Failed police mergers cost millions

MORE that three quarters of a million pounds has been wasted in the region on the Government's abortive police mergers - money which could been used for an extra 30 bobbies on the beat.

By Graham Dines

MORE that three quarters of a million pounds has been wasted in the region on the Government's abortive police mergers - money which could been used for an extra 30 bobbies on the beat.

Home Office plans to compel Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire police forces to form an East Anglia constabulary and for Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to combine in a Home Counties North force were abandoned in the summer following a massive public outcry.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke wanted the mergers to make the police “fit for purpose” by increasing efficiency to fight the threat from terrorism and to combat cross-border crime.

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However, after he was sacked following the row over the release from jail of convicted illegal immigrants, his successor John Reid scuppered the plans when all 37 forces in England and Wales outside London refused to merge voluntarily and challenged the Home Office to impose its plans.

Some police authorities sought a judicial review, claiming the plans were illegal.

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The forces have now claimed a total of £6,512,000 but although the Government has backed off, it is limiting compensation for abortive costs to a maximum of £100,000 for most forces, even though higher claims have been submitted by a number, including Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire. Just four constabularies in England will get more because they undertook additional work at the direct order of the Home Office.

Essex police authority claimed £169,000, Norfolk £135,729, Cambridgeshire £242,714 and Hertfordshire £144,327, but they have been capped at £100,000

Suffolk's claim of £45,483 is being paid in full as is the £23,430 from Bedfordshire.

Home Office minister of state Tony McNulty said consideration was given to the need to treat all forces fairly given the wide disparity in the amounts claimed.

Factors included the total amount of money to be paid out, costs incurred by individual forces or authorities on behalf of others;

Mr McNulty said the payments were offered to “provide police authorities with assistance towards the additional costs incurred through the preparatory work they had carried out.”

However Suffolk West Tory MP Richard Spring said: “Millions of pounds which should have been used to support frontline policing have been wasted.

“It's been an exercise which had no public support, no police endorsement, and which would have made not one iota of difference to the capabilities or the efficiency of the police.

Robert Chambers, Chairman of the Essex Police Authority, said he was “disappointed” that it hadn't received back the full amount that it had been forced to spent.

“We are pleased the Home Office will be refunding us £100,000 and we will be looking at using this money to further improve policing in the eastern region and beyond.

“We can build on the work and the information gathered as part of the merger process to meet with the public's priorities and boost visible policing,” said Mr Chambers.

Suffolk's Deputy Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt said: “We are pleased that our costs have been met in full.

“Suffolk did not volunteer for amalgamation - but the Constabulary took a pragmatic view and worked closely with neighbouring forces on the amalgamation proposals.

“Now, we must continue to work closely with our neighbours to see if we can work together even more effectively to strengthen our capabilities in key areas, such as cross border crime.”

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