Police forces 'must merge'

AN ELEVENTH hour call to keep police forces in Suffolk and Essex independent has failed - meaning they will definitely merge with neighbouring counties.

AN ELEVENTH hour call to keep police forces in Suffolk and Essex independent has failed - meaning they will definitely merge with neighbouring counties.

The Home Office, which is demanding a shake-up of force structures nationwide, has told Suffolk Police Authority that maintaining the “status quo” is not an option.

The authority submitted a business case to the Home Office last month outlining four options for future policing - including a proposal to maintain and enhance the current set-up.

But the Home Office has now ruled that out, and said the authority should instead concentrate on three other options which will see the force merged with its East Anglian counterparts.

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The other options explore the possibility of creating a regional super force by merging all six East Anglian forces (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk), amalgamating Suffolk with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire or amalgamating Suffolk with Norfolk and Essex.

Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said she was disappointed last night the Home Office had ruled out the 'status quo' option at such an early stage.

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“We included it because we believed that, with Suffolk Constabulary's excellent record as a low cost, high performing force, it was a viable option for the future,” she said.

“The authority will now be looking at the next stage of the process, which will include an element of consultation with local people and partner organisations.”

Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said the Home Office's response gave a clear indication of where the force and the authority should concentrate.

“It effectively rules out the 'status-quo' option - although any decision regarding the options rests with the police authority,” he said.

“The challenge we face now is paring these options to one preferred option to meet the next Home Office deadline, before Christmas.

“We will be working closely with the five other forces in the eastern region - through the recently-formed virtual regional working group - to consider which options are the best for each force.”

Mr McWhirter added: “As I have said before, our aim is to get the structure which is best suited for continuing to deliver a top quality policing service to local people.”

Robert Chambers, chairman of Essex Police Authority, dismissed out of hand the prospect of merging.

“Put simply: no way,” he said yesterday, adding he was speaking in a personal capacity because he had yet to fomally consult members.

“I have got a meeting with the members on Monday, and we are going to go through various different things.

“After that I shall issue a press release.

“However, I feel passionately about Essex Police. We have got an excellent chief constable who is doing exactly what the people of Essex want, and if we are doing what the people of Essex want why on earth shouldn't we be able to do so?

“I am Essex born and bred, and I will fight for Essex Police.”

The Government has always made clear its preference for police forces to merge across the country in a bid to improve efficiency and response to major incidents, such as terrorism.

Suffolk police already has many projects underway which sees it collaborate with Cambridge and Norfolk for cost-savings, but the Home Office is seeking a more permanent amalgamation.

West Chelmsford Tory MP Simon Burns said he was disappointed last night that Home Office Minister Hazel Blears had determined the only way forward for Essex was merging in someway or another.

“My motto in life is 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it' and that reflects my alarm at this further example of the inexorable drive by this Government for regionalisation of our services,” he said.

“The size and the population of the county of Essex warrants one police force, particularly as we have a port in the north east of the county and an international airport in the north west.

“Big is not necessarily beautiful and I believe that the people of Essex would be the biggest losers if this proposal were to go ahead. I think we would lose local affinity and identification between the police and the people they serve and I cannot see how it would improve law enforcement in the county.”

Mr Burns vowed to fight the proposals to ensure Essex maintained its independent force.

The Home Office said collaborative or standalone options were assessed as unsuitable on the grounds they lacked capacity, did not fit with the wider regional and national picture or did not fit with other criminal justice agencies.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: “The changing nature of crime poses a significant challenge for the police. The modern threats we face from terrorism and international organised crime do not respect established local borders.

“We need police forces with the resources and capabilities to prevent and act against serious crime.”

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