In a move welcomed by police forces and local authorities, Mr Clarke retreated from his widely floated idea of merging a large number of mainly smaller forces in England and Wales to halve the total of 43. Instead, there will be legislative changes to allow mergers 'when the time is right'.
While proposals for greater budgetary control for police authorities were also warmly received, plans for centrally appointed members and chairmen and the setting of 'national objectives and performance standards' met more opposition.
John Burrow, Chief Constable of Essex and president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said central appointment of chairmen could represent 'a dangerous shift of power to the centre'.
Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, welcomed the proposal to set up a London police authority but criticised outside appointments. He said that the appointment of chairmen and some members by the Home Secretary would lead to greater centralisation - a charge Mr Clarke denied. He was also sceptical about the impact on the crime rate, which he said was 'making life hell for many people'.
The Home Secretary's statement was seen at Westminster as a balancing act, partly influenced by the likelihood that he will replace Norman Lamont as Chancellor next year, when the battle over more radical plans would have peaked.
Yesterday's package is the biggest structural change since the 1964 Police Act, which established the present system. A White Paper in June may include changes in ranks and responsibilities to be recommended by the Sheehy inquiry; legislation could follow in the autumn.
Mr Clarke told the Commons he wanted to give police greater control over budgets. Present procedures 'shackle police forces. . . . far too often, decisions that could and should be taken locally are referred upwards'. Forces will be free to choose between spending their fixed budgets on officers or equipment.
Police authorities will be given greater autonomy. At the moment they appoint officers of assistant chief constable and above, subject to Home Office approval, and have no direct operational control. But members can make suggestions to chief constables, who are obliged to provide a report on any subject. Authorities allocate a chief constable's budget and jointly determine spending priorities.
Mr Clarke plans to end the system where chief constables and authorities need Home Office permission to spend small capital sums and recruit more officers.
Mr Clarke said authorities would be held responsible for the performance of their force. They should have 'fewer members and be more businesslike bodies' with more people having 'relevant management experience'. The new bodies will be free-standing, precepting organisations, like water authorities.
Mr Clarke told a press conference later that he favoured authorities of 16 with half being elected councillors, three locally-appointed magistrates and five local people, appointed by the Home Office. The chairman would be drawn from the members. At the moment authorities comprise two-thirds elected members and one- third magistrates.
The new London police authority would end the situation where the Home Secretary has direct responsibility for the Metropolitan Police and follow the new national model.
Existing changes to devolve power to senior divisional officers meant police force headquarters would become 'co-ordinators and supporters of local policing' rather than commanders of local policing. While there would no longer be a need for '43 separate headquarters maintaining 43 parallel organisations' he had 'no fixed views' about the number of forces.
Alan Eastwood, chairman of the Police Federation, said that leaving open the issue of mergers would 'exacerbate uncertainty and damage
Local authority leaders welcomed the funding announcements but criticised the new system of appointments.
Shires' resistance, page 8
Leading article, page 21
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