Force will not back police merger

POLICE bosses in Suffolk last night refused to back plans to merge with the neighbouring forces of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk - and said they may consider legal action against the proposed move.

POLICE bosses in Suffolk last night refused to back plans to merge with the neighbouring forces of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk - and said they may consider legal action against the proposed move.

At an extraordinary meeting of Suffolk Police Authority, it was decided to make clear opposition to proposals by Home Secretary Charles Clarke to integrate the three constabularies.

Mr Clarke has already rejected Suffolk's preference for an east coast force linking Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and the county had until April 7 to either volunteer for a merger or object to his plans.

The Home Secretary still has the power to push through with his scheme regardless of local opinion, with his final decision being made on May 8.

However, because of Suffolk's objections, should Mr Clarke insist on a merger there will now be a further four-month consultation process and an affirmative resolution will be subject to debate in the Houses of Commons and Lords.

Members of the authority also agreed that it should take any action to challenge the Home Secretary's proposals for amalgamation including a judicial review (if considered appropriate), consultation and lobbying.

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If Suffolk does decide to mount a legal case it will be following the lead of Cleveland Police Authority, which has formally asked Mr Clarke to withdraw his plans to create a North East constabulary.

In its formal response to the plans, which has to reach Mr Clarke by the end of the week, the police authority will also set out a number of conditions that should be adhered to if a merger is forced upon them.

These include that the Home Office meet all net costs associated with the amalgamation, no cost should fall on the council taxpayer, any merger is not completed earlier than April 2008 and in the run-up the merger the constabulary should not be burdened with bureaucratic procedures such as Government inspections.

Speaking at last night's meeting, held at the force's headquarters in Martlesham, Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said she was pleased the decision not to volunteer for amalgamation was undisputed.

“It is a key decision and I am very glad it has been made unanimously,” she said. “We leave it as a decision for the Home Secretary and it is not one that we have to take.

“In front of us still is a tremendous amount of hard work and we have to make sure we are doing everything possible to support the organisation through a period of enormous change.

“We are doing something we don't believe in but we have to remain sensitive to our responsibilities not only for supporting staff but also for the people of Suffolk and to ensure we maintain the high level of service that we are currently providing and drive for continuous improvement.”

In September, the Government announced plans to reduce the number of police forces in England and Wales from 43 to fewer than 18.

Within each English region, police authorities were asked to decide with which other authorities they wished to be combined.

Mr Clarke said there was no option not to merge - but has since changed his mind and allowed Greater Manchester, Kent, and Hampshire to become stand alone strategic constabularies.

Suffolk said it wanted to join Essex and Norfolk, but Mr Clarke - who is MP for Norwich South - has backed Norfolk's preferred option for a Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire merger, which is thought will cost in the region of £31.5million.

He rejected Essex's plea to become a stand-alone strategic force and is proposing it merge with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

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