John's views on the Government’s proposal to merge the Essex Police with the forces covering Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
I attended the launch of the referendum campaign on the Government’s proposal to merge the Essex Police with the forces covering Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. This has been organised by the Police Authority and County Council and is supported by MPs from all parties in the County.
There is no doubt that a merger would be expensive and wasteful as well as making our police force less accountable and more remote. Essex already has one of the largest forces in England with 3230 officers serving a population of 1,600,000. The Government has claimed that a force needs to have 4,000 officers to be effective. Yet Kent and Hampshire, which are similar in size and face similar challenges, are being allowed to remain as stand alone forces. Of course, there is a case for greater co-operation between forces on strategic issues. Essex has taken the lead in seeking to establish a legally binding Federation of East Anglian Forces. This would allow the Force to join with others to collectively provide protective services, such as combating major crime, terrorism and civil emergencies. However, it would preserve the local identity of Essex Police which has the capacity and capability to become a strategic force on its own.
A forced merger will not only mean that Essex will no longer have its own Chief Constable and police identity, it is also likely to end up costing a lot more. Of the three forces proposed to merge, Essex has the lowest Council Tax precept for policing. The total cost of police mergers across the country has been estimated to be around £500 million, money which would be far better spent on front-line policing.
6 months ago, I asked the Prime Minister why he was not even willing to allow the Essex Police Authority even to consult on the option of maintaining a stand-alone force. In a letter to me, he said that the Home Office remained open to all options for which a compelling case can be made and that Essex Police Authority was therefore free to develop further a stand-alone proposal. Last week, in a welcome development, the Home Secretary announced that he would delay the implementation of mergers in order to allow time for further consultation.
The referendum being organised by the Police Authority and County Council provides an opportunity for the people of Essex to have their say. Over 700,000 questionnaires are being delivered to every household in the county and a survey form is also available on-line. I hope that everybody will use this opportunity to deliver a resounding message to the Government to leave our Police Force alone.