June 30, 2006

Cumbria police chief defends merger

The Chief Constable of Cumbria has defended plans to merge the county’s police force with Lancashire Police, claiming an amalgamation was inevitable, says Lakeland Radio.

Michael Baxter said a merger would have happened if the Government had not proposed to cut the number of forces. He said it would happen due to the fact that there would not be enough cash to fight serious crime and for neighbourhood policing.

June 29, 2006

More opposition to mergers

Police authority chiefs have vowed to kill off plans to merge the Merseyside and Cheshire forces once and for all, reports the Liverpool Daily Post. And Merseyside Police Authority also called on the Government to release £125m it had set aside to finance mergers so that "public protection" measures such as anti-terrorism work could be enhanced.

More than 1,400 people have texted Derbyshire police with their opinion on whether the five East Midland forces should merge, reports the Ilkeston Advertiser. 95.04% of votes were against the merger and 4.2% in favour.

In Lincolnshire only some 20 people attended a consultation meeting about plans to merge Lincolnshire with forces covering Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire, reports The Boston Standard:
During the meeting Lincolnshire's chief constable Tony Lake said: "The option of being grouped with some of these forces does not do a lot for me."

He said he would prefer a merger involving South Humberside instead.

Lincolnshire Police Authority is concerned about the funding of a new super force, as well as its accountability. Police precept costs to taxpayers in the county could rise as a result of a merger – and Lincolnshire may only get four representatives on a finalised East Midlands Police Authority.

June 27, 2006

Recent news

Labour condemns £15,000 public consultation in Essex.


POLICE Minister Tony McNulty promised that County Durham would not be broken up as part of controversial plans for a North-East superforce - Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, has said.

Durham and Northumbria support plans to merge Durham, Northumbria and Cleveland into a North-East force. Cleveland police oppose the move and would instead prefer to see a Tees Valley force that would add south Durham to Cleveland's existing patch.


Tony McNulty has said there are no plans to transfer control of the welsh police forces to the assembly.

June 23, 2006

Big consultation exercise in Essex

Over 700,000 questionnaires will land on door mats across Essex over the next few weeks in a massive 'ask the people' exercise, reports icEssex.
Government proposals, announced last November, to merge the Essex force into a large strategic unit met with fierce opposition from local councils, Essex Police, the police authority and 14 of the county's 15 MPs. They all wanted the county to stay as a stand alone force....

Robert Chambers, who chairs Essex Police Authority said: "This is a genuine consultation with communities and we will report back its findings - whatever the outcome. The public pay for policing, and they are entitled to have a say on the future of the service."

East Midlands merger opposed

Eastwood Today says that Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire Police Authorities had all disagreed with the plan for an East Midlands 'superforce'.

But John Clarke, chairman of Notts Police Authority, said, "We have said we are not for or against a merged East Midlands police force, but want more time to consult the public about the proposal."

East Midlands Conservative MEPs Chris Heaton-Harris and Roger Helmer welcomed the announcement but said they would continue campaigning against the mergers until the proposals were scrapped entirely.

They are determined that policing should be kept local.

Mr Heaton-Harris, said: "This is a partial victory but we will keep up the fight until we can be sure that local police forces are safe from the hands of Labour home secretaries.

"We will continue to campaign on this to make sure that John Reid knows that these plans are unwanted and unnecessary."

Mr Helmer added: "I am delighted to see that the government has finally started to see sense on this issue.

"But I am astonished at the pig-headed way they kept pressing on with it, against the advice of so many police forces, and in the teeth of public opposition."

"Little hope" that Wiltshire force will stay independent

Wiltshire Police has said it wants to remain independent but part of a strategic alliance' with Gloucestershire and Dorset, reports the Swindon Advertiser. This has been known as the 'sausage' option because of the geographical shape of the area.

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove told Mr Reid that although Wiltshire constabulary was too small to respond adequately to major incidents, crime levels in Swindon and Wiltshire remained the lowest in the country. She said:
Any proposed changes would need to satisfy me that local policing would continue to improve, and that neighbourhood policing would be a major area of expansion in order to tackle anti-social behaviour and petty crime.
The home secretary replied that the status quo is not an option.

June 22, 2006

Developments in Hertfordshire

A new working group has been set up by Hertfordshire, Essex and Bedfordshire senior police officials to look at the opportunities of working together, reports the Bishops Stortford Citizen, where there is more detail.
Hertfordshire Police Authority has received thousands of replies to its public consultation about the merger proposals. The consultation runs until July 10. The feedback will be considered by the authority when it meets on July 21 to agree its response to the Home Secretary.

Local councils and police authorities have until August 11 to raise any objections on the merger.

The on-line survey and questionnaires are available at http://www.herts-police-authority.org.uk.

Views can be emailed to survey.hpa@herts.pnn.police.uk or by texting MERGEYES or MERGENO to 81025.

More welcome merger decision delay

Cambridgeshire MPs have welcomed the recent Lords vote, reports the Cambridge Evening News.
Cambridgeshire South-East MP Jim Paice, a former Tory police spokesman, said: "This is good news. I hope the Government just accepts defeat and abandons the plans to merge Cambridgeshire."

Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth said: "I hope enough Labour MPs will join with us in opposing the mergers to force the Government to drop the idea."
The Redditch Standard reports that the chairman of West Mercia Police Authority has welcomed the decision to delay plans to force it to merge within the next 12 months. He said the force would continue to campaign to secure a strategic police service for people living in the West Mercia force area.

A cool welcome for the delay in Lincolnshire

A delay in plans to merge Lincolnshire police has been welcomed. Lincolnshire would merge with Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire to form an East Midlands force, despite all five police authorities objecting to the move.

Many people believe it would leave rural communities with a reduced police presence while resources were pooled in inner city areas.

Spalding Today reports
Lincolnshire Police Authority clerk and treasurer Roger Buttery said he believes the delay hasn't revealed anything, particularly after the authority received a "vague" letter from the Government.

The authority originally rejected the plans and members' concerns about funding, accountability and how different county council precept levels would be balanced have not been addressed.

Mr Buttery told the Spalding Guardian: "We have written three letters to the Home Office and finally got a response.

"That is a fact to be welcomed but what it actually means 'I don't know'.

"The consultation period goes up to August 11 and we always knew the Home Secretary would not lay any orders to merge the five authorities by then because Parliament is not in session.

"We always assumed it would be extended to October but we have no idea if that is the case."

Insp Tony Smith, of Spalding police, said that the delay wouldn't affect the consultation process for most forces.

He said: "A lot of the work has already been undertaken by forming groups to appraise the situation and will continue to be done because if it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

"The work will be done throughout the county because police forces need to be talking about logistics, protocol and plans."

Mr Buttery said: "We have always advocated that it was too fast and we have still got a lot of unanswered questions".
More here.

Robust message from Yorkshire

The Yorkshire Post reports that East Riding councillors are being urged to send a strong message to the Home Secretary by voting against moves to merge regional police forces.
Coun Graham Stroud, the chairman of Humberside Police Authority and an East Riding councillor, is now calling on politicians in the East Riding to back a motion to voice their opposition to the Home Office move at next week's meeting of East Riding Council, amid fears the changes will lead to the number of police officers on the streets being slashed.

Police authorities in the region have calculated a £36m funding black hole could emerge over five years and the money will have to be found out of existing budgets, leading to fewer police on the streets.

And they say set-up costs alone could be in the region of £60m – £21m more than Home Office consultants suggest. The Home Office has said it will pay what it estimates set-up costs to be, leaving, opponents say, £57m to be found.

