staffordshire and that has to happen now.
“A local approach to joined-up services can save more public money and mean better, more relevant results for people in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. That’s the challenge I want us to meet collectively whilst keeping policing and other services responsive to local need and accountable to local people.”