Police pay price for govt U-turn

Police authorities will face a final bill £2.5 million after the government’s botched attempt to introduce force mergers this summer.

The Home Office today announced it will refund £4 million for the preparations made for mergers before the plans were scrapped because of their unpopularity, but this falls short of the £6.5 million claimed.

The Association of Police Authorities (APA) described the shortfall as “regrettable” and noted the money could have been better spent on local policing measures.

Policing minister Tony McNulty held out the possibility of the plans being reintroduced, saying the mergers – which would cut the number of forces in England and Wales from 43 to 12 – had only been abandoned “in the immediate future”.

But opposition parties condemned the whole scheme as an expensive mistake.

“Millions of pounds which should have been used to support frontline policing have been wasted,” said shadow home secretary David Davis.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg added: “Millions of pounds have been spent on this unnecessary, harebrained scheme.

“Now the police are not getting anywhere near the compensation they deserve for the disruption inflicted on them by this ministerial wheeze.”

The majority of the payments to forces have been capped at £100,000, with the exception of Lancashire and Cumbria police authorities, which were refunded the full £725,000 they spent on being the pilot scheme for the mergers.

Lincolnshire also received more than others – a total of £140,836 – because some of the costs were incurred on specific advice from the Home Office, and Dorset will be given £287,600 because its claim is made on behalf of the five south-west region forces.

“Following the decision to abandon plans for police force mergers in the immediate future, I agreed in principle to provide police authorities with assistance towards the additional costs incurred through the preparatory work they had carried out,” said Mr McNulty.

“The Home Office invited claims for the marginal costs incurred and these have now been received from all authorities.”

APA chairman Bob Jones welcomed that some costs were being refunded – several forces had threatened to take the government to court to recover them – but said it was “regrettable” that many authorities did not get the full amount they asked for.

“After all, the money police authorities spent was money that would otherwise have been spent on improving local policing for local communities,” he said.

“It is also disappointing that the formula under which reimbursements have been distributed was not discussed more widely with the APA and police authorities prior to today’s announcement.

“This will have left many police authorities feeling that they have not been equitably treated by this process.”