Suffolk reveals favoured police merger

SUFFOLK'S police force would be best suited to a merger with Norfolk and Essex because there would be a “greater chance” of the headquarters being based in the county, it has been agreed.

SUFFOLK'S police force would be best suited to a merger with Norfolk and Essex because there would be a “greater chance” of the headquarters being based in the county, it has been agreed.

Members of Suffolk Police Authority met yesterday to decide the best way of meeting the Home Office's demands for police forces across England and Wales to amalgamate.

The authority has until Friday to present a business case to the Home Office outlining whether it would prefer to merge with Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, Essex and Norfolk or create a super force of all the forces in the six counties of the eastern region.

Authority members were told an examination of all the options - undertaken by a team of experts at Suffolk Constabulary - had identified a merger with Essex and Norfolk as being the best option.

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But it was agreed that the business case to be presented to the Government next week would not flag it up as the “preferred” option because the authority did not want to give the impression it was in total support of the major shake-up of forces.

It will also make it clear to the Home Office that it is not “volunteering” for amalgamation because of concerns about the tight deadline set for a decision on the plans, the lack of information from the Government on the cost of merging and where this will come from and the fact it has not been given time to consult with stakeholders.

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Speaking at the meeting, Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said: “Looking at the business case in terms of performance, finance, in terms of crime flows and the work we do, our perception now is a sub-regional force of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex has significant advantage over the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire model.

“This model (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire) would leave us with a small force - one of the smallest in the country.

“I feel that if Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire came together, there is a big question over where the future headquarters would be. There's a greater chance that the headquarters might end up being here in Suffolk - that might have an effect on jobs locally - through the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex route.”

A super-force involving all the region's forces was ruled out because of the loss of local accountability and due to the difficulties in creating a suitable management structure.

The Home Office has indicated to Suffolk Constabulary there is likely to be a pot of £50m for the country's forces to share next year if they volunteer for amalgamation and a further £75m the year after.

In deciding not to volunteer for a merger, Suffolk Police Authority was warned it was likely to miss out on part of the funding.

Speaking at the meeting, Gulshan Kayembe, chair of Suffolk Police Authority, said there was a strong case for merging with Essex because the force had experts in tackling organised drug gangs and high level crime that Suffolk did not have.

“We should be mindful of what we can learn (from Essex). I do feel that the fact it's different is one of the reasons we should embrace it because it will bring with it new expertise. From the finance point of view there are advantages there.”

But other members felt reluctant to declare support for a merger with Essex and Norfolk, saying the timescale given was not enough to be able to say what was best for Suffolk.

Terry Smith said: “I don't think any of us like what is being done to us. It causes the blood pressure to go up because we don't like being bullied as indeed we are being bullied by the Home Secretary.”

Norfolk Constabulary said last night it welcomed its own authority members' preferred option of an amalgamation with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

Chief Constable Carole Howlett said: “This arrangement will offer us more resilience to deal with major crime and would provide local people with sustained visible policing.”

However, Essex Police Authority has voted to put forward to the Home Secretary that Essex should remain as a stand-alone force.

He added that Chief Constable Roger Baker's submission will be that Essex is capable of continuing as a stand-alone strategic force, but has also put in place a fall-back option should the Home Secretary disagree. This option will be for Essex to merge with Suffolk and Norfolk.

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