Scotland Yard has confirmed that a controversial merger of local command units is to be rolled-out across the capital.
Historically the Met has policed along local council boundaries, with each borough having its own allocation of officers, vehicles and dedicated borough commander. However, in response to cuts in the force’s budgets, it’s been trialling a new structure in which borough commands are abolished and resources pooled across several boroughs.
This new Basic Command Unit model has proven controversial with many local politicians who fear it will make the Met less accountable to local communities and harm its ability to deliver a reliable policing presence.
Politicians in Lambeth last year expressed concern that “removing a dedicated Borough Commander for Lambeth would be detrimental to our communities, to our visitors and tourists and to our local businesses.”
Such concerns were heightened after response times in the trial areas soared, with Barking council leader Darren Rodwell claiming his local BCU “was under resourced and…unable to provide proactive and visible policing at this moment in time”.
Performance did later improve, but only after resources were re-targeted along borough lines.
Despite the criticisms, both the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and Scotland Yard have previously insisted the changes will offer better and more integrated local policing, while helping to save money.
Today the Met confirmed that the wider roll-out would go ahead over the next 12 months, leaving the force with 12 regional commands:
- Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster,
- Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Wandsworth
- Bromley, Croydon, Sutton
- Bexley, Greenwich, Lewisham
- Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge
- Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow
- Lambeth, Southwark
- Enfield, Haringey
- Hackney, Tower Hamlets
- Camden, Islington
- Barnet, Brent, Harrow
- Newham, Waltham Forest
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmons said: “Local policing is at the heart of what the Met does every day, and we will improve it further by offering a service that is more personal and responsive to the needs of Londoners.
“BCUs will allow us to put first victims of crime and those people who need us the most.
“Our new structure will also give us the resilience and consistency we need across the whole of London, so we can continue to respond to large scale incidents and meet the financial and operational challenges we are facing.”
News of the roll-out was confirmed in a Met press release.
In a separate statement issued by City Hall, Mayor Sadiq Khan said today’s decision “has been driven by cuts from central Government to the Met’s budget, and the need to improve policing to meet the demands of London.”
Promising that the roll-out “will only be taken forward in a measured way,” he added: “the new units will be designed for every area of London in order to meet the needs of local people and tackle local priorities, while I will continue to press the government to deliver the funding needed to keep Londoners safe.”
Despite such assurances, concerns persist.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “I remain seriously concern that the merger of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Basic Command Units will lead to senior officers being removed from supervising the streets they know best and resources being stretched ever more thinly across three boroughs.
“While I understand the need to make significant savings, I do not believe that the financial savings would outweigh the negative impacts of pooling senior officers across the three areas.
“These merger plans are a false economy for which we may end up paying a high price.”
Conservative London Assembly member Steve O’Connell said: “At a time when crime is rising across the board, the Mayor is gambling with the safety of Londoners by launching a scheme which, when trialled, was inconclusive in its effectiveness.
“In rolling out these major changes all at once, there is a risk lower-crime boroughs will be neglected and satisfaction levels with our police service could decline.
“Having taken his eye off the ball on knife crime, the Mayor now needs to make sure he gives a greater level of scrutiny to the roll-out of this controversial scheme to ensure its impact is positive, not negative.”
Unmesh Desai AM, Labour’s London Assembly Policing and Crime Spokesperson, commented: “The Mayor has a major task in grappling with government cuts, but it’s reassuring to see that in making those savings we’re not seeing a reduction in frontline staff. In fact, the Mayor is increasing local officers to at least two in every ward in London.
“We know that the pilot mergers had some serious problems, not least in terms of increased response times, and we raised concerns with the Mayor and the Commissioner. It’s clear a lot of work went into ironing out those issues.
“This will be a gradual roll out, but we’ll be monitoring the situation carefully to ensure enough preparation goes in so that any problems that do arise can be pre-empted and addressed at the earliest opportunity.”