CAMBRIDGESHIRE Police will oppose any further attempts to merge forces in Eastern England, Chief Constable Julie Spence said this week. The move came from Norfolk s police authority, which says a super-force could save tens of millions of pounds and keep

CAMBRIDGESHIRE Police will oppose any further attempts to merge forces in Eastern England, Chief Constable Julie Spence said this week.

The move came from Norfolk's police authority, which says a super-force could save tens of millions of pounds and keep more officers in the front line.

A similar move, prompted by then Home Secretary Charles Clarke, was ditched in 2006 when he was replaced by John Reid, although talks between the forces led to several continuing cross-border initiatives in Eastern England.

If it went ahead, the plan to merge Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire would create a force the size of Greater Manchester police -making it one of the largest outside the Metropolitan area.

While Norfolk police leaders are keen to press ahead with a full-blown merger, the plan has met with mixed enthusiasm from other forces, with most preferring "closer collaboration".

But police authority chairman Stephen Bett claimed that a "financial tsunami" had increased momentum making other counties more open to the idea. Merger proposals were likely to gather pace after the next general election as forces realised the need to act or to have a "one cap fits all" approach imposed upon them, he added.

The first wave of force mergers could begin within two years.

Mr Bett said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that current frontline numbers are not sustainable without closer collaboration. The more we collaborate, the more sense if makes to go for a full merger. If it is a choice between fewer bobbies on the beat and merger, I think most people would choose merger."

Norfolk's initial calculations suggest that combining backroom functions but protecting the rank and file could lead to savings of at least £20million per year. Chief executive Chris Harding said that this figure could increase "cumulatively if not exponentially" depending on the number of forces involved.

There would be a need to equalise council tax across the policing region; this could see increases frozen in more expensive areas, like Norfolk, while counties with traditionally lower tax, like Cambridgeshire, would see a sharp climb.

Both Mrs Spence and the Cambridgeshire Police Authority rubbished the idea.

The Chief Constable said: "Cambridgeshire is exploring a variety of options as to what the future might look like. We already collaborate within the region on a variety of issues and our flexible approach allows us to collaborate with Norfolk and Suffolk on some issues, Herts and Beds on others and the wider region on issues such as serious and organised crime.

"Similarly, we are involved with all the other public services in Cambridgeshire, looking at how we can better deliver public services to the people living within our county.

"Indeed, we feel these are options that need to be fully explored before going to what appears to be a large geographic police service. At the moment, I am unconvinced that this is the best option to deliver the responsive frontline services and leadership required in a complex county such as Cambridgeshire.

"By working smarter locally, and with appropriate regional collaborations, I am sure we can maintain and even improve services while weathering a very difficult economic climate. I do not believe the public would accept the major upheavals and service disruption that mergers could cause until every other stone has been turned."

A police authority spokesman added: "Although we support working with other forces collaboratively to save money, we did strongly resist a full-on merger."

Authority chairman Ruth Rogers added: "It's not something we have had a conversation with Norfolk about, nor do we think it's the best way to go at the moment. But we wouldn't close the door on something if we though it would produce the best service for Cambridgeshire."

Caption: AGAINST THE MERGER: Cambridgeshire's Chief Constable, Julie Spence.