Police forces set to be slashed to 24

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The Independent Online

The number of police forces in England and Wales will be slashed from 43 to 24 under plans announced by Home Secretary Charles Clarke today.

He revealed the latest plans to create a police "super force" in the East Midlands, merging five existing constabularies.

Two further massive new forces will be created in the east of England out of six existing county forces, while Surrey and Sussex will also combine.

Kent, Hampshire and Thames Valley have won a reprieve and will remain as they are.

Mr Clarke said in a written statement to MPs: "My vision for the police service in the 21st century is that it should be close, responsive and accountable to the communities it serves, supported by larger forces with the capacity and specialist expertise to protect the public from wider threats such as serious and organised crime.

"I am ... today meeting the representatives from the police forces and authorities in these areas.

"I will be inviting them to engage closely with me to consider taking forward the option for policing which I believe will be of greatest benefit to their communities."

The police authorities have until 7 April to respond, after which Mr Clarke will make a final decision.

He has the power to force the changes through even if local police bosses disapprove.

Together with another set of amalgamations announced earlier this month, the plans will reduce the number of forces in England and Wales from 43 to 24.

Today's announcement will see mergers of:

* Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire;

* Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk;

* Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex;

* Surrey and Sussex.

Earlier this month Mr Clarke said he intended to amalgamate forces in Wales, the North East, North West and West Midlands, namely:

* 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.

Greater Manchester Police would remain as a "stand alone" force.

The proposals for the West Midlands would create the second-largest force in England and Wales after the Met, with 13,855 full-time equivalent officers.

Today's plan for a huge East Midlands force would be the third largest with 9,438.

A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary concluded last year that smaller forces were ill-equipped to deal with terrorism and serious crime.

The Association of Police Authorities has strongly criticised the way Mr Clarke has carried out the merger plans, accusing him of using bribes to get forces to agree.

They also estimate the full package of mergers across England and Wales will cost more than £1 billion.

A decision on mergers has yet to be made in the South West and in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

If the greatest number of possible mergers takes place in these two regions - as set out by the Home Office last November - there would be just 17 forces in England and Wales.