New police super-force plan

Ben KendallNorfolk police have opened the door to the creation of a four county super-force in a bid which could save tens of millions of pounds to boost the frontline.Ben Kendall

Norfolk police have opened the door to the creation of a four county super-force in a bid which could save tens of millions of pounds to boost the frontline.

Until now the most prominent merger talks have taken place between Norfolk and Suffolk forces. But now the EDP can reveal that the option of combining with Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire is also being actively pursued.

If successful, the plan 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 realise the need to act or have a 'one cap fits all' approach imposed upon them, he added.

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

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Mr Bett said: 'What is becoming increasingly clear is that current frontline numbers are not sustainable without closer collaboration and, 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 �20m per year. Chief executive Chris Harding said that this figure could increase 'culminatively 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 in more expensive areas, like Norfolk, frozen while counties with traditionally lower tax, like Lincolnshire, would see a sharp climb.

The move has met with opposition from the rank and file, with both Norfolk and Suffolk police federations expressing concerns in the past.

Commenting on concerns that the move could dilute frontline policing, Mr Bett said: 'We are looking at a system which would protect, if not improve, the existing level of service. Set against a back drop of the need for ever increasing efficiency savings that would be quite an achievement.'

One proposal is to appoint a single chief constable to oversee policing in several counties, combined back office functions and a single force headquarters.

But each county would retain its own frontline establishment and a locally based decision-making body answerable to a larger strategic authority overseeing the entire region.

Norfolk and Suffolk has already merged major investigation teams. Suffolk is now exploring how it can work with other forces to combat organised crime, terrorism and public order offences.

Publically Suffolk police authority has been opposed to wholesale merger. However, Mr Bett said 'minds are being focused' as the full extent of the future funding situation became apparent.

Mr Bett said talks with Lincolnshire currently focus on collaboration rather than merger, but added: 'Lincolnshire and Norfolk have more in common than many counties, for example they are both rural, with a coastline and face many similar issues.'

Mr Bett said that a final decision on any merger would be made by the government and he said there were ways in which the merged forces could keep their capped badges.

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