MPs round on Home Office over police force mergers

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The Home Office will come under renewed attack today from MPs angry at plans to merge police forces.

The planned shake-up will be debated by MPs days after police authorities accused Home Secretary Charles Clarke of trying to "bribe" forces into submission.

Mr Clarke revealed plans last month to slash the number of forces in England and Wales from 43 to as few as 12.

Traditional county forces would be merged with neighbours to form " strategic forces".

The shake-up follows a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary which said forces with less than 4,000 officers were not equipped to fight sophisticated modern crime.

The Home Office claims mergers are needed to enable forces to cope with the demands of threats from terrorism and the drugs trade.

All forces have been asked to consider the best options for their region and to submit their final proposals for restructuring by the end of the year.

MPs of all parties have demanded the moves be put on hold so that they can be properly discussed amid claims the changes were being rushed.

Police authorities have threatened to refuse to co-operate with Mr Clarke unless he meets a series of demands, including a pledge that the Government would meet all the merger costs.

Police sources revealed that ministers had instructed force leaders to borrow money to meet the costs of reorganising and rebranding their forces.

Mr Clarke had offered extra money to authorities who volunteered to merge their forces by next Friday's deadline, APA chairman Bob Jones said on Friday.

"It is disappointing that the Home Secretary is now trying to bribe some police authorities to merge their local police forces at the expense of those police authorities who still have serious concerns whether this will deliver the best policing for local people.

"We will not be bought off," he said.

The reorganisation, the most dramatic policing shake-up for 30 years. will cost between £500-£600 million, the APA estimates.

Defending the plans, Home Office Minister Hazel Blears told the Daily Telegraph: "Unless we grasp the nettle now, in five to 10 years' time the pressures on neighbourhood policing will be so great that you won't be able to give people dedicated .125local police.375 teams."