Anger over police merger news

MPs reacted with dismay last night after it emerged Suffolk Constabulary is set to amalgamate with the neighbouring forces of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as part of a Government shake-up.

MPs reacted with dismay last night after it emerged Suffolk Constabulary is set to amalgamate with the neighbouring forces of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire as part of a Government shake-up.

Ministers from across the county labelled the proposal as a “dark day for Suffolk” and warned it was an example of creeping regionalisation and a move towards more centralised control.

It is thought that Home Secretary Charles Clarke will announce the move over the next two weeks.

However a spokesman for the Home Office denied any choice had been made and claimed Mr Clarke would continue to meet with police chiefs and seek advice from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Constabularies before making his mind up later this month.

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In December Suffolk Constabulary refused to volunteer for amalgamation but instead submitted a recommendation that, if forced, they would prefer to join with Essex and Norfolk, rather than create a “super-force” of all six counties of the eastern region or merge with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

But last night they confirmed they had received the proposed structure for the policing of East Anglia and the recommendation was for the latter.

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It is thought that Essex police force will now merge with the constabularies of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, creating two “super-forces” in the region.

Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said: “It is very disappointing that the business case submitted by Suffolk appears to have been completely ignored.

“A great deal of work went into drawing up the business case, which was based on ensuring the best possible policing service for the people in this area.

“What concerns me is that the suggested amalgamation of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk will simply result in a geographically huge rural force, which does not have the ability to deal with serious and major crime or terrorism.

“However, we will have to wait to see what the rationale is for this decision.”

Alastair McWhirter, Suffolk's Chief Constable, said: “My main concern is to ensure that, whatever the outcome, the people of Suffolk continue to get the best possible policing service and that those who work for us, who already do such a good job in providing that policing service, continue to do so during these uncertain times.”

Suffolk Police Authority will now be meeting with the chief officers to review its position, prior to any discussions with the Home Secretary.

If the authorities do not agree with the move there will be a four-month consultation period, after which Mr Clarke will make the final decision.

David Ruffley, Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, said: “This is a dark day for Suffolk. “The merged monstrosity will be a complete disaster. The concern is that the taxpayers of Suffolk will be forced to pay for second rate service as officers are moved to urban areas.

“It is yet another ridiculous piece of bureaucratic nonsense from the corridors of Whitehall, many of whom are completely out of touch with rural communities such as Suffolk.”

Meanwhile Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, said: “It is an absolutely disgraceful decision and I am very angry and upset because there is no reason whatsoever from a financial, administrative or crime fighting point of view why this should go ahead.”

Tim Yeo, Tory MP for Suffolk South, added: “The Government mind was completely closed when we went to make our representations and the whole consultation process was nothing more than a formality. “No doubt it will mean officers are removed and resources will be lost from Suffolk but we will have to our best. Unfortunately it is yet another example of creeping regionalisation.”

But Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, defended the move and said: “I hope the merger will create a big enough force to be able to meet the strategic need to deal with serious and cross border crimes which the reorganisation is intended to address.

“I will want to look into the details of the proposals but if this is the case then I will be happy.”

Carole Howlett, chief constable for Norfolk Constabulary, said she was delighted with the recommendation as it had been Norfolk's preferred choice from the start and was eagerly awaiting the Home Secretary's final decision.

Meanwhile Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for Norfolk North, and Norfolk South Tory Richard Bacon both expressed relief that the six county option had not been pursued, but were nevertheless opposed to the creation of an East Anglia constabulary.

Mr Bacon, whose constituency covers Diss, said the merged force would not provide what the public wanted - visible policing in local communities. “A larger police force area will make the police more and more remote,” he said.

Mr Lamb complained at the undue haste with which the mergers were being made. He said: “There has been too little consultation over this and the decision of the home secretary has come at too fast a pace.”

No-one from Cambridgeshire Police was available to comment last night.

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