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Row continues over Warwickshire and West Mercia Police split

It looks like the Government is going to intervene in the divorce of Warwickshire and West Mercia Police.

They've had an alliance for 7 years but the West Mercia force decided it wanted out amid claims it was propping up the smaller force and the split was supposed to happen next week.

They now say any attempt at an agreement has been rejected and they're expecting the Home Secretary to get involved in the coming days.

This could mean Warwickshire are given more time to work out how to operate as a standalone force.

The West Mercia PCC and Chief Constable say they simply can't accept continuing the current deal as it holds them to ransom.

We're still waiting on a response from Warwickshire but here's the full statement from West Mercia Chief Constable Anthony Bangham and Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion:


"The decision to end the Strategic Alliance with Warwickshire followed prolonged efforts to reform the arrangement. When it became clear that was not going to be possible, the only viable option available was to terminate. This decision was taken following detailed analysis of the implications for our communities and our police force.

That analysis confirms quite clearly that the current arrangement is no longer in West Mercia’s interests. The Alliance did deliver some benefits in its early days. However, as the organisations reformed and evolved those benefits dried up for West Mercia and actively went into reverse. This position is supported by evidence from both internal and external financial scrutiny, police performance inspections and feedback from within the police force.


The decision to end the Alliance is no reflection on the work of the officers and staff in either force. We fully acknowledge their commitment to keeping communities safe, regardless of force borders, and are grateful for their professionalism serving as part of the Alliance since 2012.


The central issues with the Alliance lie in how it was set up seven years ago. It is no secret that it was born out of an immediate need for both forces to make significant financial savings. To that end, it served its short term purpose. However, that situation has now shifted. We are no longer facing reductions to our service and our police force has modernised significantly. Officer numbers have increased in West Mercia by 215 in the last year to ensure our force has the capacity to respond effectively to increases in demand that have been seen by police forces nationwide.


The public in West Mercia need those resources to be fully focused on delivering the best possible services, tailored to their communities. However, the terms of the Alliance prohibit our police resources from doing that. Having overcome the immediate financial challenges of a few years ago, we have found ourselves stuck in a collaboration where Warwickshire contributes just 31% of resources to the Alliance, but has a 50:50 say on governance, giving them a disproportionate influence on West Mercia’s policing decisions. This is not sustainable, and as the larger force, was always going to negatively and disproportionately impact West Mercia. This impact is shown clearly in the recent PEEL reports from HMICFRS, where the same services, run by the same people, using the same resources, were judged to be providing a better service to the communities of Warwickshire, than they are in West Mercia.


That ‘50:50’ governance structure has created situations where one Chief Constable has been able to countermand the operational needs of another and actively prevent them from acting in the best interests of their communities. It has created situations where West Mercia has been blocked from achieving major benefits in efficiencies to reinvest in frontline services. It has left West Mercia picking up the significant costs associated with hosting 80% of all Alliance functions. It has left West Mercia locked into a 69:31 cost-sharing model, which does not accurately reflect the higher level of services that Warwickshire actually consumes.


The total cost to the public in West Mercia each year is significant, both in terms of finance and operational policing, and yet West Mercia has been effectively powerless to address any of these issues, without the agreement of Warwickshire. This is why it was ultimately necessary to end the Alliance.

Since serving notice of termination we have ensured robust plans are in place to ensure the full, continued delivery of policing services to our communities. We are fully confident there will be no risks to public safety in West Mercia as a result of the Alliance ending. Simultaneously, we have made numerous offers to Warwickshire for continued collaboration. We have offered support on the specific areas where Warwickshire have requested it, on very reasonable terms. These offers have all been rejected by our Warwickshire counterparts. As things stand, negotiations between all parties have ended, without agreement.

We now anticipate intervention from the Home Office in the coming days to allow further time for Warwickshire to transition to a standalone model. We would have no choice but to respect any decision made by the Home Secretary. We also understand that a high court injunction is being applied for by Warwickshire to try to prevent the termination of the current alliance arrangements.

While we have been clear throughout that we would take an open, reasoned, pragmatic approach to negotiations, we have been unwilling to accept the wrong deal for our communities and our police force. While we would always seek to support another police force, we will not allow West Mercia to be held to ransom. We cannot simply accept the continuation of the current arrangement, which sees West Mercia significantly subsidising a neighbouring force, to the detriment of our police and our communities."

 

Statement from Warwickshire's Chief Constable Martin Jelley and Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Seccombe:


"We can reassure the public that we remain committed to ensuring that policing will continue to be delivered uninterrupted during Warwickshire Police’s transition out of its alliance with West Mercia Police.
 

We have written to the Home Secretary to require West Mercia Police to continue to collaborate with Warwickshire Police across joint business areas which cannot be separated by the two forces by the original October 9 deadline imposed by West Mercia.
 

We are saddened that it should have ever been necessary to make this request to the Home Secretary. Warwickshire’s position from the outset has been that it would be unreasonable and unacceptable for either force to withdraw from joint services in a situation where the other was not ready to transition to new arrangements or whereby separation was not possible in a safe and orderly way.


Throughout the last 12 months of negotiations with West Mercia, we have remained focused on achieving an orderly separation which protects the interests of our communities and our workforce. We have made multiple offers to this effect, which have been refused on each occasion by West Mercia.
 

Nevertheless, we had believed that positive progress had been made in August in agreeing arrangements for the continuation of some shared services while work was undertaken to separate these in a smooth manner. Regrettably, and despite exhaustive negotiations over recent weeks, detailed proposals for new collaboration agreements to cover the services which could not be transitioned by October 9 were taken off the table by West Mercia. As a consequence and in order to deliver a continuation of service, we have therefore had to make this request to the Home  Secretary.


It is difficult to understand West Mercia’s stated position that the decision to terminate the alliance is supported by detailed analysis and strong evidence. We have asked for this to be provided to us throughout the negotiation process, but have received no such detail. It is also significant that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services was similarly unable to uncover any
detailed business case having been produced by West Mercia prior to their decision to terminate what has been a successful seven-year alliance. Similarly, no evidence has been provided to substantiate the claim that West Mercia Police is subsidising Warwickshire Police and we would strongly refute such a suggestion.

The facts remain that West Mercia entered into a revised strategic alliance collaboration agreement with Warwickshire in July 2018, only to terminate that same agreement less than three months later, without ever engaging in any dispute resolution mechanisms or discussing their concerns with us. The timeframe to separate our joint services was set by West Mercia without any proper due diligence having been carried out by them. We have always felt that it was wholly unrealistic to separate what in some cases are highly complex and fully integrated joint services in just 12 months.


Whilst Warwickshire Police will be in a position to stand up a number of services on 9 October, there are a range of services which require more time, where 12 months was never going to be sufficient. It is for the continuation of these services that we have sought the Home Secretary’s intervention.
 

We do not wish to extend joint-working with West Mercia any longer than is necessary to achieve a smooth and safe transition for both forces. We are committed to ensuring this takes place and await details of the Home Secretary’s response.


At the same time, we have been exploring all other options to ensure we can continue to deliver uninterrupted services to the public which ensure their safety and protection. This includes potential legal routes which can be pursued if we believe it necessary to achieve that aim. We remain confident that Warwickshire Police has a strong and exciting future outside of the alliance and our future plans will deliver an improved service to the public."

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