Officers likely to reject police reforms

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Rank and file police officers are expected to defy the Home Secretary and vote against his proposals to reform the police service. Leaders of 126,000 officers, who were balloted in England and Wales yesterday, predicted an "overwhelming" vote against Mr Blunkett's plans to change the police's pay and conditions of work.

If the proposals are rejected, Mr Blunkett is likely to turn to independent arbitrators to try to hammer out a deal with the police. Such a move would be bound to be seen as a further climbdown, with many concessions already having been made.

Mr Blunkett is said to be angered at the way the association representing rank and file officers opposed his plans and he had been determined not to give any further ground. He had planned to push ahead with his reform Bill but has decided to use arbitration and try to prevent further confrontations with the police.

The police are particularly unhappy at cuts in overtime payments for the majority of officers. The Bill also includes measures to allow civilians to be hired to patrol the streets alongside fully trained officers.

Glen Smyth, Police Federation chairman for the Metropolitan area, said snap polls from officers indicated a strong "no" vote. "I would be very surprised if it was not an overwhelming rejection," Mr Smyth predicted.

The result of the ballot on the reforms will not be known until 25 February. A Home Office spokesman insisted: "The deal on the table is a good one. It means the vast majority of police officers will be better off."