Forces rebel over merger

THE Government's proposed merger of police forces was in “disarray” last night after it emerged every police authority - including those in Suffolk and Essex - defied a key Whitehall deadline for action.

By Juliette Maxam

THE Government's proposed merger of police forces was in “disarray” last night after it emerged every police authority - including those in Suffolk and Essex - defied a key Whitehall deadline for action.

All police authorities in England and Wales had been asked by Home Secretary Charles Clarke to submit a full business case for their preferred merger in time for today .

But no police authority went that far, despite Mr Clarke's offer of financial incentives to agree on creating as few as 12 "strategic forces'.

And officials in East Anglia revealed last night there was “no agreement among anyone” about potential mergers in the region.

Last night, West Suffolk MP Richard Spring described the situation as a “farce” and said the plans were in “disarray”.

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He said: “What we have got is the Government having made the decision to regionalise the police forces and seeking to move ahead without proper consultation or proper costings.

"Police authorities don't want this to happen. There's been no proper consulation with local councils, county councils or MPs and they're just moving this thing ahead."

He said if the Government listened then forces such as Essex and Suffolk would remain stand-alone, but following a meeting he had with Policing Minister Hazel Blears earlier this week, he believes the Government is going to press ahead with regionalisation regardless.

Essex Police Authority said in its submission it wanted to remain as a stand-alone force, while Suffolk declined to name a preferred option - instead saying if it were forced to merge, it would choose to join with Essex and Norfolk police.

It also voiced concerns about the tight deadline set for a decision on the plans, the lack of information from the Government on the cost of merging and where this will come from, and the fact it has not been given time to consult with stakeholders.

Essex Police Authority chairman Robert Chambers said last night: "If police authorities don't want to put forward a merger, why comply with the Home Secretary? Don't put a submission in.

"I just think it's being rushed through. One of the main things is it's going to cost so much money. The eastern area merger could cost up to £90 million.

“In the eastern area it would cost £45 million for three forces to merge. That's 1,325 extra sworn police officers. It doesn't seem to be any sense in spending £45 million to achieve virtually nothing."

Commenting on the views of police forces in the east, he said: "We (Essex) are very much against any merger at all. We're in favour of a stand-alone force. Suffolk don't want to merge at all. If they had to merge they would prefer Norfolk/Suffolk/Essex. Norfolk only want Norfolk/Suffolk/Cambridgeshire. Cambridgeshire want to stand alone. Bedfordshire would merge with Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire don't want to merge but would only go with Hertfordshire.

"There's no agreement among anyone. It's extremely difficult to get consensus. The only agreement is we don't want regionalisation."

Meanwhile, Joanna Spicer, of Suffolk Police Authority, said: “There's no evidence within Suffolk that change is needed. We are one of the best performing forces in the country.”

APA chairman Bob Jones said last night: "Police authorities have unanimously rejected the Home Secretary's plans to force these proposals through with indecent haste, and we believe there are also credible alternative options which should be considered very seriously.”

Only 13 forces - less than a third of the current structure - said they wanted to take part in a merger, according to APA figures released last night.

Thirteen forces said they wanted to remain as "stand-alone' forces. Another 15 have so far not expressed a preference, and the reform programme does not apply to the Metropolitan or City of London police.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's report in September concluded that the current 43 force structure in England and Wales was no longer 'fit for purpose'.

"It recommended a reconfiguration of the police service based on strategic forces of sufficient size to provide both effective neighbourhood policing and to combat serious organised crime and terrorism.

"The Home Secretary asked police forces and authorities to submit responses by December 23 on their preferred options for the creation of strategic forces as well as the business cases to support these options.

"The Government has always accepted that meeting this deadline was challenging and we are grateful to everyone for the work they have done over the past three months.'

He added: "We will look in detail at the submissions we have received after Christmas, when we will also announce the timetable for taking this matter forward.

"We recognise there will be a need for further discussions and we will be working closely with all police forces and authorities in January, including meetings with chief officers and police authority chairs to discuss the outstanding issues.'

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