Suffolk police force set to merge

SUFFOLK Constabulary will almost certainly be merged with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to form an East Anglia Police Force if the Home Office backs proposals published yesterday for a massive shake-up of policing in England.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK Constabulary will almost certainly be merged with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to form an East Anglia Police Force if the Home Office backs proposals published yesterday for a massive shake-up of policing in England.

As exclusively forecast in the EADT on August 16, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabularies, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, wants to abolish smaller forces in England and Wales.

His blueprint, published yesterday, calls for the merger of county constabularies which have fewer than 2,000 officers.

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An East Anglia force would have more than 4,200 officers under one chief constable, serving more than two million people and covering an area from Peterborough and Cromer in the north to the border with Essex.

The amalgamation would follow the creation of an East Anglia ambulance service and Government plans to centralise the emergency response headquarters for the six fire and rescue services in the East of England, leading to fears that county brigades will also be merged.

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In the report on policing – compiled by the former Chief Constable of Kent Denis O'Connor – Her Majesty's Inspector (HMIC) said: "The 43 force structure is no longer fit for purpose. In the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of policing it should change.

"While some smaller forces do very well, and some larger forces less so, our conclusion is that below a certain size there simply is not a sufficient critical mass to provide the necessary sustainable level of protective services that the 21st century increasingly demands."

The plans have the backing of Home Secretary Charles Clarke – MP for Norwich South – who said: "I think it is perfectly rational for the three forces to come together."

However West Suffolk's Conservative MP Richard Spring, said there was "absolutely no evidence" that forces covering a large geographical area were any more efficient.

He added: "It is a total and absolute disgrace. This is just another example of services being organised for the benefit of those who run them rather than for the benefit of those who use them."

But the reforms do not go far enough for the Police Superintendents' Association (PSA), which wants a single national police force, with existing basic command units providing local policing.

And Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said she believed the policing landscape in five years time would look very different.

"We remain open minded, but need to be convinced of the business case, the point about Suffolk is that we are committed to keeping the county safe and making it the best police service in the country," she said.

"There could be benefits such as more money for front-line officers because back office facilities like HR and finance could be done from one place."

Asked whether Suffolk Constabulary would still exist in five years time, she said she did not want to predict the future.

But she added: "The report is clear that something needs to be done and it is quite clear from everything that is going on that the landscape will change and I think it needs to because we are living in a very different world now after 7/7."

A spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary said as part of its drive to provide local people with the best policing service, it had been collaborating with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to look at delivering more effective, efficient and economic services.

He added: "This work has seen progress in key areas such as custody, property management and call handling.

"In anticipation of the HMIC's review of national police capabilities, the forces and authorities have been conducting an objective analysis examining how effective this collaborative work has been – and exploring the pros and cons of future joint working, including amalgamation.

"This analysis is continuing – and will help us establish a position on the future of policing in our region, based on what is right for the local communities we serve.

"It will also provide us with the basis of an informed joint response to the HMIC report, which we will now consider in detail."

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