Attempting to merge police forces now could cause havoc at a time when the Police Service is struggling to meet demand amid cuts to resources, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary has insisted.
Tom Winsor said he instead believed that collaboration could bring efficiency benefits without the potentially “enormous” drain that larger scale mergers could present to senior management’s time and energy.
Mr Winsor was speaking to reporters after addressing the Superintendents’ Association Conference, the annual event for the staff association representing the Police Service’s senior operational leaders, whose numbers have fallen by around 20 per cent in England and Wales since 2010.
Former rail regulator Mr Winsor quoted Sir Peter Parker, a ex-chairman of the British Railways Board, who said: “When you reorganise, you bleed”.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary added: “The police have got an awful lot of operational matters to deal with at the moment with reduced numbers. Senior leaders would have to divert themselves to force mergers if they went ahead.
“I think leaders should look to free up their resources through the collaboration approach.”
Though the then-Labour government abandoned a bid to merge forces in 2006, the issue has repeatedly resurfaced as the service searches for ways to become more efficient in the face of spending cuts.
The Superintendents’ Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers have both said the 43-force model in England and Wales is not fit for purpose.
Mr Winsor told reporters at the conference in Warwickshire that he, along with many others, was carefully watching the experience of the eight-force merger in Scotland. But he maintained this had not been “unalloyed success” so far.
He added that collaborations such as the strategic alliance between Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police could be so wide-ranging that the forces involved “merged by osmosis” and grant all the benefits of mergers.
However, Mr Winsor also said Policing Minister Damian Green’s speech in July, in which the MP revealed that he had nothing against force mergers in principle, was “pretty significant”, and showed the government’s thinking on the issue.