Police merger - huge consultation starts

EVERY household in Essex is to be asked whether they think the county's police force should be abolished after one of the largest ever consultations of its kind was launched.

By Roddy Ashworth

EVERY household in Essex is to be asked whether they think the county's police force should be abolished after one of the largest ever consultations of its kind was launched.

During the next few weeks, Essex County Council will deliver 700,000 questionnaires to each of the county's homes to allow residents to register their views on the proposed merger of Essex Police with the forces in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

The massive exercise was launched yesterday just before the Home Secretary John Reid announced he was delaying the UK's first wave of police mergers, which had been due to go before Parliament in the summer. These are now likely to be debated alongside the future of Essex and other forces in the autumn.

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The original merger proposal was put forward last year by former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who argued that the resulting “super-force” would be better able to protect the public from high-level crime.

But both public and official response in Essex has been hostile, with fears that an amalgamated force would be unwieldy, unaccountable and would undermine local policing.

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Essex politicians yesterday met with police authority chairman Robert Chambers and Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield to launch the consultation process.

Mr Chambers, said: “It is vital that we find out how the public thinks and feels about this issue.

“This is genuine consultation with communities and we will report our findings back to the Government whatever the outcome.

“The public pay for their policing, so it is only right and proper that they have a say on the future of the service.”

But he stressed that Dr Reid's announcement yesterday did not affect Essex, saying the county was “always in the second wave”.

“Now the waves will join together,” he said. “I believe this is because the Home Office has realised it has more important things to do at the moment, such as sorting out the problems with immigration.

“Police mergers might have gone from top of the list to middle of the list, but they are still on the agenda - John Reid has said he is committed to the creation of these strategic forces.”

Lord Hanningfield added: “We urge as many people as possible to fill out the consultation form or go online and do it electronically. It is a real opportunity to have your say about the policing of your county.”

West Chelmsford MP, Conservative Simon Burns, said: “For over a year now, I have vigorously campaigned to keep Essex Police as a stand-alone force and have opposed the idea of Essex Police being merged with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

“Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary promised, during the consultation process, to listen to the views of local people. Local people have overwhelmingly expressed the opinion that Essex Police should remain a stand-alone force.

“Now that there is a new Home Secretary and a further period of consultation, I warmly welcome the county council's initiative to encourage the views of local people so that their opposition to these proposals can be brought to the attention of the Home Secretary in the hope that, even at this late stage, we can reverse a decision that is not in the interests of policing in the county.”

The survey can be found on-line at www.essex.police.uk/survey


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