Merger failure a blow

RICHARD BALLS Norfolk's top police officer last night voiced her disappointment at the blow dealt to the government's merger plans, warning that officers could be plundered from the frontline if the amalgamation with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire was scrapped.

RICHARD BALLS

Norfolk's top police officer last night voiced her disappointment at the blow dealt to the government's merger plans, warning that officers could be plundered from the frontline if the amalgamation with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire was scrapped.

Chief constable Carole Howlett, who had previously agreed to extend her temporary stay until Norfolk Constabulary's future had become clear, said there did not now seem to be “the funding and the political will” to drive the scheme forward.

Her remarks come in the wake of the government's decision to halt a merger between forces in Lancashire and Cumbria, a development seen by many as a hammer blow to its plans to merge the 43 forces around the country into 17 regional super forces.

Unlike many constabularies, Norfolk was right behind the proposals and had volunteered to merge with its neighbours, while Suffolk and Cambridgeshire were opposed to them.

Speaking at a press briefing in Norwich about the criminal justice system, Mrs Howlett said: “I am very disappointed. The rationale for going down this route was the capacity for dealing with major crime, anti-terrorism, roads policing and, at the same time, the roll-out of local and neighbourhood policing.

Most Read

“That rationale has not changed at all and we saw a merger with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire as the very best way we could deal with policing right across the board. We increasingly find it harder to deal with the big issues without withdrawing officers from the front line.”

Asked why Norfolk had been so supportive of the government's contro-versial strategy to create regional forces when so many had opposed them, Mrs Howlett said “a significant minority” of chief constables had shared her own view and that, because of its size, Norfolk was increasingly being stretched.

“I would never advocate that it's 'one size fits all',” she said.

“I can only speak for the pressures facing Norfolk and for the financial situation for years to come and for all those reasons it would make absolute sense for Norfolk.”

The collapse of the planned merger in Lancashire and Cumbria will have been a bitter blow to home secretary John Reid and comes just after he announced there would no progress on the proposals before the parliamentary summer recess.

It is understood that the government's failure to meet the up-front costs of amalgamation and help equalise council tax rates led to the decision.

Former home secretary and Norwich South MP Charles Clarke, who initiated the proposals, condemned the announcement, warning that it would jeopardise the whole police reform programme and delay the introduction of neighbourhood policing throughout the country.