Anger at plans for smaller police forces

FURY erupted in Suffolk last night after the Home Secretary announced plans to merge some of England's smaller police forces.The demise of England and Wales's smaller police forces was signalled by Home Secretary David Blunkett yesterday.

FURY erupted in Suffolk last night after the Home Secretary announced plans to merge some of England's smaller police forces.

The demise of England and Wales's smaller police forces was signalled by Home Secretary David Blunkett yesterday.

He published new plans to make police more accountable to their local communities - including a suggestion that the existing set-up of 43 forces was out of date.

David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: "Under no circumstances will I accept the abolition of the Suffolk constabulary and its merger with Norfolk or any other counties in East Anglia.


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"Any such move would be diametrically opposed to the concept of locally accountable policing. We would be introducing distant, lofty and managerial structures based miles away from the people they are meant to serve.

"It just would not work. And there is no way this could tie in with the Home Secretary's ideas of directly elected police boards.

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"It's a stunning contradiction and totally muddled."

A Home Office document suggested developing larger, "strategic" forces which were big enough to deal with all the demands of modern policing.

It could mean the end for smaller forces - although no candidates for merger were named in the consultation paper, it is likely that smaller and more rural constabularies such as Suffolk and Norfolk are on the list.

It was the first time the Home Office had indicated that such a move was being considered.

An East of England regional force which also includes Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire would bring policing into line with long term plans for directly elected regional parliaments.

Richard Spring, Tory MP for West Suffolk, said: "It makes no sense to suggest local accountability at the same time as proposing large constabularies. The people of Suffolk do not want to lose their constabulary – there is no evidence that this would make policing more efficient."

Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, said he did not see "a case for moving away from the existing set-up."

"The Home Secretary is trying to encourage the police service to give a greater response to the smaller incidents that makes the lives of householders a misery," said Mr Mole, who gave a cautious welcome to the public having a greater say on who serves on police authorities.

Suffolk police is currently working with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire forces in a bid to improve efficiency and cut costs.

In a joint statement, Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter and the Suffolk Police Authority said: "The Home Office has made it clear that any structural change to the police service needs to bring about improvements in performance to meet current and future crime threats.

"To further improve performance, the constabulary is currently engaged in a project with both Norfolk and Cambridgeshire constabularies to identify areas where improved co-operation or collaboration could result in greater efficiency, better use of resources and cost savings.

"This is at an early stage – but work has started to identify areas where each force may benefit. Constabulary staff will be kept fully informed about the progress of the project and their views and ideas for improvements will be actively sought as part of the process.

"Neither Suffolk constabulary nor Suffolk Police Authority are considering any plans at this stage over and above this collaboration project, but look forward to giving their views as part of the government's consultation process."

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "I understand the paper contains aspirations of strengthening community links and in Essex we believe the police stance we have already is in line with the wishes of the Home Secretary."

A Home Office spokesman said that structural change would not be made just for the sake of it.

"This is only a consultation paper at this stage and it is very early on in the process. We will see what the responses are to the consultation and how people think these changes can be achieved," he added.

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