Anger over fate of £10m if police merge

MORE than £10million worth of taxpayers' money will be absorbed by neighbouring counties if plans to merge Suffolk's constabulary with the rest of the forces in East Anglia get the go-ahead.

MORE than £10million worth of taxpayers' money will be absorbed by neighbouring counties if plans to merge Suffolk's constabulary with the rest of the forces in East Anglia get the go-ahead.

Suffolk Police Authority currently has £10.7m sitting in reserves, which is kept to cover any unforeseen incidents or emergencies and amounts to 10% of its annual revenue expenditure.

But with the constabulary set to be merged into a regional “super” force this spare money is likely to be swallowed up and placed into a central pot to cover the whole area.

This would mean funds from Suffolk taxpayers being spent elsewhere in the region including Essex, Norfolk and as far away as Hertfordshire.

The news has caused concern among opponents of the merger who feel it is more evidence that the residents of Suffolk are being short-changed.

Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said: “Council tax is already high enough and this would just be an extra bitter pill to swallow.

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“Obviously if this money has been raised by the people of the county then it should be spent here to provide much-needed services. Action should be taken to ensure we benefit from it and that there are safeguards in place to make sure that it doesn't leak away and get lost.”

Meanwhile David Ruffley, Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds, has written to Suffolk chief constable Alastair McWhirter seeking assurances that taxpayers' money will not be spent policing other counties.

He said: “This is money paid by the people of Suffolk to protect Suffolk from criminals. This is money saved to safeguard the forces of law and order across Suffolk not to be squandered in some regionalised collective pot and spent in a distant part of Hertfordshire miles away from my constituents.”

But John Grand, treasurer of Suffolk Police Authority, said: “I understand people's anxieties and there is some truth in what is being said because if amalgamation does take place all assets of Suffolk Police Authority will transfer to the new authority.

“However, I anticipate that a fair chunk of our reserve will be used within the next two years to keep the force going into 2006/07. It is a matter of seeing it in context because other forces will have a surplus which will be pooled as well, and some will be greater than Suffolk's.”

Last week the Home Office, which is demanding a shake-up of all the force structures nationwide, rejected the authority's attempt to keep the force independent and urged it to press on with one of three merging options.

The options include merging all six East Anglian forces (Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Norfolk), amalgamating Suffolk with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire or amalgamating Suffolk with Norfolk and Essex.

Suffolk Police Authority now has until December 23 to submit its views on how best to police the county in light of these recommendations.

The amount of money held in reserve by each police force was made available in answer to a Parliamentary question at the House of Commons and showed that Essex currently holds £32m, Norfolk £11.4m, Cambridgeshire £9m, Hertfordshire £8m and Bedfordshire £14.3m.

craig.robinson@eadt.co.uk

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