THE already delayed merger of Merseyside and Cheshire police looked even more unlikely last night after the only two forces in favour of amalgamation pulled out.
Lancashire and Cumbria forces announced the government's failure to agree to "tax harmonisation" proposals had left them with no choice but to reject a merger.
Similar concerns had already led Merseyside and Cheshire police forces to oppose the Government's plan for them to merge, with forces up and down the country expressing an identical opinion.
As a result, the Government had decided to delay all of its forced mergers for at least a year, but Lancashire and Cumbria said they still wanted to merge next year.
But support for a merger was dependent on being allowed to increase tax demands in Lancashire by around £40 per household, bringing them in line with council tax levels in Cumbria.
In Lancashire, that would involve breaking the Government's annual 5% tax increase cap, something the Government refused to remove for the merging police forces.
Chairman of Lancashire Police Authority, Cllr Malcolm Doherty, said: "We feel badly let down.
"We have done everything in our power to get this merger to work. We now have to find other ways of dealing with the problem Government has left us with."
Acting Chief Constable for Lancashire Constabulary, Steve Finnigan, said: "Staff in both Cumbria and Lancashire Constabularies have worked very hard over recent months towards achieving a successful amalgamation which would be in the interests of both areas.
"We were happy to take forward this proposal, and the fact that the Home Office have been unable to meet the conditions set by the Police Authority is very disappointing and a real missed opportunity."
As late as last Thursday, Mr Finnigan was insisting the merger would go ahead.
The announcement has raised suspicions in Westminster that the Home Office may now quietly drop the proposals for the time being.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Tony McNulty has this morning met the Chief Constables and Police Authority chairs from Lancashire and Cumbria.
"He has explained to them that it has not been possible to resolve all the issues surrounding their proposed merger in a way that will be satisfactory to them.
"The two forces therefore do not now wish to proceed with their voluntar merger."
The Government had offered £17.8m in start-up costs, even though the Home Office had said the actual costs were estimated at nearer £22m.
The Cheshire and Merseyside merger had been estimated to cost nearly £36m, and the two forces had claimed a unification would have left them £6m a year worse off.
That, in turn, would have put jobs at risk.
Merseyside Police currently gets an average of £121 a year from each home in Merseyside, compared to Cheshire's £108.
In both areas, the plans have been met with all-party opposition.