Britain needs to radically change the way it polices itself in order to combat international terrorism, according to Sir Hugh Orde, the head of the country's police chief officers.

Despite calls for more police on the street, the answer to improving the service lies in merging the 44 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland into regional hubs, he said.

Sir Hugh, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the world had changed considerably since the last Royal Commission looked at the role and function of the police.

"The last Royal Commission sat in 1962," he told The Times.

"In 1962 international terrorism wasn't there, the [Northern Ireland] Troubles weren't there, I don't think Dixon of Dock Green was there - the world was a very different place.

"Logic suggests now might be a good time to ask if the structure is fit for purpose.

"We need an independent, thoughtful but not long winded review of what is the best structure to deal with current threats facing the UK at every level."

Sir Hugh, a former chief constable of Northern Ireland who has been a policeman for 33 years, said he did not think there was political will to make the radical changes.

He said the debate about the structure of policing had been hijacked by those obsessed with "anti-social behaviour, dog fouling and bicycles on the pavement".

He said: "They say the solution to everything is more cops on the street - well, no it isn't.

"Local cops don't catch serial terrorists, you don't catch serial rapists with neighbourhood police, murders are not solved by local police, although the local cop is a vital link in the chain."

Sir Hugh said he believes police budgets may be cut by 20 per cent due to the recession.

"There is no more money for the public sector and I can confidently predict cuts in police budgets of 10 to 20 per cent over the next few years.

"We really have to focus on what is important - what keeps people safe, what works and what does not."