Coun Stroud said: "Fifty-seven million pounds at this stage is not good news for people who want good policing. If we have to find money out of existing budgets something will have to give – and what it amounts to in the end is fewer police officers.

"Eighty per cent of all money spent on policing goes on staffing costs – that gives an indication of the likely impact."

He accepted there had to be change to combat modern threats but not by dismantling the entire police force.

Coun Stroud said: "I recognise that policing needs to change to cope with the increasing threat from major and organised crime, terrorism and extremism.

"However, I do not believe it is necessary to dismantle the police service to achieve it. National and regional problems could be dealt with on that basis, but local policing should remain under the control of local police forces.

"Many chief constables and police authorities favour a federal approach which would involve each force taking responsibility for particular aspects of policing in the region without merging forces."

That could mean West Yorkshire leading on terrorism threats or South Yorkshire on road policing. Another suggestion was extending the remit of the newly created Serious and Organised Crime Agency.

Although Home Secretary John Reid has delayed the process, Coun Stroud thinks it is only a matter of time before it is raised again. "There is a strong suspicion that it is back-door regionalisation. They lost the battle in the North-East so they are having a go through policing and elsewhere."
Humberside Police Authority, as well as those in West and South Yorkshire, has already voted against the plan, which would create one force of 13,000 officers.

Scarborough MP opposes merger

The Scarborough Evening News reports that the delay has been welcomed by the local MP, Robert Goodwill.
Mr Goodwill accused Mr Reid of kicking mergers "into the long grass" and suggested that mergers would now be a long way down the Home Office agenda.

"I can understand your wish to kick this into the long grass which, in the case of Yorkshire and the Humber, I hope is elephant grass," he said, before calling for a referendum before any enforced mergers took place.

Mr Reid told him: "I do accept that people want to discuss at greater length and in greater detail a lot of the questions arising from it and I have therefore decided ... that this merits further and slower consideration.

"I can't promise a referendum but I can promise discussion, dialogue and listening throughout."

June 21, 2006

Comment from Wales

A welsh commentator writes
Welsh Labour MPs have been keeping up the pressure on the Home Office over plans to create a single police force.

Not content with the delay in the merger process announced by Home Secretary John Reid earlier this week, I understand the Welsh Labour group summoned the police minister Tony McNulty to their meeting.

While they didn't get a pledge to rethink the whole plan - at least not yet - what they did get out of the meeting was a promise that Mr McNulty was genuinely intending to listen.

Wrexham MP Ian Lucas told me that it'll be the beginning of "a long-term relationship".

He's convinced that if the Home Office looks objectively at the proposals for Wales, it will become clear that a single force won't achieve what it's supposed to.

Nobody's deluding themselves - restructuring is going to happen but that doesn't mean the plans can't be changed.

Ynys Mon MP Albert Owen told me that he believes further concessions can be won if MPs, AMs and police authority members keep the pressure up but offer alternatives instead of carping from the sidelines.

Surrey welcomes police mergers delay

According to This is Hertfordshire, Surrey County Council claims merging the Surrey and Sussex forces would cost £27 million and would not address the under-funding of the police force.
Nick Skellett, leader of the council, said: "We should welcome the news this week that the Home Secretary has delayed any decision on the merger of our police force with Sussex. Exactly how long this delay might be, we can only speculate.

"But it gives us the time to ensure residents are aware of the potential consequences of the move and to make sure people have the facts to hand in order to make an informed decision."
Surrey County Council has also raised concerns that any merger with Sussex, which has a higher crime rate than Surrey, might see resources diverted from the county.

So there we are. Everyone loses because the Home Office doesn't want to pay for the merger costs out of central funds.

And people fear they will be losers locally. Rural areas fear they will lose resources to the towns and cities, and areas with lower crime rates fear resources will be diverted to more crime-prone districts.

So who see themselves as likely winners? From the news we've watched on this blog so far - no one, it seems.

Fearful losers and no winners - does this look like good politics?!

June 20, 2006

New obstacle for police mergers

Plans to merge police forces could face an extra hurdle after a new defeat for the government in the House of Lords, reports the BBC.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers secured the fresh victory over the government by passing an amendment to the Police and Justice Bill.

Laws passed in 1996 mean police forces can be merged if the home secretary thinks it is efficient or if the police authorities, made up of councillors, magistrates and other local people, want it to happen.

But the new amendment would allow mergers to go ahead only if both conditions are met.
The Tory shadow minister Baroness Anelay said:
"The government say they are in favour of neighbourhood policing and local accountability. We support that.

"They say they want an overall force that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. We support that too.

"But then they career off on the wrong course and insist that police forces should merge even when local forces are against it."
More here.

"No need for mergers to beat terror"

Comment from North Wales Daily Post
Bad policies rarely die. Instead they just fade away.

This, we very much hope, is fate that awaits the spectacularly unpopular plan to merge the four police forces of Wales.

The plan's chief architect, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, is gone, having failed to devote himself to the more pressing matter of resolving the shambles that is the immigration service.

His successor has already developed a better understanding of the priorities in his "dysfunctional" department..

So the question is: will the consolidation of policing in England and Wales sit on the back burner only long enough for John Reid to resolve the asylum crisis?

There is a note of quiet optimism in the responses to the Home Secretary's statement that a Parliament order will not now be used to drive through the merger.

Instead he has offered further talks over the summer with the North Wales force, police authority and local politicians.

At the very least, he will be hoping this course of action will draw the sting from the threat of a judicial review if the shake-up was railroaded through Parliament.

This approach is far removed from the disgraceful course taken by Mr Clarke in riding roughshod over public opinion.

Dr Reid might be a blunt fellow but he does feel the democratic pressure of responding to public opinion, articulated by newspapers such as this.

And this is our best hope that all the dangers inherent in a merger of the four forces will be addressed, meaning that the prospect of a pan-Wales force is no longer inevitable.

But it would also be wrong to believe that the endgame should be to hold out for a completely unchanged police structure.

Yes, the idea of "one force" with one chief constable totally ignores geography, communication and demographic factors, both within Wales and in relation to English forces over the border everywhere from Queensferry to Cardiff.

But North Wales needs to demonstrate that it can develop formal working relationships to pool resources with its neighbouring forces, so that if worst excesses of organised crime - or the nightmare of terrorism - come our way, this efficient but small force can quickly and effectively summon support to deal with them.
More welsh voices are saying that merging is not the answer, but if there is to be a merger this would be the wrong one.

Disagreement in East Anglia

The Eastern Daily Press reports mixed reactions in East Anglia.
Norfolk Police Authority chairman Stephen Bett said the delay was irritating. "All the three constabularies know it would be wise to go down the amalgamation route," he said. "They are all geared up and working to go down that route, and not making a decision is just causing people anxiety. What I would like is for him to just get a grip of it and get on with the amalgamation.

"If we do not do it, by 2009 the smaller rural constabularies will be in meltdown because we just do not know where the money is coming from to enable us to police properly. The sooner we get on with it, the better."

But Suffolk chief constable Alastair McWhirter said: "We welcome the Home Secretary's decision to consult with us more fully on the most effective approach to meeting our joint aims to improve both neighbourhood policing and protective services."
Tory MP Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) called for a referendum on the changes.

We seem to recall that public opinion locally was hostile to police force mergers. Is Mr Bett carrying his voters with him?

Maybe he should be asked! We would be happy to publish his response.

Shropshire MPs oppose mergers

From The Shropshire Star
Shropshire MPs today told the Government’s police minister that the controversial plan to merge West Mercia Police with three other forces should be scrapped and not just delayed.

