MOVES to merge Dorset Police with the Devon and Cornwall force would amount to a “takeover” and make the service more remote, critics have claimed.

Christchurch MP Chris Chope and Labour’s former candidate for the post of police and crime commissioner have both criticised the idea, unveiled last week by the chief constables of both areas.

The heads of the two forces said closer working was the “only way forward” to preserve neighbourhood policing amid budget cuts as well as responding to emergencies and new threats.

But Mr Chope said a merged force would be too centralised and remote.

“This is a concern which you get when people dial 999 for fire and ambulance now. Quite often, they find they’re talking to somebody who doesn’t really understand the geography,” he said.

“Why do we want to have one regional police force covering from Highcliffe to Land’s End, including the Isles of Scilly as well?”

He asked why Dorset was talking to Devon and Cornwall, rather than exploring links with Wiltshire as the other emergency services had.

“This has been sprung on us and I just don’t buy into it, I’m afraid. A lot of my constituents are quite sceptical about bigger being better,” he said.

Dorset’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) Martyn Underhill has welcomed the proposal and said he would ensure it was “fully informed by the opinion of the public”.

However, Mr Chope said the commissioner “seems to have bought into the whole agenda without discussing it with anybody”.

Labour’s Patrick Canavan, who campaigned to be police and crime commissioner in 2016, said: “Let’s be clear this will be a merger and it is a direct consequence of government cuts and the political philosophy of austerity.

“Collaboration is a good thing, ensuring public money is well spent is a good thing but stripping a vital public service through warped ideology and damaging communities in the process is wrong. This is only about money not about improved services.

“I am not at all reassured by the comment by the Dorset PCC that he will ensure that the decision is fully informed by public opinion. Consultation is meaningless unless you ask the right people the right questions. There is, in my view, a total absence of public accountability under the present PCC system which is why Labour has opposed it.”

He added: “Pretending that having a single force from Highcliffe to Land’s End will not result in job losses in support staff, uniformed staff and result in a poorer service is both misleading and unrealistic.”