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Devolve policing powers Welsh government tells Home Office

Wales is renewing its push to take control of policing decisions.

Welsh politicians are increasing pressure on the Home Office to relinquish control of their four forces – and the demand is being backed by Police Federation leaders.

The Welsh government has set out plans to take full control of the justice system and policing.

Details were set out in the policy document Delivering Justice for Wales. It follows elections that included the proposals as manifesto commitments.

It's been discussed since the 1990s and the case was set out by the Thomas Commission in 2019. Today's report is a step closer to making it a reality.

The Welsh government argues the response to COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses in the current arrangements where the four Welsh forces work by goodwill with Welsh government departments due to the lack of formal powers.

The report said: “Success was built on relationships and voluntary actions rather than having the right system in place, while working with English-based agencies added needless complexity to decision making.”

The document added: We also believe it is inevitable that it will happen — so we have a duty to prepare for it.”

And the Police Federation has signalled it is in favour of the change. A critical factor for support has been work to create the Police Covenant.

Officials have hit a stumbling block because elements of provision – such as health services – are devolved matters.

Wales Fed Chair Nicky Ryan told Police Oracle: “This has to be negotiated. The Home Office cannot dictate what the Welsh health service can do. It’s something chief officers are having to work quite hard on.”

The national Federation are also backing the change and are due to meet First Minister Mark Drakeford.

New Chair Steve Hartshorn told the Home Secretary at the annual conference last week: “We need you to take account of the devolved functions in Wales, and to work with the Senedd to ensure our valued members in Wales are not left out when you make decisions in Westminster.

“I rightly hear from my Welsh colleagues about announcements made in Westminster that take no account of the devolved functions in Wales and the impact on policing in that country.”

Members of the Welsh Assembly are also backing the plans.  Ahead of the report launch, politicians had debated the proposals.

Senedd member Mike Hedges (Lab) said the case for change was “overwhelming”.

“Many of levers to impact on crime had already been devolved: community safety, training, drug treatment and mental health. The police don’t operate in isolation.”

He argued that the powers devolved to mayors in Manchester and Yorkshire should also now go to the Welsh government.

Mr Hedges said: “The four police and crime commissioners currently report to the Home Secretary. They should be reporting to here.”

But the politicians have stopped short of a complete cut off from Westminster.

Under the proposals, the National Crime Agency, counter terrorism, MI5 and mutual aid arrangements would all continue to be overseen by Westminster.

Mr Hedges said: “We know that crime and terrorism cross borders, more so now than ever before.”

And the Federation itself will not break up.

Ms Ryan told Police Oracle: “I don’t ever think we would go down that route because there’s always strength in numbers. We do need to take PFEW with us on our journey.”

But there is one change that won’t be happening.

Alun Michael, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales and one of the movers for the change, has rejected calls from Dyfed Pwys Chief Constable Richard Lewis for all four forces to be merged to create a national equivalent of Police Scotland.

He said: “Could it be done? Yes, of course, because it’s always possible to do things wrong. It’s always possible to run the reactive element of policing on a bigger footprint – Wales, perhaps, or the regions of England.

“But the price of that spurious simplicity would be the loss of identity, loss of roots and most important of all the loss of partnership and accountability. That’s why ‘regionalisation’ has always been a step too far.”

There are signs that the Westminster government isn’t going to relinquish control easily – as the new report admitted. The final decision rests with the Home Office.

“Despite the near unarguable conclusions of the Thomas Commission, and despite the clear mandate of the Welsh people, the UK Government continues to set itself against any significant change,” it said.

Conservative Senedd member Mark Isherwood has called for a benefit analysis to be carried out and consultation with the public.

He has also claimed some officers in North Wales Police have privately argued they have a closer affiliation with north-west England than the rest

“There is a lack of competence in Welsh Government to handle the devolution of policing,” he said.

“With Crime and Justice operating on an East-West axis, North Wales Police share services including regional organised crime, firearms, intelligence, custody, property and forensics with their sister Forces in North West England.”

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