Three of the county’s four Tory MPs were due to see Home Office minister Tony McNulty after the announcement that the merger with the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Warwickshire forces is to be postponed.

Sussex county councillor sets out objections

Partly it's the usual reaction welcoming the delay in the merger proposals, reported here.

But he usefully sets out the Council's objections, which may be a useful checklist for campaigners elsewhere. In his words:

First, the serious question of cost. It has been estimated it will take £20m merely to merge the Information Technology in Surrey and Sussex.

And how will this affect Project Nemesis, Sussex Police's £2.3m crime and intelligence computer system, the installation of which is already two years behind schedule?

Add to the IT costs, re-branding and staff reorganisation and the potential expenditure is enormous. In the drive for a quick result, we believe the costs have not really been properly thought through.

Downing Street's own strategy unit has warned mergers would be expensive and disruptive. This contradicts claims made by Dr Reid's predecessor that the benefits of merging will outweigh costs.

Second, the threat to neighbourhood policing. Only two weeks ago, the Association of Chief Police Officers (APCO) warned that 500 front-line jobs could go if the two forces were merged.

It is not difficult to see how damaging this could be to Sussex Police policy of moving towards neighbourhood policing, which is a major way of increasing public reassurance.

Third, the impact on the council taxpayer. Surrey Police charges its communities a lot more than Sussex Police. A merged force could mean as much as a 20 per cent hike in the Police Authority charge to residents of West Sussex. That is just not acceptable.

Fourth, the lack of accountability. A merged force would be more remote from the communities it serves, so less aware of local policing priorities and would have a potentially weaker public representation on its Authority.

June 19, 2006

Reid "delays" police mergers

John Reid says he is delaying plans to merge police forces in England and Wales until the autumn, reports everyone including the BBC.
He told MPs he believed mergers were still "the right way" forward, but he promised further discussions before laying any orders to enforce them.

However, the "voluntary" merger of Cumbria and Lancashire can proceed.
The Association of Police Authorities welcomed the delay. The Tories called for the merger plans to be scrapped. In other reaction:
The Cleveland Police Authority, which has opposed the merging of Cleveland with the Durham and Northumbria forces, said it was not surprised by the announcement.

Councillor Dave McLuckie, chair of the authority, said: "I do not believe anyone will be really surprised by John Reid's announcement that the original timetable laid down by Charles Clarke is to be abandoned.

"It was always unrealistic and undeliverable - and we have been trying to tell ministers and civil servants that was the case since last year."

The Welsh Assembly Government, which has complained about the pace of the merger of Wales's four forces, welcomed Mr Reid's announcement of a delay.

Wales's Social Justice Minister Edwina Hart said: "The chief constables, chairs of the police authorities in Wales and I have been pressing both the current and former Home Office ministers to review the timetable and I am delighted that they have now done so."

David Warcup, deputy chief constable of Northumbria Police, said: "In Northumbria we welcomed the opportunity offered by a single strategic force for the North East and will continue to support this process.

"The destination has been made clear but we will be seeking clarification about timescales and will be pressing ministers to give us a decision at the earliest opportunity."
In the west Midlands, Mercia Police Authority welcomed the statement. And a joint statement by the chief constables and police authority chairs for the Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands forces welcomed the announcement.
Diana Holl-Allen, chair of West Midlands Police Authority, said: "We are pleased the home secretary has acknowledged the need to ensure that the concerns of authorities and forces on a range of issues, including cost, council tax and local accountability, still need to be addressed."
Labour MP Gisela Stuart, whose local West Midlands police force is in favour of a merger, urged Mr Reid not to consult too long, saying uncertainty was as difficult to deal with as change.

Ex-police chief "to run force mergers"

Norman Bettison, Merseyside's former Chief Constable, will mastermind the plans to merge police forces across the country, reports ic Liverpool.

They claim he "will be in charge of turning round widespread opposition from police and taxpayers" - which is surely not a policeman's role.

The reporters say that "his difficult task will include overseeing Merseyside and Cheshire's police joining forces, a move described as "the merger no one wants"". He said:
The first priority is making sense of what the obstacles and the barriers are standing in the way and helping the Home Office deal with them.

Where we go from there is working out what needs to be done to reorganise police forces and doing what we can centrally instead of repeating them.

I'm not leading it or directing it, but I'll be coordinating things. The job will take a couple of years.
However, the site reports officers believe plans to merge Merseyside and Cheshire police will result in spiralling costs and fewer officers, while people fear their local police will be sent miles away to deal with crime in other areas.
Both Merseyside and Cheshire's police authorities have snubbed the Government's deadlines for agreeing to the merger.

Peter Nurse, chairman of Cheshire Police Authority, said: "If it's up to residents to pay, or if it is to be funded through the cutting of policing numbers, then we're against it.

"The merger doesn't make sense in policing terms. The people of Cheshire are more interested in us dealing with yobs on street corners than serious crime as it's less of an issue."
And the piece reminds us that:
Across Britain's 43 police forces, a confidential report has said 25,000 police jobs could be axed if the mergers are to take place without additional funding.

The report says the merger could also harm plans to expand neighbourhood policing, although the Government denies this.
More here.

More criticism of Labour MP for supporting merger

We saw how High Peak MP Tom Levitt had come under fire for supporting the merger proposal. Now The Buxton Advertiser has reported more criticism of him.
High Peak MP Tom Levitt has been criticised for toeing the party line and not representing his constituents over plans to merge police forces in the East Midlands.

It follows a letter from the Labour MP in which he states his belief that it was now "highly likely" a five-force regional merger would go ahead.

The Home Office want to merge Derbyshire Constabulary with forces in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire, despite increasing local opposition.

Speaking at a meeting of Hayfield Parish Council last week, Cllr Kathleen Waterhouse said: "I know MPs always go along with their party, but they are there to represent the people and he is not doing that.

"We are getting to a point in this area now where there have been significant improvements in policing. If we have something that is working, why bother changing it?"

Questions were also asked at the meeting as to what representation the High Peak would have on an East Midlands police body.
Interestingly, another speaker said it was the wrong merger that was being proposed.
"How Tom Levitt can think it is a good idea to tie us in with Lincolnshire and Leicestershire is beyond belief.

"You could see sense in putting us in with Greater Manchester because a lot of the criminals we get seem to come from that area."
This echoes comments by north Wales police (in the early days), and in Hampshire/Dorset, that mergers being proposed reflected government Regional boundaries (for no stated reason) rather than police forces' operational experience.

Hopefully this growing criticism will discourage other Labour backbenchers from following the government line uncritically - those who are scared of their Whips can cling for comfort to dissenting MPs such as Ann Cryer and John Grogan.

Who should police forces answer to?

Not the Home Office, argues Simon Jenkins.
Reid wants to merge Britain's police into a regionalised (which means centralised) force so it is "fit for purpose" against terror. The result is wholly predictable, to increase the hysterical in police accountability and diminish the communal. Police chiefs will answer to London and to ministers, not to streets and communities. There will be more Stockwells and Forest Gates, not fewer. There will be more alienation and lack of cooperation from the Muslim community, and more public danger as a result.
More here.

June 17, 2006

Is bigger really better?

Kate Moss won't be charged with drug abuse because prosecutors can't be sure which drug she was using when she was filmed on a mobile phone. Fiona Phillips comments in the Mirror -
The case cost up to £250,000, which no doubt we'll pick up in taxes. Thanks a bunch, Kate. So glad to hear you're earning thousands a day while we have to stump up for your misdemeanours.
Probably it won't mean higher taxes, but other alleged crimes will have gone uninvestigated. How could an experienced drug squad spend anything like that amount when the problem of evidence should have been obvious to them at the outset?

