Warning over future of Herts Police as merger decision delayed

HERTS Police could become a “bankrupt force” if something is not done about the enormous funding gap left by public sector cuts.

That was the stark warning from members of Hertfordshire Police Authority, after a decision to merge the county’s force with Bedfordshire was postponed on Friday.

At a meeting in public, plans to bridge a funding gap of more than �40m by joining Hertfordshire Constabulary and Bedfordshire Police in a “full and voluntary merger” were discussed by authority members.

During the two-and-a half-hour meeting at County Hall, Hertford, Hertfordshire Constabulary chief constable Frank Whiteley, chief superintendent Alison Roome-Gifford and head of resources James Hurley, made the case for a merger.

Mr Whitely said: “There’s a real limit to what we can do on our own without cutting frontline services in Hertfordshire.” He described a full merger with Bedfordshire as the “best policing solution for Hertfordshire”.

Originally, members had been expected to vote on whether to put merger plans out for public consultation.

But a letter received on Thursday from police minister Nick Herbert asked the two forces to reconsider collaborating resources rather than a full merger.

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In response, authority chairman Stuart Nagler proposed an emergency motion, asking members to defer its decision until after work into deeper collaboration was complete.

That motion was defeated by another, six-point motion from county council leader Robert Gordon, which as well as stating a preference to remain independent, made reference to the Government’s plans to replace police authorities with directly elected chief constables.

He said: “I’m not yet convinced, and it will take a lot of convincing, that a merger and the sacrifice of police in Hertfordshire is a step that is necessary.”

Some members expressed disappointment that they would not be voting on the merger, and instead would have to wait for Herts Police to carry out further work on the collaboration.

And police authority member Dr Sarah Coffey warned: “I’m deeply concerned that postponing any decision on a merger until May 2012 would leave a bankrupt force.”

Hertfordshire Constabulary will now re-examine the case for further collaboration, and have agreed to report back to the authority by October.