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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Merger most foul

The Home Secretary has announced that he is to plough ahead with the merger of Police forces in England and Wales despite resistance from police authorities and local people. This resistance is especially strong in Wales where those in the north, mid and west especially, believe that merger will take away identity and accountability, whilst in the south those concerns are compounded by the fear of higher Council Taxes to pay for the reorganisation.

It has been estimated that the cost of merger will be £50m across Wales but Charles Clarke now says that he will pay 100% of the "net start-up costs" and "reasonable revenue/resource and capital costs" whether or not forces had volunteered to merge. This is clearly a concession to get the proposal through Parliament but it does not address the issue of accountability. In fact it does not really deal with the question of who pays as it is unlikely that the Home Office will pick up all of the bill and most of the remainder will end up on Council tax demands. Just averaging out the current cost of Wales' four police forces leaves many areas with bigger bills because of the variation in precepts levied by each police authority.

It is just not possible to get away from the thought that these proposals are being driven by cost-cutting and centralisation factors rather than a legitimate law and order agenda. Local police forces are best placed to provide policing. These reforms will mean communities will have less influence over the way their local police operate.

This is not just an agenda which is being pursued by politicians. Last week we carried out a street referendum in Maesteg. Ninety Four per cent of those who took part were opposed to the merger in Wales. That is strong opposition by anybody's standards.
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