It's the police who wasted our money, not Kate Moss. A bit more democratic say over their priorities wouldn't come amiss.

And the Met is the largest force in the country. The whole basis of the government's proposals to merge forces is that larger forces are more professional.

This carefree profligacy makes that assumption look rocky.

Concerns now in Cambridgeshire

From the Cambridgeshire Times
North-East Cambridgeshire MP Malcolm Moss has expressed concern after a report by senior police officers warned a shortage of funding could lead to the loss of 25,000 officers nationwide.

This, he said, would mean a reduction of 55 officers in Cambridgeshire's Central Division (Fenland and Huntingdon) and 251 fewer officers across Cambridgeshire as a whole.

The report by the association of Chief Police Officers warns that Government proposals to merge forces and provide protective services cannot be achieved "without additional government funding".
He makes a few general points, and then says, "The Government is driving through the costly merger of Cambridgeshire with Norfolk and Suffolk with insufficient debate or scrutiny and against the wishes of local people."

This is especially interesting as it was the performance of the Cambridgeshire force at Soham that led to the initial review.

June 13, 2006

Two policemen write ...

A serving copper writes of "Mr Clarke’s (in my humble opinion) ridiculous plans to force police merger’s through at the rate in which he was planning". Read his views here.

And just before we started here, another police officer picked up voters' opposition to police mergers.

June 12, 2006

Norwich MPs call for delay

This from the Norwich Evening News
Controversial plans to merge Norfolk police with forces in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire could and should be delayed because of the crisis enveloping the Home Office, county MPs said today.

Campaigning MPs Dr Ian Gibson and Norman Lamb have seized upon the current chaos at the Home Office, caused by the release of hundreds of foreign prisoners who should have been considered for deportation, to call for delays to police merger plans....

Although Norfolk Constabulary is still backing the amalgamation, Dr Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said there had to be serious doubts whether it would go ahead on schedule....

Mr Lamb, North Norfolk MP, added his voice to those who are calling for a rethink. “The whole thing has been ludicrously rushed and we've seen the chaos and waste of money through creating Primary Care Trusts and then abolishing them three years later,” he said.

Last month, the Evening News reported how police bosses in Norfolk backed plans to join forces with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire despite renewed calls from other forces to oppose mergers.

North Wales Police Authority opposes merger

Report from the Evening Leader
North Wales Police Authority has decided to formally object to merging into an all-Wales force – and is prepared to mount a legal challenge.

The authority is writing to Home Secretary John Reid pointing out that the public “overwhelmingly support” the retention of North Wales police.

Members claim the proposal was not in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness.

At its meeting in Colwyn Bay the authority also decided to seek a judicial review should Mr Reid over-rule their objections and lay an order in Parliament. It will also limit further spending in reacting to the proposals, hopefully with the other authorities in Wales.

Cllr Malcolm King, a Wrexham councillor and former chairman of the authority, claimed the Home Office process was flawed.

He believed it was nothing to do with providing stronger “protective services” but part of a government bid to “regionalise”.

Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, who will also send his own objection to the Home Secretary, agreed that the proposals were not viable.

But he came under criticism from some members for his support of an all-Wales force, having claimed it would act as a force for good in binding the nation together.

Cllr Terry Renshaw said: “We will never get fairness from South Wales.”

He also protested about the costs of more than £1 million to the Welsh police authorities in reacting to the Home Office proposals, £365,000 in North Wales.

“That’s council tax, people’s money, it’s wasted, thrown down the drain.”

He believed North Wales should stand alone, with an extra £3 million to provide the essential protective services – to combat such issues as terrorism, murder and emergency planning – which were said to be the reason for the merger.

When cllr Eifion Jones pressed Mr Brunstrom on whether he would back such a stand-alone solution for North Wales, he said he would, but he said he preferred to work with an increasingly important Welsh Assembly than with a “disastrous and currently dysfunctional Home Office”.

Mr Brunstrom said although in principle he favoured an all-Wales force it didn’t mean it would happen.

Cllr Jones then asked Mr Brunstrom to make his support for a stand-alone force known to Ministers, who often quoted chief constables as favouring the merger proposals.

Cllr Darren Millar said public feeling was overwhelmingly not only against a merger but also against the concept of an all-Wales force.

Earlier members were told that public consultations showed the main reasons why people were unhappy about an amalgamation were the loss of services and accountability in North Wales, the north-south divide, and the cost.

In one survey involving 363 respondents, 96 per cent had said no

The treasurer, Nigel Thomas, had warned that an all-Wales police service could have an annual deficit of £51 million.

“The position is absolutely clear. It’s not a viable financial proposition,” he advised members.

After the meeting the chairman, Cllr Ian Roberts, said: “If the Home Office decide to over-rule our objections and lay an order in Parliament we intend to review that position in court.

“This will be on the basis that no reasonable Home Secretary could come to that decision.”

If the proposals go forward, an all-Wales force would be in place by April next year.
This is a welcome set-back for the Chief Constable, who will now presumably have to do what his Authority tells him.

More doubts over Welsh police mergers?

Martin Shipton of the Western Mail reports comments on a meeting between Welsh MPs and Mr Blair.
... subjects raised at last Monday's meeting included the controversial plan to merge Wales' four police forces into one. According to some of those present, Mr Blair was surprised at the strength of feeling on the issue and appeared to pledge that the plan would be abandoned.
We all know about Mr Blair's apparent pledges, so let's not rely on this one.

An unwelcome speculation

IT Week is not my regular reading. But this week they are talking to David McElhinney, chief executive of Liverpool Direct, a public-private partnership between BT and Liverpool City Council that provides the council's revenue and benefits services.

McElhinney is arguing that many smaller councils find it hard to undertake comprehensive IT transformation projects to increase efficiency.
McElhinney believes more drastic changes to the structure of the UK's local government may ultimately be the only way to enhance public sector efficiency. "At the moment the government is talking about any police force with less than 4,000 officers being forced to merge," he observed. "But you don't see the same discussion with services like revenue and benefits. Maybe the government is using the police as a trial and will roll out similar initiatives to other services, because it must be frustrated by the [slow] pace of transformation"
- a speculation which I'm sure ministers would rather have not have seen publicised.

But if they did want to merge other services - would they aim for units within Regional boundaries again?

Let's guess.

Reader comment

A reader writes to us (quoted with permission) -
It may be that NO MERGERS is a bit wrong. The problem is the instruction that no mergers can cross 'regional boundaries'. Our Chief Constable in Dorset, for example, does see some sense in merging with Hampshire, because they have many joint interests. But he cannot, as Hampshire is across the 'border'. He sees no sense in merging with Exeter or Bristol, with which he has little joint operation. The most important thing is to put a stop to regions altogether: they are a vital step in the creation of a EU Superstate of 'Regions and Cities', and should be resisted by every means available.
I agree completely about the EU Regions and Cities dimension. We've already seen the north Wales force say in the early days of debate that merger with Cheshire would make more logistical sense for them but they accepted that it wouldn't be politically possible. It's good to have another example of the role that (sometimes artificial) political lines on the map are playing.

Where I disagree is that my own presumption (my colleague will speak for himself) is against any mergers at all.

Firstly, where is the money to pay for the mergers to come from? And if there is to be new money, is merging the best way to spend it?

The other dimension to this discussion is that people need more democratic say over their policing - an issue which the government is understandably not emphasising!

