- Cotswolds will not be part of the Gloucestershire Police district if it joins West Oxfordshire
- Councillors seemed unaware of legal position on policing
- Gloucestershire councils called upon to review its ‘devolution’ bid
- Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to broker a solution?
The proposed defection of the Cotswolds to neighbouring West Oxfordshire to create a new council could signal the end of Gloucestershire Police as we know it.
The county’s constabulary – the second oldest in the UK – could find itself in competition with Thames Valley Police if Cotswold District Council goes ahead with its plan to form a unitary authority with West Oxfordshire, or ‘Coxit’ as it is known.
Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl has been told by leading counsel that breaking-up a police district would have serious implications for one of the two adjoining police forces under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
The legislation is invoked when a council breaks away to create a new authority with a neighbouring council in a different police district. That could lead to the Cotswolds becoming part of the Thames Valley Police District, a development that threatens Gloucestershire Constabulary’s independence.
The final decision would be made by the Secretary of State.
The potential crisis has arisen following the Government’s move to encourage local authorities to bid for more power and control over spending, a process known as devolution. The case for Gloucestershire has been developed by Gloucestershire County Council, the six district councils, GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
If successful, devolution would give the county responsibility for public services and more say over social care and health spending, local transport networks, business rates, education and infrastructure. But the bid would be seriously weakened if Gloucestershire was seen as divided.
Mr. Surl, who met with Cotswold District Council Leader Lyndon Stowe and Chief Executive David Neudegg to find out why members were considering breaking away and to warn of the threat to local policing, said:
“As soon as the Cotswolds question arose, I asked my chief executive to look into the legal position. Councillor Stowe and I had a very constructive meeting and it was clear that although he was unaware the council’s proposed link-up with West Oxfordshire had implications for the Constabulary, he told me he had no desire to see the break-up of Gloucestershire Police or for the Cotswolds to be policed by Thames Valley.
“Councillor Stowe’s dilemma is that he can see advantages in forming a new alliance with West Oxfordshire, which he feels may not be achieved under the proposals put forward by Gloucestershire. I have some sympathy because, as I have said before, it is hard to argue that a county which already has seven councils can benefit from a further layer of bureaucracy on top. I’m sure that is not what the Government has in mind either.
“I hope the council leaders can see how vitally important it is for Gloucestershire to remain united because so far they have been unable to agree on a way forward. That could depend on some people being prepared to give things up – yet everyone has been very quiet until now on how that might be decided”.