Huge cost of police merger revealed
MERGING the east of England's six constabularies could cost up to £60million - the equivalent cost of about 1,800 additional police officers.Out of this total, £45m would have to be spent on harmonising the computer and IT systems of the police forces and efficiency savings would not become evident for at least seven to 12 years.
By Graham Dines
MERGING the east of England's six constabularies could cost up to £60million - the equivalent cost of about 1,800 additional police officers.
Out of this total, £45m would have to be spent on harmonising the computer and IT systems of the police forces and efficiency savings would not become evident for at least seven to 12 years.
The figures were given last night by Suffolk Police Authority chairman Gulshan Kayembe, who said she expected Home Secretary Charles Clarke's decision on any mergers to be made within the next few weeks.
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Mr Clarke wants to improve efficiency by cutting the number of police forces in England and Wales from the current figure of 43, claiming they are too small to deal with intelligence gathering on terrorism and serious crime.
He says bigger forces will bring economies of scale and one of the options he is looking at is creating regional forces, reducing England to eight constabularies and the Metropolitan Police, and Wales to a maximum of two.
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In the East of England, this would create one force to cover Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire, with the police adopting a regional set up similar to the ambulance service, fire and emergency control, and the health authority.
There would be one Chief Constable and a police authority of just 21 members.
Mr Clarke's demand in September that police authorities vote by December on how they wanted to be reorganised was largely ignored and he is set to impose reorganisation against the wishes of county constabularies.
Addressing a meeting of Suffolk County Council, Mrs Kayembe said none of the six eastern forces wanted to merge. “The voluntary route to amalgamation will not be open to the Home Secretary,” she said.
She said there were “great concerns” over the timescale, including the lack of proper consultation, and said police authority members “remain frustrated” that the status quo option had been ruled out.
While none of the police authorities would sacrifice themselves voluntarily, there was support for an Essex-Norfolk-Suffolk amalgamation.
“Whatever option is pursued, there is no guarantee that neighbourhood policing will be improved and Suffolk authority members are anxious that this remains a top priority.”
Mrs Kayembe said the bill for amalgamating police forces in the east of England could be up to £60m, with around £45m being spent on getting the six separate IT systems to talk to each other.
A spokesman for the Home Office refused to comment on the figures, but said: “We have formed a tri-partite working party with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities to look at the financial implications of mergers.”
The Government realised there was a cost to mergers and would be examining the business cases to ensure they were “robust”, he said.
He added: “The timetable will be published shortly but we don't expect to make a final decision until the spring.”