My kids are too old for the cartoon â€œFrozenâ€ but the song â€œLet it Go!â€ booms out everywhere.Â As the police budget settlement came out the song sounded very appropriate for the discussions I heard in the media on police force mergers.
The debate last week started with an article by the Commissioner of the Met but has been on and off for about eight years. Sir Bernardâ€™s article set out lots of things the service needs to think about for the future. In my view these were perfectly good ingredients, but not a recipe for change. There was no formula for the extensive mix of proposals, but it did include nine regional forces.
Before you read on I need to be clear that I am not advocating the status quo. Things have to change. They need to change quickly. In some cases mergers of forces will be correct. The issue is however the challenge is much bigger now than a simple redrawing of force boundaries; which is the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Austerity will continue for at least the next five years. The scale of UK debt is so high that there is no mainstream political view other than to reduce public spending, (albeit there are choices on speed, tax and areas of priority). The impact of savings on the current non-ring fenced budgets could be colossal. It will be very hard to manage this risk from Whitehall. Perhaps as profound is the impact on the political and public outlook of this period when things stabilise. I doubt public spending is ever likely to return to previous levels. The old world has gone.
In this context we have to ask whether shunting police forces together can solve our little bit of this puzzle. This is why I think as a grand plan master plan it wonâ€™t and why senior leaders need to â€œlet it goâ€ as a stock response
Years of public spending have created many agencies and organisations, perhaps too many. As society has become complex their boundaries have become less clear. Modern problems and challenges fit less easily into tight boxes today. There is a need for public sector leaders to take collective leadership for the whole system not just their piece. The lack of coherent boundaries for places makes this hard and mergers will move us further away from each other.
So if no grand police restructure what am I for?
I accept advocating broader public sector reform, integration and devolution is more complex. It lacks the certainty we like as police officers as we do our day to day job. There is a real challenge for leaders to make this happen and it will fail in some places, but then some places run that risk now with pure austerity. Can we step back as a service, encourage the devolution momentum locally and seek to build around the new devolved settlement and let some of our old solutions go and grab this opportunity or risk setting off down a cul-de-sac of regional forces developed in Whitehall?