June 04, 2006

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.

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