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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 21:34 GMT
Second police force merger worry
Police recruits
The home secretary wants to see an all-Wales police force created
A second Welsh police authority chair has expressed concern at the prospect of Wales' four forces merging.

Gwent Police Authority's Geraint Price-Thomas criticised the speed of the process and said local taxpayers faced a 100m bill if it went ahead.

North Wales Police Authority members repeated their opposition to the scheme at a special meeting on Friday.

Its chair, Ian Roberts, has described Home Secretary Charles Clarke's plans for one Wales force as "a shambles".

Mr Price-Thomas told BBC Wales: "We have consistently argued the process was being rushed and that there was no new money available to cater for the cost of restructuring.

"We're talking here in terms of 100m costs being borne potentially by local taxpayers if no new money is on the table."

My message to the police authorities is, get in there, do a tough negotiation, I'll back you
Peter Hain MP

He argued if the costs of restructuring were not met, there would be a "natural tendency" for neighbourhood policing to suffer.

Mr Price-Thomas said the authority was unlikely to meet the 24 February deadline to agree to a merger because some of their primary concerns had not been replied to by Mr Clarke.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain urged authorities to accept the proposals but "do a tough negotiation" over funding.

Police officers
The UK Government says Welsh forces are currently too small

Senior officers in North Wales Police have previously highlighted their concerns.

Mr Clarke has said a merger could go ahead initially without North Wales Police, although it would be forced into merger later.

The North Wales Police Authority meeting on Friday ended with a decision to meet in a week's time to decide an official response to the home secretary's proposals.

Ministers argue that the Welsh forces - all with fewer than 4,000 officers - are too small to deal with issues such as terrorism and cross-border crime.

The chief constables of South Wales, Gwent and Dyfed-Powys Police have since expressed support for the idea.

'Questions'

But Mr Roberts said: "One vitally important thing that the home secretary has failed to demonstrate is how scrapping North Wales Police would benefit the people of north Wales."

He told the BBC news website: "The overwhelming feeling in north Wales is that an all-Wales force will not give the benefits that the home secretary [claims]."

"We've had feedback from the county councils, the town and community councils. There have been letters to the press, word of mouth."

"There are still questions that need to be answered, questions which should have been asked and addressed at the outset."

In October last year, the force's deputy chief constable presented a report to the authority which claimed 8m would enable North Wales Police to respond to serious crime and terror in the way required by the home secretary.

'Savings'

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain told BBC Wales it was not clear exactly who would be paying for the costs of reorganisation, but said Mr Clarke had provided "upfront money".

"Over time, the studies show there would be savings in reduced back office staff, personnel, IT, that kind of thing.

"In terms of local taxpayers, I see no reason why anybody should fear any increased council tax."

He added: "My message to the police authorities is, get in there, do a tough negotiation, I'll back you.

"I've already got commitments from the home secretary to have a regional element in policing, to protect regional interests, especially in north Wales."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear the arguments over the police merger plans



SEE ALSO:
Police 'miss merge plan deadline'
23 Dec 05 |  UK Politics
Merger row forces 'go it alone'
22 Dec 05 |  England


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