Police merger

A MERGER between Suffolk Constabulary and neighbouring forces would cost hundreds of millions - if not billions - of pounds, police chiefs warned last night.

By Danielle Nuttall

A MERGER between Suffolk Constabulary and neighbouring forces would cost hundreds of millions - if not billions - of pounds, police chiefs warned last night.

Members of Suffolk Police Authority met to discuss their next move after being handed a deadline by Home Secretary Charles Clarke in which to explore future policing options.

In a letter to the authority last week, Mr Clarke made clear his view that the establishment of a regional force was the “best long-term business solution” and the only viable way ahead.

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Despite the seeming inevitability of a future amalgamation, some authority members expressed dismay at losing Suffolk's force and warned of the costs of such a plan.

The authority is now pressing ahead with an examination of all other options, as well as the preferred merger, to see if any alternative is viable.

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Speaking at last night's meeting, Terry Smith said: “A complete amalgamation will cost hundreds of millions of pounds per year. The cost of amalgamation will be expensive.

“To say the automatic solution is to bang a few forces together, say everything will be solved, is a load of cobblers.

“Suffolk police I believe should stay for the protection of its neighbourhood policing. I do argue we should refuse to build our own hang man's kit.”

Brian Harvey asked whether the county would be forced to cough up the cash for a large-scale reorganisation, or would it be Government funded.

“The money we are talking about is huge,” he added.

Acting Deputy Chief Constable Colin Langham-Fitt, who is leading a review team that will draw up the possible options for Suffolk, said nothing had been ruled out yet but he admitted: “the wind is blowing very firmly behind us.”

“It's going to cost millions if not billions of pounds,” he said.

“There are not huge savings when you look at the estimated charges behind changes. Trying to get the IT realigned is going to cost mega-billions.”

Under the plans, Suffolk police could merge with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to form an East Anglian Police Force.

The Home Secretary has given the three forces until the end of October to make a shortlist of options, which could include creating a federation of forces, greater collaboration or a lead regional force, and until December 23 to submit final recommendations.

Speaking at the meeting, Mark Bee said: “Instinctively I feel we should challenge this but I don't think we should be like King Canute.

“The instinctive thing I feel is they (the public) want to have local accountability.

“If we go down the road of in anyway losing that, I don't think the people of Suffolk will thank us for that.”

David Wood added: “I am proud of what we have here in Suffolk. It's ridiculous.

“The only plus I've put is cost savings but at what price? I think we have got to be brave in this and take a lead for the people of Suffolk.”

But Georgina Pharaoh responded: “If we actually said no would we get anywhere?

“The Government would then have to take a decision rather than us bringing something that we do not want.”

And Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of the authority, said: “It doesn't look too much like it's going to be easy to hold out for an option other than some form of strategic force or an amalgamated force.”

The issues will be discussed at a further meeting on October 18.

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