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Edwina Hart ,Minister for Social Justice and Regneration
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a further statement on the review of police force structures, following the written statement made by the Home Secretary on Monday. Things have moved on rapidly since my last statement. I have remained actively engaged in these developments, both by correspondence and through ministerial discussions.

In December, options for future structures were put forward by police forces. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has since considered each option against a range of criteria. The first stage of this work, assessing the level of protective services provided by each option, is now complete. As a result of HMIC’s assessment, the Home Secretary has announced that, in Wales and in three English regions, only certain options have been assessed as being suitable for further consideration.

For Wales, only the one-force option has met the HMIC’s protective services criteria. The Home Secretary’s statement on Monday made it clear that HMIC will still needs to test the one-force option against organisational resilience, affordability, precepting and the impact on the wider criminal justice system. The remaining assessments will be completed soon.
The Home Secretary called a meeting with the chief constables and the chairs of police authorities in Wales on Monday to discuss the way forward. I understand that, pending the remaining assessments, he has asked them to work with his officials over the next few weeks to address the key finance and organisational issues, and any other issues, involved in successfully implementing a strategic force. He has also asked them to indicate, by 24 February, whether they are prepared to sign up to a voluntary merger.

I know that Members share some important concerns about the future of police service structures in Wales. I need to put on record again the central fact that this is not a devolved matter and that it is for the Home Secretary to take decisions, based on the professional assessments that are laid before him. Within that framework, nevertheless, legitimate concerns have been expressed by the Assembly about the important, related issues of finance and democratic accountability. I am pleased to be able to report some progress on these matters.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from Hazel Blears responding to each of the points that I have raised with the Home Office over the past two months, by correspondence and in discussion. That letter confirms that the Home Office now fully appreciates the particular democratic circumstances that we have in Wales, and the need to ensure sufficient democratic representation on any new strategic police authority. Future arrangements for Wales will now allow for all local authorities to be represented, and the Home Office will work with the Assembly on the selection of the independent members of a strategic police authority.
 
On the democratic structures that will underpin a new strategic police authority, the Home Office has listened to our views about the need for a sub-regional level of accountability in Wales. In my view, it is not necessary for these arrangements to be based in statute; it is more important that we have robust working arrangements that operate effectively. As a result of these discussions, the Assembly now has a further opportunity to agree a view as to how such a regional structure would operate and to contribute that thinking to the Home Office. In this area of democratic structures and accountability, the Home Office has also agreed two further important arrangements that I want to pass on to Members. First, senior members of any Welsh SPA will have specific geographical responsibilities, with a parallel arrangement in any strategic police force, to ensure that each area has a strong and distinct voice at a strategic level. Secondly, accountability at a local level will be determined in Wales, and the Police and Justice Bill provides us with flexibility on that point.
 
Given the legislative constraints, I have agreed with Hazel Blears that we would reach a view on our plans for regional and local accountability quickly. The timetable for the Police and Justice Bill is very tight. I have, therefore, already written to the Chair of the Social Justice and Regeneration Committee to ask if the committee would—building on the excellent report that it prepared last year—reach a view on these matters on behalf of the Assembly over the next few weeks.

In relation to financing the costs of restructuring, I have made the Minister of State well aware of our concerns and the potential impact on Welsh council tax payers. I reinforced the importance of the restructuring and level 2 costs being met by Whitehall, and I shall continue to do that. Work on examining the detailed costings continues, and the Home Office wishes to wait until that work is complete before taking any final decisions on how the costs will be met or resources allocated. In my view, it is essential that this work is completed in time to inform the police authorities’ decisions on voluntary mergers.

Finally, I have been in dialogue with the Home Office about the arrangements that will need to be put in place to determine future policing priorities in Wales, should a single force be agreed. I am pleased to report that the Assembly Government will, in future, be more fully involved in the development of the national community safety plan. I intend to continue to develop our discussions about this matter in the future.
 
My aim in all of this has been to ensure that the Home Office is fully aware of the particular context within which its responsibilities are exercised in Wales. I have been concerned to convey the points that have been made by Members and to sensitise decision making in key areas, such as finance and democratic accountability. This is an ongoing process, in which the Assembly will now continue to be engaged and on which I will report further in due course.