Devolution of policing: where next?

Sophie Chambers argues that the option of an All-Wales Police Force should be on the table.

As delegates gathered in Swansea to hear Ed Miliband tell Welsh Labour conference that a future Labour government would hand greater powers over policing to Wales, a Cardiff University fringe meeting saw academics and practitioners discuss what future directions the Welsh Government might consider.


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The general consensus among those in attendance was that policing should be devolved.

Effective policing, it was argued, entails interaction with already devolved public services, and devolving policing would see a better reflection of Welsh circumstances. However, this does raise subsequent questions about how devolved policing might be structured, and how to hold the police to account.

Devolving policing would improve accountability. The Silk Commission found the current situation unsatisfactory, noting that “much of policing is funded from devolved sources, yet strategic police policy is determined by Westminster”. The creation of Police and Crime Commissioners was itself an attempt to enhance accountability, although Leighton Andrews stated his preference for scrapping Commissioners in Wales, should policing be devolved.

Such a move was discussed in the 2013 Stevens report, which called for powers over accountability to return to local authorities. However, this seems largely similar to Police Authorities, previously deemed a failure due to their invisibility to the public, and lack of influence.

Decisions on local policing matters should be devolved to the local level, and it would be foolish to return to the days of attempting to steer local policing centrally, regardless of whether that is from Whitehall or Cardiff. However, how this would operate in practice is difficult to comprehend. A force-level policing board with the leaders of local authorities would inevitably lead to competition over resources, rather than proper scrutiny.

Therefore, could the answer be a single operational structure; an ‘All Wales Police Force’?

Alun Michael noted that a single chief constable is difficult to hold to account, and comparisons were made with the difficulties faced by local boroughs in engaging with the Metropolitan Police. However, it seems invalid to compare Wales with London.

Comparisons with Police Scotland seem more logical, where the creation of 32 local policing units, and 353 neighbourhood units, appears to better respond to local need, and increase visibility. While not without its problems, Police Scotland has only been operational for two years – still in its infancy, and difficult to evaluate comprehensively.

A Police Federation representative noted that it would not be beneficial to devolve policing and change the force structure simultaneously. However, given the current democratic deficit in policing, potential structural changes would be a way of demonstrating how devolving policing could ‘add value’.
Ed Miliband promised delegates that an All-Wales policing plan would be created if a Labour government is elected in May. Perhaps this is a small step on the long road to devolution. If so, it is vital that a broader, evidence based conversation on this topic begins in earnest, but equally that an All-Wales force is kept on the table as an option for providing efficient and effective policing to Wales.

Sophie Chambers is a lecturer and PhD researcher at Cardiff University. Her doctoral research focuses on the police governance reform of Police and Crime Commissioners, and decision-making in relation to Community Safety issues. Cardiff University’s fringe, “Devolution of Policing: where next?” was held at Welsh Labour conference as part of the University’s efforts to critically engage with the policy process in Wales and beyond. Panellists included Sophie Chambers (Cardiff Law School), Professor Martin Innes (Universities’ Police Science Institute, based at Cardiff University), Rt Hon Alun Michael (Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales), and Leighton Andrews AM (Welsh Government Minister of Public Services). The panel was chaired by IWA Director Lee Waters.

8 thoughts on “Devolution of policing: where next?

  1. From a logistics point of view an all-Wales police force would be about as logical as packing eggs in boxes of 5, 7, or 11.

  2. As a former police officer, who is not a Labour Party member, this is one of the few policy ideas emerging from the Senedd that I would wholeheartedly support. I spoke with some barristers recently who said the same thing. It would promote a more focussed approach to police work across the nation, and savings could be made and then re-allocated to frontline services. Despite what some official voices may say, there would be substantial grassroots support for change.

  3. Devolution of the health service or education has clearly not worked and no one has been accountable so how can anyone say give Cardiff even more responsibility, who is going to gain? I can only see extra expense on all police training which will all have to be in Welsh, we can’t send them to England can we? Just watch how much our council rates are going to go up by this year.

  4. My daughter is in the force, and she has argued for this for many years. I agree with Phil Davies that it is the commonsense approach. Sadly, anti-Welsh ideologues will probably prevent it happening.

  5. Oh Barry Phillips, I do so completely agree with every word you have written.

    The last fifteen years have left us with a legacy of over-government, under-education and poor health. Isn’t it time we called and end to this experiment known as ‘devolution in Wales’.

    Who would ever vote for it now?

  6. Barry Phillips & Karen its not devolution that is failing Wales it is 16 years of uninterrupted Labour rule. If you don’t like their policies then vote them out next year.
    Blaming devolution for the failings of the Welsh Labour Government is the equivalent of blaming the House of commons for the policies of David Cameron. Plus it also lets the Labour government off the hook.

  7. The devolution of policing shows the absurdity of the all-Wales level of government.

    First, centralising all the police forces in Wales, following the centralisation of health services and the upcoming centralisation of local government, makes a nonsense of the claims that devolution is all about decentralisation.

    Second, if you really want mega-police forces – and some of us are very suspicious of the whole idea – it makes more sense, in geographical terms, to link South Wales with the West Country, Mid Wales with Mercia, and North Wales with Merseyside. Operationally, North and South Wales have nothing in common.

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