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Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Rationale for Merger Decision

There are very few absolutes in policing. It is a challenging and fluid environment that is subject to a diverse range of threats, harms and risks.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Rationale for Merger Decision

However, occasionally an approach is developed that demonstrates significant benefits above and beyond all other options. The proposal to merge Dorset Police and Devon & Cornwall Police is one such approach.

I, alongside both the Chief Constables of Dorset and of Devon & Cornwall, have concluded that the creation of a new force for Dorset, Devon and Cornwall will give us the best opportunity to continue to deliver services effectively, and to meet the expectation of our communities.

I wanted to share this document (shown below) with you, in particular the residents of Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, because it is important to give transparency of the process and due diligence of my decision to support the submission of the full business case for the proposed merger to the Home Office.



               To provide an overview of the due diligence undertaken by the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner in respect of reaching a decision on the full business case for the proposed merger of Dorset Police and Devon & Cornwall Police.


1.            BACKGROUND

1.1.           The full business case for the proposed merger between Dorset Police and Devon & Cornwall Police was considered at the Alliance Convergence Board, held on 25 September 2018.

1.2.           Whilst the two Chief Constables and the two Police and Crime Commissioners agreed the business case, we were unable to reach a unanimous decision to submit it to the Home Office.

1.3.           The Devon and Cornwall PCC's view was not to support the submission for two reasons: equalisation of the policing element of the council tax precept and the public consultation results.

1.4.           I will clearly set out my views on those matters, and touch on the views of the Chief Constables, both Forces’ executives and the Home Office. Furthermore, I will also outline my rationale that the creation of a new force for Cornwall, Devon and Dorset gives us the best opportunity to continue to deliver services effectively, and meet the expectation of our communities.


2.            HISTORY    

2.1.           The two forces began working together formally in an alliance in 2015. This was conceived by the then PCCs, myself, and the former PCC for Devon & Cornwall, Tony Hogg. This remains the only PCC led Strategic Alliance in England and Wales.

2.2.            On 17 March 2017, the two PCCs wrote to the two Chief Constables seeking an update on progress towards a joint operating model between the two forces.

2.3.            At the time there were two separate operating models running and, whilst we had feedback on our respective programmes, we thought it helpful to develop a clear understanding of joint progress, especially in light of Devon and Cornwall’s HMICFRS report on effectiveness and efficiency.

2.4.            The Chiefs determined that, given the effectiveness of the strategic alliance, it would be appropriate for one of the options for a joint operating model to be a full merger between the forces.

2.5.            The PCCs met with the Policing Minister to hear his initial view on this approach and, receiving no notes of concern, the Chief Constables proceeded to brief the 26 MPs across the Alliance, the vast majority of whom were neutral or supportive of this further work at that stage. This allowed the two Chiefs to make a public announcement on 6 September 2017.

2.6.            Over the past year, a full convergence programme has been stood up, with a full local governance and support and oversight from the Home Office, allowing a business case to be developed according to Government guidelines.

2.7.            The outline business case considered the options for further collaboration, discounting several (including other bluelight collaboration) and arrived at three shortlisted options as follows:

  • maintain existing state (ie complete pending alliance business cases, but do nothing more);
  • extend strategic alliance; and
  • full merger of the forces.

2.8.           The outline case concluded that the option to proceed with full merger provided the best public value of the three shortlisted options, and was the preferred option. All four Chiefs and PCCs agreed this outline case, and it was shared with the Home Office on 17 April 2018.



3.1.           Whilst it is the Chiefs and PCCs who ‘own’ the business case and determine whether it should be submitted, the decision to merge police force areas is one for Government, and is subject to a Parliamentary process. As a result, it is the Home Office who have set the requirements for the business case (compliant with HM Treasury methodology), and the assessment criteria, as follows:

A. Does the merger proposal have a clear economic basis? [Including a clear and viable path for precept equalisation.]
B. Will the merger improve the efficiency of the police?
C. Will the merger improve the effectiveness of policing in the area?
D. Will the merger have an impact on public safety?
E. Does the proposal have sufficient local support?

3.2.           I will briefly set out my rationale for supporting the submission of the business case to Government, based on each of their assessment criteria.



3.3.           Home Office economists advised us to follow HM Treasury methodology to assess the economic benefits of each of the shortlisted options. This process allows an expert panel to reasonably quantify, through a series of structured cost-benefit analyses, the relative economic benefits of each option; the results of which are as follows (with further detail in the financial business case):



Weighting (%)

Weighted score


Existing state


Extend alliance

Improved Service to the Public





More Resilient & Sustainable Service





Increased Operational Efficiency





Increased Accountability





Increased National Influence











3.4.           In summary, the current alliance operations were providing benefit, and this benefit could be increased by extending the alliance; but the most significant gains would come via full merger. The most important deliverable of the merger would be an ‘improved service to the public’.

