Police boost after Essex and Kent talks

A PIONEERING new scheme which will see Essex and Kent police forces working together could free up more officers to patrol the streets, it has been claimed.

A PIONEERING new scheme which will see Essex and Kent police forces working together could free up more officers to patrol the streets, it has been claimed.

The move could save millions of pounds for Essex Police in the long term - but it could also lead to some “back office” posts being lost.

It comes after the Government abandoned plans to merge constabularies into regional forces amid strong opposition from Essex Police Authority, the force and the community.

While the Government had to perform a U-turn on the proposals, it stressed the need for forces and authorities to look at opportunities for sharing services.

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Now Essex and Kent police authorities have decided to collaborate, with three areas immediately being targeted - training, Essex's helicopter and the armoured vehicles used at Stansted airport.

This will mean that Essex officers could take places on training courses in Kent or vice versa; Essex's helicopter could be used in the skies above Kent, as its force does not have one; and the armoured vehicles used at Stansted could be available for major incidents at the neighbouring county's seaport.

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Another 34 areas across both forces - not just “back office” functions - are also going to be looked at to see if there is the potential for working in partnership.

While the project is in the very early stages, last night Essex Police Authority stressed the move was not a merger, with both constabularies remaining operationally independent and as stand-alone strategic forces.

Chairman Robert Chambers said it was ushering in a new era, with Essex forging the way for the rest of the country. The idea was to avoid unnecessary duplication and bureaucracy, he added.

“This is a partnership and it's important to realise that this is not a merger. We fought hard to stand-alone, as did Kent, and there is no way that there is a plan to put a merger on the cards now,” Mr Chambers said.

“Everything, literally everything, will be looked at. We want to try to ensure we can make some savings between the two forces and put some more bobbies on the street.”

He said in the next 12 months there would be “major gains” and, while he could not put an exact figure on the amount the move could save, he said it would be “large sums”, in the “millions”.

But he admitted: “When you're looking at sharing services, there is a possibility that some back office posts will go but it is not our intention to make redundancies. There will be a certain amount of natural wastage but there will be savings from that.

“The main aim of this is to provide a higher quality service to the public, who will ultimately benefit.”

An Essex Police Authority spokeswoman added that both counties' forces and authorities believed that working together would provide a “tremendous opportunity” to do business differently.

While Essex is working with Kent on this project, it is still working with other forces in the region - Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

The spokeswoman said they believed working in partnership would provide the best service to the community, be cost-effective, use resources more efficiently and increase visible policing.

She stressed: “There is no proposal to merge Essex and Kent forces and authorities. They will remain stand-alone and will maintain operational independence, and will continue to provide effective local policing.”

Sue Kelly, chair of Essex Police Federation, said it was working closely with representatives in Kent and would be keeping a “watching brief” on the proposals as they emerge.

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