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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Police merger plan draws protest
Police officers on patrol
The government says the plans are in the public interest
Controversial plans to merge several police forces have come under attack from an alliance of council leaders.

The government's proposals were condemned as "ill-thought out and ill-judged" by 35 senior councillors in a letter to the Times newspaper.

It accused the home secretary of riding roughshod over people's views.

Charles Clarke has said 17 forces in East Anglia, the Midlands, south east England, Yorkshire and Humberside will merge to create five "superforces".

He said cutting the number of forces in England and Wales from 43 to 24 would help fight organised crime.

Autumn start

Police authorities and forces have questioned how much restructuring would cost. They have until 11 August to object.

Mr Clarke expects the process of merging to begin in the autumn but the new forces will not come into operation until 1 April 2008, he said in a written statement.

This is a dangerous step to take
Letter from councillors

The protest letter was signed by the Labour Leader of Hull City Council Ken Branson and by Tories and Lib Dems, as well as Plaid Cymru and independent leaders.

It argued the reforms would lead to serious consequences for other council services, and to higher council tax bills.

It said: "The home secretary is not listening.

"He continues to press ahead with his ill-thought out and ill-judged plans, riding rough-shod over the vast majority of the people and their elected representatives. "This is a dangerous step to take."

'Rational debate

The move would reduce people's trust in the police and increase their sense of alienation, the letter added, while the cost would fall on the local tax payer.

"We are calling today for the home secretary to again rethink his proposals and allow us the opportunity to have a rational and sensible debate on the future of policing in this country," it concluded.

The letter's co-ordinator Lord Hanningfield, the leader of Essex County Council, said opposition to the plans at a local level was clear.

The Conservatives have demanded local referendums on the issue. The Liberal Democrats believe the changes mean communities will have less influence over local police.

THE FORCES TO MERGE
Humberside, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire
Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire
Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk
Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire
Surrey and Sussex

Some of the objections have been about the cost of the process but the Home Office has promised to meet the costs without raising council tax.

A spokesman said: "The Home Office will finance 100% of the reasonable transitional costs associated with restructuring.

"The reason that we are reviewing police force structures is because of the professional judgement of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary that the existing structures are not capable of delivering the policing that we need for the 21st Century.

"We need to ensure that all forces - not just those who have volunteered for change - are properly equipped to improve performance from the neighbourhood through to the strategic level."

Hampshire, Kent and Thames Valley will remain as stand alone forces but will reconfigure as "strategic forces". Greater Manchester will remain as it is.

In his statement Mr Clarke announced the following forces would merge:

  • Humberside, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire forces
  • Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire
  • Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk
  • Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire
  • Surrey and Sussex

The home secretary has already said he planned to merge:

  • Cumbria and Lancashire
  • Cheshire and Merseyside
  • Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria
  • Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands
  • Dyfed Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales

The final area to be decided on is the South West and a decision will be taken next month.

If all the South West forces are merged, as was proposed by the Home Office last November, there would be 17 forces in England and Wales compared with the existing 43.

The Metropolitan Police and City of London Police are not part of the review.

The Association of Police Authorities revolted in December by ignoring a deadline set by the home secretary to submit detailed plans for the mergers.


SEE ALSO:
Police forces 'to be cut to 24'
20 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Police chiefs in merger 'summit'
18 Mar 06 |  West Yorkshire
Police merger plans to go ahead
03 Mar 06 |  UK Politics


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