3.5.           This work was led by Local Partnerships, who supported and helped write the business case. Local Partnerships is jointly owned by HM Treasury, the Local Government Association and the Welsh Government, and has previously worked on a range of local government devolution, transformation and merger programmes. Both Chiefs and PCCs agreed the conclusion that a merger would provide the greatest economic benefit.



3.6.           The finance leads for the four decision-making organisations determined a range of options for precept equalisation, working closely alongside officials from the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

3.7.           The difference in the band D council tax in 2018/19 is £18 between the two forces, with Dorset residents paying more. This £18 difference is a relatively small cash amount compared to other mergers (for example, the current local government reform underway in Dorset) but nevertheless I take my responsibility as a precept setting authority seriously, and fully considered the potential impact of these changes on all local council taxpayers within the merged force area.

3.8.           The business case contains three models, all of which would equalise quickly, would at least maintain current levels of funding (and hence would not negatively affect establishment), and were modelled across a range of circumstances to show robustness.

3.9.           All the Chiefs and PCCs considered these models, and agreed that the impact for the council taxpayer is relatively modest and therefore have included them in the business case. The three agreed models (the third model, alternative notional amount or ANA, has three sub-options) are:



D&C Change

Dorset Change


Precept breakeven

+ £6

- £13

No change in establishment.

Equalise up partially

+ £9

- £10

110 uplift compared to breakeven.

Single year ANA 1

+ £6

- £13

Small offset in merger costs, no uplift.

Single year ANA 2

+ £7

- £12

Modest offset in merger costs, 20 uplift.

Single year ANA 3

+ £9

- £9

Significant offset in merger costs, 90 uplift.


3.10.         I confirm, as precepting authorities, both PCCs signed off these options for inclusion in the business case as being acceptable to local taxpayers.

3.11.         Additionally, the Devon & Cornwall PCC has been keen to pursue the option of ‘equalising up’ – where Dorset maintains its precept as is, and Devon & Cornwall increases its precept by £18.

3.12.         This is a sensitive option, as it is well understood that any option that significantly increases the local taxpayer burden would not be considered favourably by either local taxpayers, or by Government whom have set out a clear desire to keep local taxation low.

3.13.         The Devon & Cornwall PCC has stated that the Home Office blocked the equalise up option, citing this as one of the two reasons why she is minded to not submit the business case.

3.14.         In response, the Home Office issued this statement: “The Home Office will reserve judgement until a business case has been submitted on the matter – it is therefore incorrect to say that we have blocked any proposal to increase the number of officers for Devon and Cornwall Police.”

3.15.         The Home Office statement is correct. The Government must reserve judgement on any proposal until a business case is formally submitted.

3.16.         Precept setting is a complex subject. The Home Office requested that the business case set out a “clear and viable path” for precept equalisation, to demonstrate that the merger could work without relying on excessive support from local taxpayers. The models included provide that assurance.

3.17.         However, in the absence of clear plans to reform the funding formula, it is appropriate to show what might be done to improve policing services. Therefore, I suggested that the ‘equalise up’ option remains on the table, and could be included in the above list of agreed models. Despite clearly stating that this is her preferred model, the Devon & Cornwall PCC has rejected the suggestion to include this in the list of preferred models.

3.18.         This work has been led by the four finance leads, and an agreed position reached by both PCCs and Chiefs. The Devon & Cornwall PCC is incorrect in her subsequent assessment of the Home Office position, and is incorrect to withdraw the business case before it can be formally considered.




3.19.         The results of the quantitative appraisal of the costs and benefits of each option over a ten-year period, are shown below. Merge is assessed as delivering the largest net quantifiable benefit - £70.5m over ten years, compared to extending the alliance which could potentially deliver £37.5m.


Net Present Value (over ten years)

Existing State

Extend Alliance


Benefits (£,000s)




Costs (£,000s)




Less Optimism Bias and Risks (£,000s)




TOTAL (£,000s)





3.20.         Whilst neither the Chiefs, nor the PCCs, sought to make cost savings, and indeed the economic basis shows that by far the most important aim was to deliver an improved service to the public, efficiency savings are nonetheless an important consideration in any business case.

3.21.         It is evident from the cost-benefit analysis and the qualitative appraisal that the merger option will deliver a significant net quantifiable benefit and is considered most likely by expert opinion to deliver the five benefit outcomes targeted. Further detail on this can be found in the financial case.

3.22.         This work was managed by the four finance leads of the decision-making organisations, and this conclusion was agreed by both Chiefs and PCCs.

3.23.         Subsequently, the Devon & Cornwall PCC has stated that the merger may not be worth the “relatively minor savings” it would achieve. I do not consider £70.5m savings minor, especially given reducing central funding, and therefore, I do not concur with this conclusion.

