No evidence merger will cut crimes’
CAMBRIDGESHIRE police will not willingly merge its force with Norfolk and Suffolk, as the Home Office is recommending. The controversial decision was made at a special meeting of the police authority held at police headquarters in Huntingdon on Thursday.
CAMBRIDGESHIRE police will not willingly merge its force with Norfolk and Suffolk, as the Home Office is recommending.
The controversial decision was made at a special meeting of the police authority held at police headquarters in Huntingdon on Thursday. The authority's refusal to come quietly means there will now be public consultation on the proposal in the spring - before the Government forces the merger of the three forces in April 2008.
The proposal is part of a nation-wide move to amalgamate the country's police forces - Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire will also merge.
The Cambridgeshire authority has said its decision was based on several issues and although it accepts the need for some collaboration, it believes the creation of a strategic force is not the most cost-effective way of solving cross-county crime and serious crime.
The authority points out that it also shares borders with Hertfordshire, Essex, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, which are not included in the proposed merger.
The authority's chairman, Michael Williamson, said: "The authority has decided as a matter of principle that such a merger is not in the interests of the provision of an effective and efficient police service to the residents and businesses of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
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"We do not believe we would be doing our job properly if we agreed to enter willingly into amalgamation.
"To the credit of everybody in the force, performance has improved significantly over the last 12 months," he added. "I know that officers and staff would do everything possible to maintain and improve the current high standards. However, the authority does have concerns that cannot be ignored, relating to potential falls in performance during any transitional period.
"We certainly remain unconvinced of the benefits when weighed against potential risks and that isn't good enough to commit ourselves willingly," he said
The authority demanded a number of conditions if, as it expects, the Home Office enforces the merger. They are:
n The Home Office should meet all net costs associated with the merger.
n No costs arising from the merger should fall on Council Tax payers.
n Harmonisation of the policing element of Council Tax with Norfolk and Suffolk is fair, so that impact on residents of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is minimised in future years.
n The authority should be enabled by the Home Office approach to funding to ensure its staff and officers are treated with dignity and respect during the transition.
n The Home Office must provide assurance that existing grant provision available for neighborhood policing and an increase in the number of PCSOs will remain unaffected.
n And that any such merger will not be completed earlier than April 2008.
South East Cambridgeshire MP Jim Paice said: "An amalgamated force might look neat on a civil servant's map, but there in no evidence it will cut crime or make people feel safer. My constituents want to see a police presence which is locally accessible, knowledgeable and accountable. They recognise that the vast majority of crime in this area is committed by local people against their neighbours and they want effective community policing to deal with it.
"There has been no groundswell of support for the Home Secretary's proposal, which rather than strengthen the vital bonds between local people and the police, would undermine them."
North East Cambridgeshire MP Malcolm Moss said: "A merger risks making decision-making even more distant. However they are organised, what is needed is a democratic and locally accountable service that understands the area's needs and is able to respond effectively. I am worried that in this new much larger authority, local needs will be forgotten."
In a letter sent to the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, in December 2005, Cambridgeshire police chief constable Julie Spence pointed out the following: "I concur with the views of my police authority that the case has not been made for the creation of a strategic force. I regret that we have not had the opportunity for a wider debate about the national infrastructure in which policing sits. That includes the role of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and other organisations to combat terrorism. I am also in agreement with my authority's view that the process and timescale have been insufficient to provide confident recommendations with regard to the models of service most suitable to meet the dual requirements with regard to the requirements of neighbourhood policing and protective services."
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Will the merging of the three forces lead to a more efficient and better-run local police force or will local policing suffer?
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