Conference news from the CIPFA in Wales annual conference, November 1718

24 Nov 05
A single police force covering the whole of Wales could lead to more effective crime-fighting, the chief constable of South Wales told delegates at the CIPFA in Wales annual conference in Cardiff.

25 November 2005

A single police force 'can be made to work'

A single police force covering the whole of Wales could lead to more effective crime-fighting, the chief constable of South Wales told delegates at the CIPFA in Wales annual conference in Cardiff.

Barbara Wilding said that it was 'hugely expensive' to combat terrorism and deal with organised crime, critical incidents and public disorder through small forces. Merging the current four constabularies in Wales Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, South Wales and North Wales could produce economies of scale and better local services.

'Moving to one force will allow us to consolidate the way in which we deliver protective services to a good quality,' she said. 'We have learnt a lot through our collaborative working and we know that we can make it work.'

Wilding was responding to proposals from the Home Office this month that suggested slashing the number of police forces in England and Wales from 43 to as few as 12. Home Secretary Charles Clarke indicated that his personal preference was for a single force in Wales.

But the chief constable admitted that a merger would be 'distracting' and said that the four forces had yet to decide whether they favoured a unified approach. They will be meeting separately over the next two weeks before making individual recommendations.

If a merger did take place, resources needed to be increased to enable services to be deployed across the whole of the principality. This was particularly relevant for police community support officers, for whom the current funding was 'ludicrous'.

PCSOs were highly popular with the public and very effective in improving confidence and maintaining a visible presence. They could also work in partnership with other community employees.

'Try to visualise what it would look like if housing officers, lollipop men and women, park-keepers, street cleaners, gas, water and electricity board employees, and university and hospital security personnel were all given the same basic training in community safety and wore high-visibility jackets with a Protecting our Communities logo.'

Wilding claimed that crime levels were higher because of 'silo' working by public sector bodies, which jealously guarded their budgets. Part of the blame lay with performance targets.

'The tendency for government to look at health, transport, education and the police in isolation has resulted in targets being set in isolation. One consequence is that resources are allocated to meet individual, rather than partnership, targets,' she added.

Joint working is the key to better services, says Essex

Sir Jeremy Beecham's review of public services in Wales is likely to encourage joint working but will not necessarily result in a cull of Welsh councils, according to the minister responsible.

Sue Essex, the minister for finance, local government and public services, told Public Finance that the existing approach of 22 coterminous council and local health boards had produced 'big advantages', particularly on the social care agenda.

'I think what will come is a greater deal of collaboration between local health boards and, perhaps wider than that, with local authorities. We may see that relationship change it doesn't require structural changes, it just requires an approach to joint working,' she said.

Other speakers at the conference predicted a more regional approach. Steve Thomas, the director of the Welsh Local Government Association, said that his organisation had created four regional forums of leaders and chief executives to accelerate collaboration.

'We have got to say that 22 local authorities and local health boards going their own way is no longer sustainable,' he told delegates.

Wales to make its own laws

A Bill due to be published within the next few weeks is set to give the Welsh Assembly additional legislative powers which it is claimed will put it on a par with the Scottish Parliament.

The Government of Wales Bill, if passed, will allow the Assembly to draw up its own laws, which would be then fast-tracked through Westminster using 'Orders in Council'. These would be introduced following the Assembly's 2007 elections.

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Assembly's presiding officer, said the legislation would 'totally transform governance' in the principality. 'The constitution of Wales finally will become a parliamentary democracy. It is the final death throes of our old colonial governance in the Welsh Office,' he claimed.

Elis-Thomas, Plaid Cymru's sole representative in the House of Lords, said the new powers were extensive and would make legislation the main function of the Assembly. Currently, it represents only 8% of activity.

He said that a Scottish Parliament model would emerge in Cardiff Bay, where the new Assembly building is about to open, and an equivalent to the Scottish Executive would be based in Cathays Park.

'My understanding is that 90 out of the 150 clauses of the new Bill will be about undoing the mess of our first constitution,' he added.


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