Non-Home Office forces would be merged into a ‘national infrastructure police force’ if the Conservatives are re-elected in June.
Theresa May: Election manifesto
confirms force merger plans
The party plans to bring together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to protect nuclear sites and transport links.
The proposals, revealed in the Conservatives’ manifesto on Thursday (May 18), would also incorporate the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The party intends to extend direct entry to chief constable roles and place police and crime commissioners on local health and wellbeing boards.
However, it ruled out proposals for a second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into media phone hacking, claiming the first investigation was sufficiently wide-ranging.
The manifesto says: “Given the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and given the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing, we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.”
It is the inclusion of proposals to combine the three forces in the manifesto that is most surprising.
The plans were thought to have been delayed until after Brexit negotiations had been concluded.Police Professional
understands that discussions earlier this year considered establishing a separate governance structure outside of the main departments that currently oversee the three forces – the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Nuclear Police Authority.
However, a merger could also lead to them joining the 43 geographic forces under the Home Office governance.
This would have major implications for terms and conditions – particularly in regard to pension arrangements for the CNC and MOD Police.
Officers in these two forces are not subject to the same pension laws, meaning officers cannot retire at 60.
Instead, CNC and MOD Police officers have to work until age 67 or 68.
The Civil Nuclear Police Federation has campaigned against this anomaly, claiming that there is “no prospect” of officers being able to maintain required fitness standards while carrying firearms at that age.
It also remains unclear how plans for a National Infrastructure Police force will work with the merger of BTP and Police Scotland.
MSPs voted to combine the two forces earlier this month, paving the way for Police Scotland to assume responsibility for protecting the country’s railways.
A Conservative spokesperson was unable to provide further clarification at the time of publication.
The Conservatives have attempted to bring the SFO and the NCA together twice before – once in 2011 and again in 2014.
The SFO – which focuses on corruption and white-collar crime – has previously been criticised for making unapproved exit payments to staff and botching an investigation into a property tycoon.
The Conservatives’ plans were criticised by David McCluskey, of law firm Taylor Wessing, who said there is “no doubt that the UK’s reputation as a bastion of the rule of law will be seriously harmed by the demise of its only dedicated serious fraud investigator and prosecutor”.
Jonathan Pickworth, from White & Case, added: “What is the sense in rolling a 30-year-old organisation, with all of its revenue generation, prosecutorial success and extensive experience, into an unproven sprawling agency that is in its infancy, and which has many different priorities?”
The Leveson Inquiry was set up by former Prime Minister David Cameron to examine the culture and ethics of the British media in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
The Inquiry’s terms of reference included a second phase which would have examined how police investigated allegations of phone hacking and corruption.
Mr Cameron committed the coalition government to conduct this second stage in 2012, despite inquiry chair Lord Justice Leveson questioning its value.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised to conduct the second stage of the inquiry as soon as possible.