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Get a grip’ call on police merger

PUBLISHED: 08:00 20 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:03 22 October 2010

RICHARD BALLS

Norfolk's police authority chairman reacted angrily last night to delays in merging the region's constabularies after Home Secretary John Reid put back plans until the autumn.

Norfolk's police authority chairman reacted angrily last night to delays in merging the region's constabularies after Home Secretary John Reid put back plans until the autumn.

However, Suffolk's chief constable welcomed the minister's Commons announcement that moves for mergers - which would slash the number of police forces in England and Wales - would not be set in motion before the summer recess, starting on July 25.

Conservatives welcomed the post-ponement and said the entire scheme should be ditched.

The plans include merging Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire constab-ularies into one Eastern region force.

Norfolk Police Authority chairman Stephen Bett said the delay was irritating. "All the three constab-ularies know it would be wise to go down the amalgamation route," he said. "They are all geared up and working to go down that route, and not making a decision is just causing people anxiety. What I would like is for him to just get a grip of it and get on with the amalgamation.

"If we do not do it, by 2009 the smaller rural constabularies will be in meltdown because we just do not know where the money is coming from to enable us to police properly. The sooner we get on with it, the better."

But Suffolk chief constable Alastair McWhirter said: "We welcome the Home Secretary's decision to consult with us more fully on the most effective approach to meeting our joint aims to improve both neighbourhood policing and protective services."

Mr Reid told MPs at question time that he believed mergers were still "the right way to improve protective police services". He said he hoped to press ahead with laying orders for the voluntary merger of Cumbria and Lancashire police forces.

The Home Secretary said: "I do accept that people want to discuss at greater length and in greater detail a lot of the questions arising from it, and I have therefore decided ... that this merits further and slower consideration.'

The move was welcomed by MPs, including Tory Robert Goodwill, who accused Mr Reid of kicking mergers into the long grass and called for a referendum on the changes. Mr Reid replied: "I can't promise a referendum but I can promise discussion, dialogue and listening throughout."

Soon after being made Home Secretary last month, Mr Reid told the Association of Chief Police Officers that he hoped to have started the mergers by the recess. The reforms were begun by his predecessor, Charles Clarke, after a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary warned the present set-up could not deal with the demands of 21st century policing.

The mergers could lead to the existing 43 forces being cut to as few as 17.

Shadow police reform minister Nick Herbert urged the Government now to stop what he called "these unnecessary and expensive amalgamations".


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