Yorkshire police "facing 300 job cuts"

An MP says nearly 300 full-time police officers across North Yorkshire could lose their jobs, reports the BBC.

Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh says this will be the result of proposed mergers between police forces unless more government cash is forthcoming. She was responding to a report by senior police officers that said plans to merge forces could not be achieved without more government funding. She says she fears 277 jobs could go.

Plans for mergers between four local forces are currently being considered by the Home Office. They have been resisted locally by all but one police force.

June 11, 2006

Day to day policing

We recommend The Policeman's Blog.

Plenty of links there to other police blogs too.

Merged Police Services -What it will mean ?

What at first appears to be an innocent and logical move to improve in quality of Policing in England and Wales is upon detailed examination a very politically inspired plan to reorganise the Police into supersized regional services which, in effect, will be centrally controlled from Westminster.
If the proposals as they stand are implemented it will be a truly Orwellian concept; the start of a National Police force (which translates into 'NuLabour' speek as a ' localised regional service')
In later postings my colleague and I will examine, in detail, how the government's proposals will cost at the very least £60 million to implement, remove local accountability, and reduce down the number of officers in the front line.
In summary, the proposals would lead to the disappearance of the Cheshire force, one of the oldest and West Mercia, assessed as the best performing in England and Wales. Both oppose the mergers.

The Government's intentions in five other areas, including the South-East, where there is little agreement, and the South-West, where the idea of a vast force stretching from Land's End to Gloucester has been strongly criticised.

The Home Office argues that forces of fewer than 4,000 officers cannot deal effectively with cross-border work against terrorism, drug traffickers, complex murders and other serious crime.

The former Home Secretary, Charles Clark adopted the recommendation of Denis O'Connor, a leading Inspector of Constabulary and former Chief Constable of Surrey, that smaller forces are "not fit for purpose" to deal with such modern policing problems, known as level two crime.

Under the proposals for the West Midlands, the Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands forces would merge, despite West Mercia's belief that it should stand alone, with an enhanced capacity for dealing with level two criminality.

In the North-East, the Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria forces would combine. Cleveland opposes the move.

In Wales, the Dyfed-Powys, Gwent, North Wales and South Wales forces would merge. There is stiff opposition to the proposals.

In the North-West, Cheshire would merge with Merseyside, despite wishing to stand alone; Cumbria would merge with Lancashire; and Greater Manchester would stay solo.

The planned mergers do not do not include London, though there are proposals in time to merge the 'Met' with the City of London Police.

The Association of Police Authorities has previously said that the mergers are being pushed through too quickly and will be far more expensive than the Government suggests. It says they will disrupt policing and reduce democratic accountability. In their most extreme form, the mergers could cut the number of forces from 41 outside London to 12.
On Monday we will look at the how and why the Police are loosing public confidence and later this week we will post our proposals for alternative structures for the Policing of Her Majesty's realm.

Nicked from Private Eye !

Bad for Democracy

Despite the opposition of most of the police forces involved, their police authorities, the public-at-large (where they have been consulted), all the opposition parties and many back-bench MPs on the government side; despite there being no merit to the plan and good evidence that it will have an adverse effect on policing standards; despite the costs; despite the government neither having asked for nor obtained an electoral mandate for so doing; and despite Tony Blair himself saying that they would the government is to forge ahead with police force mergers just despite public comments from the new Home Secretary.
Since none of the forces have agreed to the merger, the home secretary must now undertake a period of "consultation", which ends on 11 August. Needless to say, the results are a foregone conclusion.
This is one of the most egregious examples of a doctrinaire government flying in the face of public and professional opinion, for absolutely no good reason. The issues have been explored fully in a report written by Owen Paterson MP, with a little help from his friends.
Because the mergers bring the police forces closer to the regional structures favoured by this government – alongside the ambulance and fire services – this is being seen by some as part of a hidden EU agenda.
However, while regionalisation, as such, is in accordance with EU ambitions, there is no good evidence that this current move is being dictated in any way by the EU – nor indeed are the police structures that will result to be found in any other EU member state.
What is certainly the case, though, is that this government is an intellectual companion of the EU in its denial of democracy and its authoritarian behaviour, illustrating once again that, when it comes to dealing with the governance of this country, the EU is only one part of the problem.
The more immediate problem, however, is that many police forces are already too large and detached from their community roots, with no real accountability. These "mergers" are going to make a bad situation inestimably worse, with results that are only too predictable.
This is all very, very bad for democracy.

June 10, 2006

Regional Super Forces

The plan to merge the 43 forces of England and Wales into 12 regional "super forces" is a part of John Prescott's grand design to divide up the United Kingdom into "Euro-regions", each under its own government.
The Government up until the fiasco of Immigration difficulties at the Home Office was hell bent on forcing through its regional agenda. The merger plans are still a priority but are currently being played down until the Home Office is marketable as being 'fit for purpose'. That is expected to be in 12 months time.

Following the overwhelming rejection of an elected regional assembly by the voters of the North-East, it seems the Government is hoping to reach its eventual goal the other way round. So many powers are now being passed upwards from local authorities to unelected regional bodies - from police and planning to fire and ambulance services - that eventually, it is hoped, people will demand that these are made democratically accountable through elected regional governments.
The greatest revolution in local government for 1,000 years could well soon be complete - without the Government ever having had to admit openly what it was up to.

"The police and accountability - Merger plan threatens local links"

This comment is from The Yorkshire Post, but it applies across the country.
THE countless crises to engulf the Home Office have overshadowed New Labour's determination to preside over one of the most contentious policing shake-ups for a generation.

However, there is little concrete evidence to suggest that the Government will bow to public wisdom and postpone plans to merge police forces while Ministers tackle more pressing priorities.

Chief constables received a personal update this week. And the latest correspondence to emanate from the Home Office suggests that Ministers have yet to grasp the flaws in their plan to create a single "superforce" for Yorkshire.

For, at a time when the Government is extolling the benefits of local policing, Ministers are effectively jeopardising this commitment by creating a series of "strategic" forces that will cover vast areas.

This contradiction could not be greater. Yet, if the threat to neighbourhood policing was not sufficient, the Government intends to deny many communities the opportunity to be represented on the new police authorities; the bodies that will, supposedly, hold the "superforce" to account.

At present, almost 70 councillors, magistrates and community leaders serve on the four police authorities which govern Yorkshire's existing constabularies. They play a pivotal role in setting local policing priorities and, in Humberside's case, were instrumental in preventing the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, from sacking Chief Constable David Westwood over Soham.

However, this local representation will be much diminished if Ministers succeed in restricting membership of the new Yorkshire-wide authority to just 23 people. Many areas will simply be excluded. But the threat to local democracy does not end there. For, by allowing the Home Secretary to retain the power to appoint individuals, there remains the possibility of police authorities becoming packed with Government stooges, a dangerous precedent in light of Mr Westwood's difficulties.

John Reid, the new Home Secretary, has, thus far, kept his own counsel on the plans. He has, of course, had more urgent matters to tackle, but if he is wise, he will ditch his predecessor's proposals at the earliest opportunity. At a time when anti-social behaviour is rife, any diminution of local policing – and local accountability – remains unacceptable.

June 09, 2006

More confusion in Wales

North Wales Police's chief constable says plans to merge Wales' four police forces are not viable, reports the BBC, though he supports the principle of an all-Wales force - a shift from his own force's original position.

The north Wales police authority has agreed to object formally to the proposed merger, and seek a judicial review should the home secretary over-rule their objections.
The authority could not support a plan which was opposed by the vast majority of people in north Wales, it said.

[The Chief Constable] agreed he would be in favour of the north Wales force continuing in its present form if about £3m extra could be obtained to enable it to provide essential services.

Meanwhile, Gwent police authority also formally objected ... to the merger plans although it did not threaten to seek a judicial review.

Wales' top police officers said on Sunday they would give merger plans another chance after police minister Tony McNulty promised a more hands-on approach to the proposals.

The police chiefs have said they are in favour in principle of the creation of one Welsh force, but have threatened to object over money and timing concerns.
Confused? Me too. Do the north Wales public oppose the plans on principle, or on grounds of cost? The north Wales force originally said a merger with Cheshire force would make more sense logistically. Do they still think so? And when will the Chief Constable stop contradicting himself?

All information gratefully received.

Boost for Harrogate anti-merger campaign

Harrogate campaigners battling to halt the scrapping of North Yorkshire Police and its merger into a Yorkshire superforce say the controversial plan should now be ditched, reports Harrogate Today.

It also cites a report that "North Yorkshire Chief Constable Della Cannings has expressed serious concerns about a regional merger. She had been a stalwart supporter of merger plans."

Two Conservative councillors have put forward objections amid claims of mounting opposition.

If the Chief Constable's change of stance is confirmed, it will be a significant victory in the anti-merger campaign.

Bourne protests

People in Bourne say they are being left out of a major consultation to decide the future of Lincolnshire Police, reports Stamford Today.

North Wales comment

Comment from icNorthWales
SO, before it's even been agreed, the unwelcome and unwanted, ill-thought-through and uncosted plan to merge all four Welsh police forces, has cost taxpayers £1m.

That seems excessive to say the least for a fag packet on the back of which the scheme was drawn.

How much more can we expect to pay for this bureaucratic madness?

Critics warned that - apart from anything else - the cost would be prohibitive and lead to cuts in the service. Now we can see the truth of that prediction.

If anyone still doubts the wisdom of this harebrained, politically motivated and self-defeating proposal, think how many bobbies on the beat £1m would fund. This, just days after we learnt that Colwyn Bay ratepayers are having to pay over-the top for the privilege of three part time special constables. It's a disgrace.

Clash brewing in the west Midlands?

We noted that several West Midlands councils want a judicial review.

Now the BBC reports that Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands police authority chairmen and chief constables met minister Tony McNulty to discuss force restructuring. They told the minister they were willing to pioneer mergers and become a "pathfinder" from which other police forces could learn!

But, the BBC reminds us, four councils and West Mercia Police are making legal moves to block the proposed new force.
The three chairmen and chief constables of Staffordshire, West Midlands and Warwickshire said, in a joint statement, they have a "strong desire" for a strategic police force in the region.

They said: "The current police force structures are not capable of delivering Neighbourhood Policing and, simultaneously, providing the protective services needed in the modern world to combat serious and organised crime, terrorism and critical incidents."

The three forces ready to sign up to a merger said there were "outstanding issues" over staffing and finance of the new body.
Have the public been consulted? And what do local MPs think? It would be interesting to know.

June 08, 2006

Surrey police authority call for public objections to merger plans

SurreyOnLine reports that Surrey Police Authority is calling members of the public to object to the proposed merger of Surrey and Sussex Police forces.
Surrey Police Authority recently rejected a proposal by the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke to merge voluntarily with Sussex Police, on the grounds of ongoing concerns about funding. The force has been under-funded for several years, with central Government's funding formula taking no account of Surrey's position bordering the Capital. Surrey is funded like a rural area despite being responsible for policing part of the busiest motorway in Europe and having two international airports at close proximity.

In addition, Surrey's domestic and non-domestic rate payers are paying over 60 per cent towards the cost of their policing - much higher than average - and in a merged structure, Surrey residents would continue paying more, but with less representation on the new strategic police authority because Surrey is smaller in area than Sussex.
Jim Smith chair of the Surrey Police Authority, said
"We cannot ignore the potential risks of merging, especially with no additional central Government funding to pay for it. We are extremely concerned that, without additional funding, there may be fewer police resources deployed in Surrey, which may damage neighbourhood policing. There will inevitably be pressure to transfer resources from Surrey to other higher crime areas.

"Provided we were better funded, we believe we could improve protective services in Surrey through collaboration and workforce modernisation without the cost of a merger. I am therefore urging people to object strongly to this proposed merger. We are committed to discharging our duty to provide a modern police service, which delivers an effective and efficient service to residents" he added.
They are hoping the public in Surrey will support their stance, by letter or by e-mail. Contact details are on the site.

So far in Derbyshire

Back in February when the merger with Nottingham was proposed, it was supported by High Peak MP Tom Levitt. But Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council disagreed, saying that the problems in Nottinghamshire would disadvantage policing in Derbyshire.

In March "Conservative Parliamentary hopeful Andrew Bingham" expressed fears that Derbyshire would be starved of resources.
"High Peak will be even worse off because we are right at the top end of the East Midlands which goes all the way down to Northampton.

"I think we will be the forgotten man of the East Midlands force."
Police Authority Chairman Janet Birkin and Chief Constable David Coleman said their priority was to get the best deal possible for the people of Derbyshire and to maintain and improve the service for local communities.

And Chief Superintendent Roger Flint, Divisional Commander for Buxton Division, said he had concerns about the possible impact locally and the reduction of local influence in the new regional force.

He said reorganisation would cost millions of pounds and at present no money was being provided, so the cost might have to be absorbed - which could mean a change in the service provided in rural areas.

By April the Police Authority had decided to oppose the merger as it was not being fully funded.

In May, High Peak councillors demanded that High Peak should keep its own dedicated police division, following concerns it could be merged with Chesterfield, and "wholeheartedly opposed" the creation of a single East Midlands force. Councillors from across Derbyshire will meet with local police chiefs on 10 June.

Today the Police authority have announced a public consultation.

We saw earlier that MP Tom Levitt supported the merger. Now he is in trouble for claiming that the police themselves had suggested it - which the police have denied.

Plenty here for Derbyshire campaigners to get their teeth into - and this impacts the proposals for the east Midlands as a whole.

Essex police hope for public support

That's the news from The Harlow Star.
Essex Chief Constable Roger Baker and the Essex Police Authority are currently seeking legal advice over whether they can force a judicial review....
Essex Police is strongly opposed to the Government's plan to merge Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire constabularies into a regional or strategic 'super force'.
Officials have cited the success of recently-adopted initiatives and changes in style brought in by Mr Baker since his appointment last year, including a heavier focus on community policing, reductions in bureaucracy, increased officer numbers and rising arrest figures.
So the Essex police authority are going into a public consultation.
The authority hopes that the meetings - one of which will take place at the Latton Bush Centre in Harlow, on July 3 and another at a venue to be confirmed in Epping on July 24 - will enable it to go back to the Home Secretary with evidence of strong public backing for its stance.

Police authority chairman Robert Chambers said: "We now have until August to formalise any further objections we have to the mergers, so this really is a good opportunity to find out what the public wants.

"The feedback will be vital in the process and it is only right and proper that the public have a say in the future of the police service."

Coventry Council wants a judicial review

The Coventry Observer reports that

The city council has joined forces [er, could have phrased that better, guys] with three other councils to challenge Government plans to merge West Midlands Police with three neighbouring forces. Council chiefs believe the merger could cost city residents up to 40 per cent more for policing and has teamed up with councils in Birmingham, Solihull and Dudley to call for further consultation on the plans.

The Home Office announced in March the merger would go ahead and gave councils four months to register objections. But the restructuring could be implemented as soon as August next year.

The four councils now want a judicial review in the High Court to stop the Home Secretary from pressing ahead with the plans.

One of the main causes of the councils' concern is council tax bills will be forced up because of an increase in the police precept - the portion of the bill that police forces claim.

West Midlands taxpayers fork out less for policing than taxpayers living in the patches of the other forces included in the merger - Warwickshire, West Mercia and Staffordshire.

Coun Tony O'Neill, deputy leader of the city council, said the Government's plans were unfair to city residents. "We stand to gain the least from a merger and we stand to pay more," he added."The figure should be equalised down, but the Government is not prepared to do that."
Here's an interesting democratic dilemma. West Midlands Police support the merger. Local elected politicians - through whose councils the police precept comes - don't. And who did the Home Office consult, and whose opinions did the Home Office say would determine the timing of mergers?

Local voters, through their elected representatives? No, the police forces.

What should we do next?

From the news items we've posted here so far, a pattern starts to emerge.
  1. Some forces are too small to deal with big crimes effectively (e.g. Cambridgeshire with the Soham murders)

  2. Some police technocrats see force mergers - or even a national police force - as the answer

  3. But there is an issue of accountability too. There are strong arguments for making the police more, not less accountable to the communities who pay the police to protect them.
Some forces favour mergers. Sometimes their police authority does, sometimes it doesn't. What public consultation have these forces done? What was the result? What do local MPs think?

All opposition MPs seem to be against these proposals, as do some Labour MPs. We haven't yet found one MP who's come out in favour of them.

So here's a possible checklist
  • Does your police force favour a merger? If so, what do the police authority say? What was the outcome of the public consultation?

  • What are the local MPs' views? - especially if they are Labour.

  • What are the local council's views?
If you get answers to these questions, please tell us and we'll post them here.

Nor do we think the north Wales force should be allowed to forget its change of position. Initially it said it favoured merger with Cheshire, because most of the crime came from that direction. But it accepted politics wouldn't allow the sensible decision so it is now talking with other Welsh forces.

As well as accountability, there is a big issue of cost. Who is going to pay for these mergers? The unlamented Mr Clarke seemed to think that sleight of hand would suffice, but police forces pretty soon exposed this.

Maybe we need two tier police forces, with a serious crimes squad straddling several county forces. This would be cheaper, and preserve what local accountability there is - and with this structure it would be easier to enhance democratic accountability.

For instance, how much tax does your own community pay to the police, and what do you get in exchange?

There are questions to be asked of the police and of politicians. We hope this blog will encourage our readers to ask them. And to tell us the answers.

Home Office hints at delay?

The Northern Echo suggests that police mergers may be delayed.
Police minister Tony McNulty told a delegation from Cleveland authority to expect a "decisive decision" [whatever that means] within days of the close of a four-month consultation on July 2.

Both Mr McNulty and his boss, Home Secretary John Reid, have already signalled they have abandoned attempts to force an order to merge through Parliament before the summer.

Therefore, Mr McNulty's comments were immediately seen as increasing the likelihood that a formal delay - perhaps of one year - will be announced next month....

Police minister Tony McNulty told a delegation from Cleveland authority to expect a "decisive decision" within days of the close of a four-month consultation on July 2.

Both Mr McNulty and his boss, Home Secretary John Reid, have already signalled they have abandoned attempts to force an order to merge through Parliament before the summer.

Therefore, Mr McNulty's comments were immediately seen as increasing the likelihood that a formal delay - perhaps of one year - will be announced next month.
The Home Office's present position is that Mr Reid believes there is still a need to create "strategic" forces, though it defies belief that he can have found time to examine this issue in depth. The Northern Echo notes that
Police forces which have volunteered to merge with their neighbours could be given priority to go ahead earlier than others in the first wave
and comments with an admirably straight face that
Dr Reid's priority in his new job is a root-and-branch overhaul of the immigration service following a succession of scandals - rather than a fight with chief constables.

June 07, 2006

Welsh police merger "delay" hint

Police minister Tony McNulty has said that he "may" delay the merger of the four Welsh police forces, reports the BBC.

He said an announcement would be made in the next few weeks but he did not want to lose the momentum of the change. While April 2007 might not be the right date for the mergers, there might be some aspects of the changes which could go ahead then.

He admitted there were concerns about the financing and the speed of change. But he said he was determined to work collaboratively to sort them out.

Cleveland police to meet minister

Cleveland Police Authority are to meet Tony McNulty today to discuss merger plans, reports the BBC. Their chairman said
The evidence for the mergers-only case was always ... flimsy but it is now it is virtually non-existent. We want concrete answers rather than warm words.
Under the proposals the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland forces would become one "super-force." Durham and Northumbria police support the plan, but Cleveland wants a smaller merger with neighbouring Durham only and has lodged an application for a judicial review.

Does anyone know what the North East's (presumably Labour) MPs think, and what public consultation there has been?

June 06, 2006

More news

The Home Office should delay its controversial merger of Welsh police forces, Rhodri Morgan said today.

The Home Office has begun the process of mending fences with West Mercia Police following promises not to impose an unpopular merger on the force. Chief constables from the four forces in the region met Police Minister Tony McNulty for talks yesterday.

Meanwhile, Lincolnshire Police Authority have launched a public consultation exercise over the proposal to merge with Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire.

And ...
BELPER'S MP Patrick McLoughlin has called upon the Government to reverse the "crazy" decision to merge police forces.

In a Parliamentary debate Mr McLoughlin questioned the need for the merger. He said the area covered by the proposed Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northhants 'super-force' was too diverse and there would be a lack of local accountability.

He added that the Government had not said how the merger would be funded.
Mr McLoughlin said: "I want to persuade the Government not to go down that road, as the merger has no local support."

Mr McLoughlin criticised the Government's intention to push ahead with the mergers despite objections from the forces affected. People in the regions were against the moves and local accountability would be lost, he said.

"Local politicians do not want the merger to go ahead, as we feel that it will prove counter-productive in the fight against crime. Most important, local people do not want the changes. They want a local, accountable, responsive community service, not a large, unwieldy and remote one.

"I have not yet met anyone in Derbyshire who wants the merger. The police do not want it, Parliamentary representatives do not want it and local people do not want it. So why on earth go forward with the changes?"

Tony McNulty, the new minister for policing, security and community safety, described the debate as "extraordinarily useful".

"The present model is some 30 years old and, purely in terms of the development of society since then, bears greater scrutiny," he said.

Mr McLoughlin called on his constituents put their opinions forward into the consultation process.
We're still waiting to find out who - apart from a few policemen - actually favours this.

June 04, 2006

Guardian calls for "devolution on the beat"

The Guardian comments that
Controversial decisions about the future of policing are looming. The public want bobbies on the beat, and lots of them, and as local as possible. Terrorism and organised crime mean national, hi-tech policing like the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. Plans for merger are intended to help deal with the crimes in between, the murders and major frauds, that tax the smaller services' manpower. But it is not clear they can do that without destroying the tradition of local policing that remains so strong. Mr Reid might get more time in the sun this summer if he opted for a real devolution of power. Organic change that allowed local and national priorities to work out the best reforms may provide the most workable solution. Just give them that most scarce of political commodities - time.

Objections in Essex and the West Midlands

Essex police announced a public consultation. The Essex Police Authority are considering a legal challenge. The chairman said he believed a stand-alone Essex force could give the public what it wanted with more officers on the beat, increased arrests, and good quality service provided when people called for help. But if the public was in favour of the merger, then he would respect that opinion.

West Mercia Police confirmed they were seeking a judicial review over plans to merge with the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Warwickshire forces. Four West Midlands councils have begun judicial proceedings opposing the merger proposals because they fear a 40% rise in council tax to pay for them.

The chief constables of West Midlands and Warwickshire approve the merger plans, reports the Coventry Evening Telegraph, but the West Midlands Police Authority, which oversees the force, says they have been marched through with "indecent haste".

News from 1 June

Cleveland Police Authority confirmed it would continue to seek a judicial review. The Northern Echo reported that
Clevelands position appeared to be strengthened last night after it emerged that four local councils, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley and Solihull had also begun judicial review proceedings over plans to merge Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands forces into one super constabulary.

It is thought that other bodies who are unhappy about police merger proposals in different parts of the country could be prepared to follow suit.
Meanwhile, Wales' police chiefs said they were in favour in principle of the creation of one Welsh force, reported the BBC, but threatened to object over money and timing concerns. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain spun the meeting, saying
I am glad that Tony (McNulty) has taken on board the chief constables' concerns on the financing of a single force, on precept equalisation, making sure that the new force does not suffer financially and on timing.

He was able to assure them that these concerns are being taken very seriously indeed and that he would take a hands-on role in ensuring that such difficulties could be overcome to give the best possible protection to the people of Wales.
The BBC report concluded that
BBC Wales understands that during the meeting, the chief constables outlined serious frustrations with the way the Home Office dealt with concerns. They complained about unanswered letters, cancelled meetings and confusion over who was looking after the process.

Mr McNulty promised them a different approach in the future.
Quite a turnround from their initial position. Were they perhaps calculating that the government wouldn't be able to come up eith the extra money to cover the cost?

Political challenges at the end of May

All eleven Surrey MPs wrote a joint letter to Dr Reid, calling on him to halt the proposal to merge Surrey and Sussex police. They said the merger would worsen funding for police in Surrey and make the force less accountable.

Lincolnshire Police Authority organised a text vote over the proposal to merge with the Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire forces. The police authority raised concerns, over funding, local accountability and timescales. Within a few days over 600 had voted, with more than 90% opposed.

More worringly for the government, Labour MP John Grogan highlighted the possible need for Commons votes. When the home secretary puts a statutory instrument before the Commons to authorise individual mergers, reported The Guardian, rebel MPs, with the aid of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, could demand a vote from the Speaker and potentially defeat the orders.

Ann Cryer described the government's proposal as a "real mish-mash", and said: "Count me in. If there is a way around it, I will certainly be voting against it."

The Guardian commented that
Victory for the rebels would leave the government's merger plans looking decidedly lop-sided, with some forces agreeing to amalgamation and others preferring to retain their stand-alone status.

Next April, strategic forces will be established covering Cumbria and Lancashire, the west midlands, Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside and the north-east. Even if the government wins its battle with the rebels, the earliest the Yorkshire and the Humber region could expect to set up its new force is one year later.

The end of May - legal challenges loom

By the end of May, the government was facing the prospect of challenges in the courts and in the Commons.

On the legal front, Cleveland Police Authority announced it wanted a judicial review of the plan to combine its force with Durham and Northumbria. The force wanted the Home Office to postpone the plans for a year and pursue other options, including better cross-border co-operation between forces. The Chief Constable said
The people of my area don’t want to go into a superforce structure. There is still no idea of how much it is going to cost nor where the money is going to come from.

We have to lose staff in order to make it happen and we can’t get any idea of what is going to happen to staff if they are not part of the new structures.
Labour MP for Middlesbrough, Sir Stuart Bell, commented, "A political solution whereby John Reid looks for alternative solutions is a better course of action".

The BBC report added
Other police authorities opposed to mergers may take legal action as well.

West Mercia will decide in the next few days on a course of action and Essex will do so later next month.

There is also the possibility of a challenge by local councils in the West Midlands, who are concerned about the impact on council taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly for Wales - where four forces could combine - has sought legal advice over the plans.
And the Liberal Democrats called the merger plans "damaging and unpopular". The party's home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the legal action was "yet another nail in the coffin of the government's ill-thought-out proposals".

Gloucestershire says ...

Fast forward to May, just after the arrival of John Reid, and Gloucestershire police were saying
The South West Region is 9,500 square miles in area, and parts of north Gloucestershire are nearer to Carlisle than they are to Cornwall. Mergers will be costly and disruptive, and we want to avoid those adverse consequences here.

The Home office consultants and inspectorate team were here last week and we were able to present our case to them. The discussions were useful, though concerns remain that they may underestimate the set up and running costs of any new forces.

We have presented a strong case to continue as a stand alone force, but we recognise the value of co-operating more fully with our neighbours in Wiltshire and Dorset.

Consequently we have developed a shared service option with these forces. It will be quicker and cheaper to agree and implement this than any of the merger options and we urge the new Home Secretary to give it full consideration.

We remain extremely grateful for all the support the Constabulary has received from the communities of Gloucestershire.
We find the idea of a "shared service option" particularly interesting.

The story starts here

The story started with a report delivered to Charles Clarke in September 2005. The report said forces with more than 4,000 officers tended to perform best and that reorganisation could save up to £2.3bn over 10 years.

The BBC reported that 19 forces have fewer than 2,000 officers, with senior officers admitting that some struggle to meet the challenges of modern crime.

The BBC reported Rick Naylor, president of the Police Superintendents' Association, saying that cutting the number to about 30 would not be going far enough. "We want to see a single national police force, with existing basic command units providing local policing," he said. "The question is whether the government have the political bottle to go down this radical road." With 30 forces, there would still be some without "the resilience to deal with all the facets of modern policing".

ACPO said, "All forces must have the capability to deal with terrorism, cross-border and international crime if we are to keep the public safe and give them the service they expect and demand." But restructuring would be "complex and expensive".

The deputy chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the report had allayed his fear that structural reform could damage community policing.

But Oliver Letwin described the proposals as "undiluted rubbish".

The chairman of North Wales Police Authority said he did not want the four Welsh forces to be "lumped together" as his area would become "isolated". He said: "Logistically, north Wales and south Wales are poles apart. We've got a large stretch of mountains between us and it takes three hours to get down there."

He added, "I accept the mergers should come but in reality, for north Wales, we should be merging with the north west (of England) rather than the whole of Wales. I realise and everybody else realises that is not politically possible." He said most of the criminals the force dealt with came from Cheshire and Merseyside. The north Wales force said it already shared facilities such as helicopters and diving units with the Cheshire force. "This is a very successful organisation and we want to keep it that way."

This was some of the immediate reaction on the day. Charles Clarke decided to cut the number of forces from 43 to 24 and told police forces to come up with merger proposals quickly. His ideas tended to follow the boundaries of government regions, which some pointed out equated to regional boundaries drawn by the EU.

John Reid, as a Home Secretary from a Scottish constituency, inherited these proposals for English forces from Charles Clarke. We take up the story at the end of May.

Introduction - let's make the police more accountable

Welcome to our blog. We oppose the principle of larger police forces. Our police need more democratic control, not less, and larger forces would be more remote.

We understand the argument that small forces may not be good at tackling large crimes. But there are other ways of tackling this besides merging forces wholesale. And most crimes are not large crimes. Most crimes are small, local crimes. Police forces need to be closer to their local communities and more accountable to them, not more remote.

We've started this blog to see if a central source of information helps in opposing the proposals. It can only be as good as its contributions, and we can't spot everything. So please comment and contribute. If you are involved in the campaigning and would like to be able to post on this blog, please get in touch.