Police force mergers go ahead

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The Independent Online

A controversial series of police force mergers will go ahead despite opposition from a number of forces, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said today.

New "superforces" will be created in East Anglia, the Midlands, South East and Yorkshire and Humber.

Local forces and police authorities will have until August 11 to submit objections, but Mr Clarke said he expected to begin merger procedures in the autumn.

The new forces would then come into operation on April 1, 2008, he said in a written statement.

Mr Clarke said: "Norfolk Police Authority has volunteered to merge, but in theabsence of a similar request to merge from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk PoliceAuthorities this merger is unable to proceed on a voluntary basis.

"North Yorkshire Police Authority has volunteered to merge, but in the absence of a similar request to merge from Humberside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire Police Authorities this merger is unable to proceed on a voluntary basis.

"I am satisfied, on the basis of the protective services assessment undertaken by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and our evaluation of the financial and other aspects of the business cases submitted to us in December, that it would be in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of policing for the following forces to merge."

He then listed the new superforces as follows:

* Humberside, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire

* Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire

* Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk

* Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire

* Surrey and Sussex.

Hampshire, Kent and Thames Valley will remain as stand alone forces but will reconfigure as "strategic forces".

"I am accordingly today giving written notice to all the police authorities, local authorities and chief constables in the affected areas of my intention to merge the above police force areas, setting out my reasons for proposing the merger and specifying the general nature of the provisions to be made," Mr Clarke said.

"I will carefully consider any objections received."

Apart from today's announcement Mr Clarke is also planning the merger of:

* Cumbria and Lancashire

* Cheshire and Merseyside

* Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria

* Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands

* Dyfed Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales.

He has also announced that Greater Manchester will remain a "stand alone " force.Police forces in the South West - the final area awaiting a merger decision - will hear their fate next month.

If all the South West forces are merged, as set out as a possibility by the Home Office last November, there would be just 17 forces in England and Wales compared with the existing 43.

The Metropolitan Police and City of London Police are not part of the review.Last month it was claimed the merger plans would actually hinder the fight against crime.

Right-of-centre think-tank Policy Exchange said Mr Clarke's argument for restructuring was "misleading and misguided".

The document said large forces were no more efficient or effective than smaller ones, pointing out that the largest force in the country - the Metropolitan Police - is also the worst-performing.

Statistics put forward by the Home Office to back up its project were " deeply suspect", the study said.

Mr Clarke should concentrate on modernising the way the police work instead of carrying out structural changes, it said.

The report said: "By trying to force through traumatic and counter-productive amalgamations in the teeth of public and professional opinion, the Government is wasting political capital and hindering the fight against crime."

However, last year's HMIC report said smaller forces were ill-equipped to tackle terrorism and serious crime.