Softly, Softly

Angus Macpherson is Police & Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire Police.  He recently told a business breakfast meeting that the police were now working as a region, taking in Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, but, he added, “We will not lose Wiltshire Police – neighbourhood members of the police, working and living in local communities.  It will be a collaboration of services, but based in Wiltshire.”  He said that 29 people had been taken out of the management structure by co-operating on a regional basis.

Regional co-operation over policing was only to be expected.  The fire service already has a control room network in place that is shared between four of the brigades serving southern and central Wessex, stretching from Plymouth to Aldershot.  The ambulance service, run for the past 40 years as part of a centralised NHS and therefore immune from democratic local input, has been almost wholly regionalised.
The paradox for the Coalition is that they want to save money but don’t want to admit that one way to do this is to share certain services on a regional basis.  This service-sharing is not widely publicised, because it undermines the repeated claims that England doesn’t need regionalism.  The risk is that England goes on pragmatically building a regional tier of administration while dogmatically rejecting a regional tier of government.  In other words, that the regional tier goes on being managerialist instead of democratic, that it goes on existing outside formal, accountable structures.  It would be better if everyone owned up; then we could start putting in place arrangements to make regions like Wessex a political reality and not just a series of deals in the shadows.

Modern local government was created to join up and make sense of a host of overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions; regional government is needed to do the same at the wider scale.

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