MPs join forces to meet minister

SUFFOLK's Conservative MPs united in defiance last night as they heavily criticised Government proposals to merge the county's police force with neighbouring constabularies.

SUFFOLK's Conservative MPs united in defiance last night as they heavily criticised Government proposals to merge the county's police force with neighbouring constabularies.

Tory representatives Tim Yeo, John Gummer, Richard Spring and David Ruffley met with Home Office minister Hazel Blears, minister of state for crime, security and communities, yesterday to discuss Whitehall demands that police forces across England and Wales amalgamate.

However speaking after the meeting all four ministers said they felt extremely unhappy with the situation and that Ms Blears had an “urban obsession” that failed to address their fears that police officers would be pushed out of Suffolk to areas with higher crime rates if a merger happened.

Mr Yeo, representative for Suffolk South, said: “We had a robust exchange of views and explained there was no vestige of support at any level for force restructuring in Suffolk.

“We said we were dismayed by the complete lack of consultation and absence of proper analysis into the financial consequences and the damaging effect it will have on the county's level of policing.

“Yet Ms Blears did nothing more than reiterate her Government's position without deviating from the idea. Her only justification remained that there would be an improvement in services and failed to address our other concerns. We are very unhappy with her response.”

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Suffolk Coastal MP Mr Gummer continued: “Ms Blears does not understand the policing needs of a rural community at all. All her examples were for urban centres such as Nottingham and Greater Manchester which have no relevance to Suffolk whatsoever.

“Moreover what was quite clear is that the amalgamation of forces will see police officers move away from rural areas to larger towns such as Colchester, Chelmsford and Cambridge and the people of Suffolk will be expected to pay for it with higher council tax precepts.”

Mr Spring, representative for West Suffolk, said a current example of how Government imposed change could have an adverse affect on communities was the overhaul of the health system which had been “totally counterproductive” in Suffolk.

He added: “The whole consultation has been completely undemocratic because the Suffolk Police Authority is not in a position to reject the proposals and there has been no support from the district and county councils.”

Meanwhile Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said Ms Blears was unable to answer when he asked if the merger would see funding and police officers removed from Suffolk to areas with a higher crime rate.

“We have no protection whatsoever in terms of funding or numbers,” he said. “It might not be apparent straight away but we could easily be adversely affected two or three years down the line.”

Suffolk Police Authority have until Friday to present a business case to the Home Office outlining whether it would prefer to merge with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, Essex and Norfolk, or create a “superforce” of all the constabularies in the six counties of the eastern region.

Late last week it was decided Suffolk would be best suited to a merger with Essex and Norfolk but it was agreed the business case would not flag it up as the preferred option because the authority did not want to give an impression that it was in total support of the shake-up.

A spokesman for the Home Office said the current 43 force structure in England and Wales was deemed unsuitable for the 21st century and there was a need to come up with a modern alternative.

He added: “There is still room for consultation after Friday's deadline and if any parties still have concerns then they should be raised as soon as possible.”

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