Devon and Cornwall and Dorset Police forces in merger talks
A “strategic alliance” could be carved between Devon and Cornwall and Dorset Police to help meet future budget cuts.
The forces yesterday announced a joint project team was being formed to analyse how they could “collaborate effectively across all areas of policing”.
While the move is short of a merger to a single constabulary, it could result in hundreds of civilian staff posts being made redundant as back office functions are amalgamated. Senior management positions – both officers and staff – could also be lost in a bid to save cash and protect frontline policing.
Both forces have been wrestling with major budget cuts by 2015 – Devon and Cornwall Police have to save £51 million and Dorset £22.5 million – with further feared reductions to come.
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Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg said: “I have always said that collaboration is a key element to maintaining effective policing.
“There is a financial imperative to provide a continued policing service despite reducing funding, which means that we have to look at new ways to deliver our services.
“We are not content to see further reductions in the service we provide to our communities in order to make budget cuts and we share a desire to invest in our capability despite challenging budgets.”
The Devon and Cornwall force is more than twice the size of Dorset, currently having around 3,100 officers and some 1,500 staff. Dorset has about 1,300 officers and 850 civilians. Budget cuts have meant Devon and Cornwall has lost 400 police officers and a similar number of civilians since 2010. Dorset has lost 180 officers and 170 staff and by March 2015 will have lost 310 officers and 280 staff.
The amalgamation is seen as crucial for Dorset which, because of its size, lacks the scope to make further, significant cuts without damaging frontline policing.
In a report on Dorset Police in July, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said: “To limit this, the force must take every opportunity to improve efficiencies and ensure it has pursued all options that will help deliver savings while maintaining service delivery.
“The force recognises this and understands this would mean it would have to look to a strategic alliance with another force to continue to provide a viable police service in Dorset.”
Devon and Cornwall and Dorset are already collaborating on a number of fronts with other forces. They include scientific services and Special Branch. The initial “scoping” exercise will start in the New Year and will take an estimated six months.
Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Shaun Sawyer said: “I fully understand that some officers and staff may feel unsettled by this announcement, however, I strongly feel this is the right thing for us to explore.
“We all have a duty to provide the very best service we can to our communities. The two forces share similar geography, history and values, with a mix of urban, rural and coastal communities.
“I believe that by working closely with our colleagues in Dorset, we have the opportunity to preserve the local policing that both our communities enjoy and demand.”
Officers and staff of both forces were informed of the move yesterday.
Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about what the alliance could deliver.
“It is about looking for financial savings and as a staff association we support that,” he said. “We have been saying for a long time that the force needs to look at its management structure, procurement and other services.”