Police force merger moves a step closer
POLICE chiefs in Suffolk have moved a step closer to a proposed merger with forces in neighbouring counties.Representatives from Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Police Authorities have written a letter to Home Secretary Charles Clarke asking for funding to carry out a study on whether a merger is viable.
By Danielle Nuttall
POLICE chiefs in Suffolk have moved a step closer to a proposed merger with forces in neighbouring counties.
Representatives from Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Police Authorities have written a letter to Home Secretary Charles Clarke asking for funding to carry out a study on whether a merger is viable.
The study, if given the go-ahead, would also explore other options open to the three forces in improving efficiency, and might not necessarily recommend amalgamation.
It will include consultation with the public, the possible costs of such a merger, and the likely effect on the quality of policing.
Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said the Home Secretary was not intending to force through an amalgamation, although he had the power to do so, but he wanted it to be considered.
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"We decided the three police authority chairs would ask the Home Secretary to fund a study to look at what would be the best way of policing the three counties," she said.
"It should be an open study to look at a range of options, not just amalgamation. Would there be a need to amalgamate? There could be the option of lead forces. There could be a federation.
"We will look seriously at the findings and the various options. Then we could decide whether amalgamation is the best way forward.
"At the moment, none of us are in a position to make an informed decision. It's dependent on what we hear from them."
The move was discussed briefly at a full council meeting at Endeavour House in Ipswich yesterday.
Speaking after the meeting, Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said: "The most important thing is whatever happens, it's got to be what's best for the people of Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridge.
"The argument put forward to the Home Secretary in funding this study is that it would create a template for other people to use."
Under plans being discussed by the Home Office, Suffolk could join Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to form an East Anglia constabulary, with one chief constable serving a population of nearly 2.2million.
The proposed merger is included in an upcoming report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabularies, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, on the future structure of policing in England.
But the possibility of an East Anglian force has been met with some concern.
Jim Keeble, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said: "The main concern I have got in relation to amalgamation is that it should not be used as a means of reducing sworn police officers against police Community Support Officers (CSOs).
"The Government has pledged by 2008 there will be 24,000 CSOs and have put various funding streams in place. Police forces have to adhere to certain criteria. If you choose not to have full number then your budget will be reduced.
"With amalgamation, what you cannot get away from is for it to be a cost-saving measure. There would not be a requirement to have three separate HR departments or three IT departments. It's about economies of scale."
Mr Keeble said the force was already well on its way to joint working in the form of the three counties' project, and that this could only be seen as positive.
But, he added: "The case needs to be proven that we need to amalgamate to make the force better. If Suffolk is the best-performing police force in the country, why do we need to amalgamate?"
"I fully endorse the police authority's wish to have a detailed study into whether collaboration or amalgamation is what we want to do."
The three police authorities are now awaiting a response from the Home Secretary.