Police merger `hogwash and piffle'

By Bernard JenkinConservative MP for North EssexHARWICH is a major port, which is a potential terrorist target. A very few miles away, Felixtowe is also a major port and also a potential terrorist target.

By Bernard Jenkin

Conservative MP for North Essex

HARWICH is a major port, which is a potential terrorist target. A very few miles away, Felixtowe is also a major port and also a potential terrorist target. Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced that the Essex Police are to be merged with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. One of his main arguments is that we need bigger “strategic” forces, to combat new challenges like international terrorism. He claimed this could not be achieved by inter-police force cooperation. But since he is now happy for two adjacent ports to be under different “strategic” police forces, it is clear that his arguments are hogwash and piffle.

He says that the merger of the 43 police forces in England and Wales was all the idea of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. In fact, this has been a Home Office pipe dream for decades. They just produced the report they know ministers wanted to see.

The man in Whitehall hates local differences and diversity. It's so much easier to make things the same if there are fewer people to deal with. So Whitehall wants nine regions, not all the different counties and districts. The Health department is slashing the number of primary care trusts. And the Home office is trying to abolish more than half our Chief Constables - to make it easier to get them to fill in their forms properly and to comply with their Whitehall targets.

Real policing bears no resemblance to the view the Home Secretary gets from his Whitehall office. Most policing is not about organised crime or international terrorism, much of which must be handled at national level, come what may. My post bag is full of complaints about anti-social behaviour, about vandalism and graffiti, about petty theft and burglary, and about neighbourhood disputes.

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The Essex Police rightly deserve a reputation for giving us one of the safest counties in England. The new Chief Constable understands the need for the police to show up when called out and to engage with the local community. He is responding to people's concerns by making policing more local and more responsive.

The idea that policing gets more local by merging police forces is one of the more bizarre examples of how this government is possessed by a looking-glass view of real life. What does policing in Colchester have to do with policing in Leighton Buzzard? If this goes ahead, Essex will only get one third of a Chief Constable instead of one of our own, sticking up for our interests. Larger police forces are more remote, less responsive to local needs, have more layers of management and bureaucracy and tend to suffer lower morale. (Just look at the Met: the largest force with the lowest morale of all!)

A year ago, a joint Home Office strategy unit report warned that police force mergers “can be a costly, protracted exercise which does not always deliver expected benefits and inevitably causes distraction for management and staff.” Too right! Yet that is precisely what Labour ministers plan to inflict on us all.

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