3.24.         PRODUCTIVITY

3.25.         The business case also examined productivity improvements that would deliver better efficiencies. A merge would remove the need for two separate operational command structures, one in each force. Put simply, a merged force would need fewer supervisors and managers.

3.26.         The savings from these posts would be reinvested in the frontline. The Chiefs agree that a merged force could realistically provide up to a possible 146 further officers/staff through this more efficient command structure. These changes would happen naturally, over time, as people left posts.

3.27.         Separately, a merger would generate initial financial savings of £3.4m, which could deliver approximately 100 additional officers/staff. The Chief Constables have again committed that these additional resources would be in frontline policing roles.

3.28.         This means that the merged force would be able to deliver 100 additional frontline officers/staff (ie an increase in establishment) almost immediately, and then a further potential 146 additional frontline officers/staff as the efficiencies brought about by the merger began to embed.

3.29.         This work was carried out by the operational leads across both forces, and the conclusions were then signed off by both Chiefs and PCCs. Subsequently, the Devon & Cornwall PCC has stated that: “the only investment we can make from the merger is 100 additional officers…”. This statement is not consistent with the business case.



3.30.         The merge proposal arose from a desire to improve joined up effectiveness, across both forces. It is unexpected, therefore, that the business case outlines several key benefits of a single operating and delivery model. These benefits permeate every aspect of policing, and would bring about a radical improvement in effectiveness.

3.31.         For example, a single, joined-up operating and delivery model would see the removal of the current structural inhibitors to service delivery and would lead to a more efficient, effective and resilient service to the public across the whole of the new force area.

3.32.         The business case also shows that a merged force could deliver its functions better than the current arrangements. Concerning the inspection regime, HMICFRS assessments and Force Management Statements in particular, the two forces share many areas for improvement, and a single improvement plan would enable an overall uplift in performance and effectiveness.

3.33.         Similarly, force insight, analysis and management processes would improve through the benefit of a single delivery and inspection model. A merged force would work to a single Police and Crime Plan, and a single vision and mission. These would enable a single understanding of demand, allowing the merged force to develop more clearly its prevention and early intervention activities.

3.34.         The operational leads carried out this work across both forces, and both Chiefs and PCCs then signed off the conclusions.



3.35.         The merged force would be the largest territorial force in England and Wales, with the longest stretch of coastline and vast rural areas. The resilience provided by larger rural/coastal teams and the ability to move resources freely across this area would be vital in improving public safety in the more sparsely populated areas.

3.36.         Alliance teams already benefit from this resilience, this opportunity to share practice and ability to test new ideas and initiatives for public benefit; but a merged force would allow this to occur at the local policing level and hence improve the connectivity between policing and the public.

3.37.          The creation of a single force would provide a powerful opportunity to speak with one voice for the citizens of the three counties. Whilst there is an expectation that this voice would be heard outside of the south west, it is within the local area that the most significant opportunities lie.

3.38.          A merged force would be better able to engage, lever, support and co-commission joint work with partners. Challenges, particularly around prevention and harm reduction as the population continues to age, will require proactive working with health partners, undertaking joint needs assessments, integrating commissioning approaches, connecting data and processes and brigading a whole system approach to bring about tangible improvements to public safety.

3.39.          Finally, as has been addressed in the above three sections, a merged force would provide better value for public money (economic basis), greater economies of scale (efficiency) and a more capable service that delivers better public outcomes (effectiveness). All three of these functions will have direct positive impacts on public safety.

3.40.          The operational leads carried out this work across both forces, and both Chiefs and PCCs then signed off the conclusions.



3.41.          As the merger is a voluntary proposal there was no legal requirement for a consultation, however there is a legal requirement for PCCs to seek the views of the public. Furthermore, the Home Office gave clear guidance regarding which stakeholders and policing bodies it considers engagement with vital (local MPs, local authorities and staff and unions, and the local public).

3.42.          I will consider these stakeholders groups briefly in turn. The Home Office outlined the requirement of ‘sufficient support’ from these groups, which was achieved throughout.

3.43.          We have engaged with our MPs on numerous occasions, including an initial confidential briefing by the two Chiefs, then a session in Westminster by both Chiefs and PCCs. This was in addition to our usual engagement as part of business as usual. A single MP has voiced concerns, but overall, the 26 MPs of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are broadly supportive and remain engaged with the merger process. This is important given the later Parliamentary process.

3.44.          We approached local authorities who suggested the best way to provide a pan-Dorset briefing was through the existing Dorset Councils Leaders Growth Board, and the Chief and PCC briefed this board of Leaders and Chief Executives in early July, providing a headline briefing that was well received. Two unitary authorities in Devon & Cornwall have set out their concerns about the merger, Plymouth and Cornwall, as well as have less than ten district/town/parish councils across both force areas. Taking into account these concerns, importantly including the nature of the concerns raised, we still have a picture of broad support.

