Police merger plans uncertain

ALL is not lost in the fight to retain Cambridgeshire as a stand-alone police force. The combination of a new Home Secretary and a High Court challenge to the Home Office s merger proposals means that Cambridgeshire Police Authority s alternative proposal

ALL is not lost in the fight to retain Cambridgeshire as a stand-alone police force.

The combination of a new Home Secretary and a High Court challenge to the Home Office's merger proposals means that Cambridgeshire Police Authority's alternative proposals for a formal federation with neighbouring forces could still see the light of day.

The Home Office is currently "consulting" on plans to merge Cambridgeshire with Norfolk and Suffolk from April 2008.

Cambridgeshire believes a federal arrangement would deal with the need to address serious cross-border and organised crime - building on informal arrangements already in place not only with Norfolk and Suffolk, but also with adjoining Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire and Essex - while protecting neighbourhood policing.

In the north-east, Cleveland Police Authority is mounting a High Court challenge of plans to merge its force with Durham and Northumbria. It is asking the court for permission to apply for judicial review of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke's decision.

Mr Clarke was replaced in the recent cabinet reshuffle by Dr John Reid, who seems to be taking a more cautious approach to the future of policing, according to Michael Williamson, chairman of the Cambridgeshire authority.

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"Two or three authorities are going for statutory review," he told The Hunts Post. "The Association of Police Authorities is looking at this for what it ought to advise other authorities, and we don't yet know whether a change of Home Secretary will make a difference."

Mr Williamson believes the costs of merging forces will be immense, and Dr Reid appears to be equally concerned about the financial implications.

Mr Clarke said mergers should be self-financing through cost savings derived from synergies within larger forces. Mr Williamson is adamant that, if any such savings were actually to be achieved, the benefits would be years down the line.

He expects a statement from Mr Reid towards the end of the consultation period later in the summer.

"We are still putting forward very strongly the advantages of a federal solution. It has now been picked up by a lot of other authorities," Mr Williamson said. "We are very concerned about neighbourhood policing. But all is not lost."

Police denied any link between a possible reprieve for the Cambridgeshire force and a letter from Chief Constable Julie Spence to The Hunts Post (Page six), outlining recent successes in the county.

She points out crime in Cambridgeshire has fallen substantially in the past year, with nearly 7,000 fewer offences. "Overall, Cambridgeshire is a safe and very pleasant county to live in," she reassures readers. "My staff have been busy locking up criminals and helping bring successful prosecutions in the last 12 months. Our detection rate has jumped so that we are solving more crimes while the number of crimes continues to drop.

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