Posted: Friday 14th September 2018
Policing and more specifically police funding has not been out of the headlines this week. With the annual Superintendents Conference to the National Audit Office report on the sustainability of police funding it’s been hard to escape the damming criticisms of Government. The National Audit Office report says that Ministers don’t know the impact funding cuts have had on police forces. As the area’s Police and Crime Commissioner I dedicate a significant amount of time telling our local politicians and Ministers exactly what eight years of austerity has meant for policing within Avon and Somerset. We even outlined this in our own comprehensive report called ‘The Tipping Point.’
In our area alone we have made £80m of savings as a direct result of the government cutting central funding. We’ve lost over 650 police officers and hundreds of policing staff. This is still happening now. Staff who have worked for Avon and Somerset Constabulary who have dedicated their life or significant parts of their career to serving communities are being made redundant due to the decisions we have to make to meet our budget. We still need to find a further £16m of savings by 2023.
These difficult decisions are not only limited to our people but also the rest of the police service and our buildings. I’ve answered many questions from residents over the past few weeks about reducing hours at police station enquiry offices. We are rightly responding and adapting to the new ways that people want to contact the police. There are on average 385 crimes recorded a day within Avon and Somerset and 287 reported over the phone, only 16 of them are reported to a police enquiry office. Over-sized, under-used police stations do not keep people safe but officers and PCSOs do.
This year when the Government expected Commissioners to raise the policing part of the council tax by £1 a month, instead of giving police forces more money themselves, the burden was firmly passed onto local residents. For this very reason I protected our local policing numbers and asked the Constabulary to recruit hundreds of police officers and PCSOs with the additional money. However this is not a silver bullet that solves all the problems of managing not just an increase in crime but also an increase in demand for policing services. There are greater threats facing today’s service which are growing more complex and global and less visible to local people whether that’s extremism, child abuse, or the demands of the mental health and social care crisis.
Therefore I can see why residents feel they are paying more and getting less. Today’s police service is not as visible to local people as it once was and there are lots of reasons for that. One reason is that police officers and PCSOs are more mobile now and have better technology to support their job. The large 1960’s police station on the High Street is no longer fit for today’s policing service. It doesn’t solve crime, what is important is people. So we will be recruiting more police officers and PCSOs and where we do have buildings they will be co-located with other organisations to save costs and to invest in what prevents harm and keeps people safe in this difficult modern world. Policing is 24/7, seven days a week and that will never stop.