3.45.          Similarly, our unions and staff associations, whilst raising some concerns, are broadly supportive. This is taking into account the recent survey undertaken by Unison in Dorset, to which some 15% of police staff responded. Many of the concerns from this survey, whilst valid and in need of action on the force’s part, were not on matters substantially related to the merger.

3.46.          Finally, the combined responses to the headline questions of the public consultation are as follows:


Public Consultation Responses (n = 11,821)




As the police forces already work closely together, a merger seems like the next logical step




I don’t mind how the police are organised, as long as my community is safe




I can see the benefits of the merger over working together in a strategic alliance












3.47.          The Devon & Cornwall PCC stated that: “the views of the public through our merger engagement survey did not demonstrate to me that the public were sufficiently supportive of the proposal” and “that we must consider all of the survey data - including the staff survey - in the round.”

3.48.          Considering all the data, in the round, the results are as above, and are broadly supportive.

3.49.          The Devon & Cornwall PCC also states that: “The other three corporation soles are of the view that the representative telephone survey… should be the focal point for consideration of the public’s view. I do not agree that this is the case and have given equal weight in reaching my decision to the views expressed by all…”

3.50.          This is a technical point, which I will address. Before I do, I must make two things clear.

3.51.          Firstly, my view, as described above by the Devon & Cornwall PCC, is not a view. It is a position, informed by fact; our own professional advisers; the external research company commissioned to manage the consultation; and Government Officials.

3.52.          Secondly, other than the telephone survey, which was delivered by the research company, public engagement was the responsibility of the PCCs. I devoted the entire 8-week period to attending public places and events to meet the public face-to-face. This is reflected in the Dorset figures.

3.53.          It is clear having now examined the numbers that Cornwall received far less attention from the Devon & Cornwall PCC than Devon; and that direct engagement in Devon & Cornwall was comparatively lower than in Dorset. On the first point, 37 public events and meetings were attended in Devon during the consultation period, 22 in Dorset but just nine in Cornwall. And on the second, looking at the number of face-to-face respondents in each county the figures are even more stark, with 640 individuals completing the survey face-to-face in Dorset, but just 310 in Devon and a mere 76 in Cornwall.

3.54.          Now, on the technical matter of the survey. The research company advised that the consultation: “was designed to ensure that anyone who wished to could contribute, as well as achieving a representative sample of residents through a telephone survey. This mixed methodology led to varied results.”

3.55.          Different methodologies carry with them different strengths and weaknesses, and as such some will yield significantly more reliable and valid results. This is factual and not open to interpretation.

3.56.          Online surveys allow for the greatest number of respondents and are relatively simple and cost effective to administer. However, such surveys suffer from self-selection bias – where people with specific views might choose to complete, or not, the survey.

3.57.          Telephone surveys are significantly less affected by self-selection bias as respondents are chosen at random. They are however more difficult and expensive to administer.

3.58.          The research company advised that a representative sample of around 2000 individuals would yield results with a high level of reliability and validity. In the end, 2053 individuals completed the survey via telephone. Further advice was that these results could be supported and supplemented by the other survey methods (online, and face-to-face) as those methods would likely provide more detailed free text responses (ie respondents are more likely to add in further comments in the online survey than they would through the other methods).

3.59.          Our results therefore fall into two broad categories: a representative telephone survey, randomly selected, but controlled for variables such as age, gender and location; and an open online and face-to-face survey where individuals self-selected and there were no controls in place meaning the sample was unrepresentative.

3.60.          Looking at the demographics of respondents, there are also sufficient grounds to discount the online survey results due to the fact that the sample was disproportionately completed by the middle-aged (55 to 74 year olds), by men (59%), and that there was little representation from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.

3.61.          With this in mind, my conclusion, as well as that of the two Chief Constables, Government Officials, the research company and our internal advisers is that there are sufficient grounds to justify public support.


  1. 4.               CONCLUSION

4.1.            The above sets out my detailed rationale for reaching the decision to support the submission of the business case for merge to the Home Office. Whilst these are my grounds, I am not alone in reaching that same conclusion.

4.2.            Each of the two PCCs has placed in the public domain a document that they purport to provide their rationale and outline how they came to their decision on the merge.

4.3.            I make the point that rationale is not simply stating that you believe one particular course of action to be preferable. Rationale is explaining why you believe this to be the case. Rationale is citing evidence that supports your position. Rationale is offering the supporting positions of others who can reasonably be considered experts, or at least are significantly knowledgeable in this area.

4.4.            It is immensely disappointing that, bearing in mind the significance of the decision, and that she is an outlier amongst the four decision makers, that the Devon & Cornwall PCC has chosen not to provide the required level of detail, or clearly set out a robust evidence base for her decision.

Martyn Underhill

Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset


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