HAMPSHIRE Police are considering leaving Winchester completely as part of cost-cutting measures.
The force was due to relocate its headquarters from Romsey Road to Mottisfont Court, but the Hampshire Chronicle understands that plan could be scrapped.
Talks have been ongoing with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service about merging ‘back office’ services, and potentially sharing an HQ in Eastleigh.
The police are in discussions with two potential buyers for their current HQ, and could be close to accepting an offer.
It comes just days after it was revealed that the ‘white elephant’ Alpha Park — the Chandler’s Ford base bought six years ago for £9m — has finally been sold at a loss for the taxpayer.
Now the Chronicle has learned that the police could be on the verge of shelving plans to relocate in Winchester — despite having bought Mottisfont Court on the High Street from the county council for £1.5m and planning to move 150 staff there.
While there is no official word on the idea, it will cause speculation that the fire service HQ in Leigh Road, Eastleigh, could be the perfect location.
The idea is given weight by the Government’s proposal to scrap fire authorities, in favour of a PCC taking charge of both organisations.
The idea, mooted last November by justice minister Damian Green, was welcomed by Hampshire PCC Simon Hayes, who supports any plan for closer working.
And in a meeting last week in London in which Mr Green addressed all PCCs, it was said to be once again at the forefront of discussions and something the Government is keen to bring in.
Now it is understood that Hampshire has been asked to consider piloting the idea that aims to increase accountability, and driving through reform in the fire service. It is not clear if and when that will happen.
The current boss of Hampshire Fire Authority, Royston Smith, criticised the idea.
Cllr Smith, the former Tory leader of Southampton City Council, said: “The only synergy with police and fire is that they are two uniformed organisations — but what they do is very different. It is something that someone has looked at — with all due respect to them — without knowing the details of the two jobs.
“If the whole driving force is to find an efficiency, the efficiency is so miniscule it is almost not worth doing.
“For efficiencies, fire and ambulance works better than fire and police. It is more than a step too far. It is something that I don’t think will work at all.”
Already this month, Hampshire police, which employs 5,702 (3,470 of them police officers) has asked Band D taxpayers to find an extra £5 a year to offset spending cuts.
As previously reported, in the wake of making savings of more than £50m, the force now faces finding a way to slice another £25m from its budget.
At the fire service, where there are 1,929 employees, the situation doesn’t seem quite so desperate.
This week it was revealed there is no plan to raise council tax this year due to a £2.5m surplus, having already strived to make savings through a variety of forms including freezing recruitment.
But a report due to go before Hampshire Fire Authority reveals a funding gap of £12m in three years’ time — and that residents should expect council tax increases from 2015 onwards.
Mr Hayes said: “The estates strategy of the force is built on working with other publicly-funded bodies, and we are talking to Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service about opportunities we might have in the future.
“Selling Alpha Park gives us some capital to reinvest in new locations for us.”
John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, said: “If this is a genuine way forward then I think the idea has got merit. But we would really have to look at the governance around it and it would need a close eye.
“As an alternative to privatising chunks of the police force, I think it’s a good idea and importantly, it keeps the ownership local, but I’d like to see the detail.”