22 October 2004
Home Secretary David Blunkett has rejected radical proposals to 'regionalise' the police service and grant district councils funding powers to 'buy' officers, Public Finance has learned.
According to sources, Blunkett has 'rolled back' on a series of controversial police reform ideas, including directly elected police boards, over the past few months.
The controversial proposals on regional forces and split funding are the results of a joint 'analytical study' from the prime minister's Strategy Unit and the Home Office.
The report, dubbed by many as an exercise in 'blue-skies thinking', was circulated privately to stakeholders several weeks ago.
The study, along with the results of the 2003 consultation paper, Building safer communities together, will feed into a white paper on police reform.
The report proposed restructuring the police service regionally. This would involve amalgamating large swathes of the service into around nine more centrally controlled bodies.
It is understood that this would deliver efficiency savings – police are expected to find cuts of £650m by 2008 – and would also allow police services to be deployed more rapidly in emergency situations.
But the unit also suggested, perhaps more controversially, that funding for the service should be split between police authorities and district councils.
In an obvious attempt to take new localism and Blunkett's ongoing theme of civic renewal to new heights, districts would be allowed to set levels of council tax to pay directly for local policing. In this way they would be able to 'buy' the number of 'bobbies on the beat' that local politicians or residents felt they wanted.
Police authorities would continue to administer central government grant, which makes up around 75% of funding.
One stakeholder said the report 'made his hair curl' and was nothing short of politicising the police. 'If districts were in effect buying officers, they would see them as theirs,' he said.
In cases where strength in numbers were needed, such as major football matches, 'these would have to be withdrawn', he added.
However, one senior local government source said that Home Office ministers had already reassured the police community that neither of these two proposals would make it into the white paper.
'Blunkett was less than impressed with these proposals,' he said. 'We are expecting that police authorities and councils will have a strong role to play, probably with councillors acting as community safety advocates in some way.'