Plans for a West Midlands super-police force to fight terrorism and serious crime risk spending too much time and money trying to prevent something that may never happen, the Chief Constable of West Mercia tells Chief Reporter Paul Dale...
A year ago, Paul West was basking in the reflected glory of the Home Office declaring West Mercia to be one of the best run police forces in the country.
Weeks later the Home Office again contacted Mr West, but this time to inform him that his days as chief constable were almost certainly numbered.
A restructuring proposal for Britain's 43 forces will probably see West Mercia amalgamated with West Midlands, Warwickshire and Staffordshire to become a super-regional force, covering an area of five million people.
These extraordinary developments, which will result in the biggest shake-up of policing for a generation, have left Mr West in the difficult position of acting as standard-bearer for those among his fellow chief constables who regard the Home Office proposals as little short of nonsensical.
He believes the West Midlands super-force would be unwieldy, unmanageable, would not produce the financial savings the Government expects, would harm community policing, and, worst of all, is exactly not what the public wants.
Mr West has submitted an alternative plan to the Home Office, which would see West Mercia remain in business as a strategic force with additional powers and money to fight serious crime.
A Home Office report setting out the argument for amalgamation justified the changes by claiming that most forces were no longer fit for purpose: "The majority of police forces in England and Wales do not provide adequate levels of protective service, such as counter-terrorism activity and dealing with serious organised crime."
Mr West chooses his words carefully, but he is not impressed by this argument.
"You have to look at demand and accept that terrorism, which is a terrible curse of the modern age, can happen anywhere but the reality is you have to make a reasonable judgement of risk.
"If you look at the West Mercia area and serious and organised crime, there is a level of risk we can accept here.
"The Home Office says some forces don't provide adequate cover. What does this relate to? To some arbitrary bench mark or to the reality of experience?
"If I as chief constable had invested a massive amount of money into something where there wasn't a problem because it might happen some day, that would be seen as a scandalous waste of public resources."
He has warned that West Mercia's plans to introduce "wall to wall community policing" could be damaged by the amalgamation. Whoever emerges as the chief of the new super-force would inevitably be tempted to concentrate resources on high-crime urban areas, leaving rural Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire short of cash for community policing - an area that the Government claims is a priority.
It would be extremely difficult over a period of time to resist the "drift" of policing from the countryside to the metropolis surrounding Birmingham, Mr West added.
He believes the Home Office proposals will make it far more difficult for the police to deliver the type of services that communities actually demand.
"The police service has, for too long, had a professional arrogance, saying we know what's best for you. The public are very discerning, very aware, it is incumbent on us as public servants to engage with them and to listen to what their concerns are and respond accordingly.
"People want the police to deal with basic stuff like cars speeding through villages or patrolling streets on housing estates," he added.
He is willing to do everything possible to make the super-force work, if such a force is eventually imposed on the West Midlands by the Government, but he believes the Home Secretary will be disappointed if he thinks the new-style of policing will bring many benefits.
"It is far too big to be manageable in the way that I believe, as a chief constable, I would wish to manage an organisation.
"It would cover five large counties and the Birmingham conurbation. It is actually policing on a scale that none of us have any experience of.
"The bureaucracy, the sheer scale of the organisation, would be unacceptable."
He fears the Home Office has failed to appreciate the geography of the West Midlands - where the West Mercia force covers three counties.
His message to those opposed to the merger is to carry on fighting, noting that although the Home Secretary will announce in July whether the amalgamation will go ahead, that will not be the end of the story.
Mr West said: "If the Home Secretary decides to go ahead with the merger, it is still subject to approval.
"Even if he does go ahead with amalgamation it is certainly not inevitable that Parliament will approve.
"If you look at it nationally there is enormous concern around the country and there have been one or two interesting votes for the Government already this year.
"If people are concerned about this, I would urge them to write to their MP. There is still time to make a difference.
"The message I am trying to get across is that this is one of the best forces in the country, making a real difference to crime.
"Why change what isn't broken?" ..SUPL: