June 12, 2006

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.

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