Top cop reveals shock of cutbacks

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

NORTH Wales’ top policeman has revealed that 242 police jobs are set to go in the region as a result of government cuts.

Speaking to the Leader, Chief Constable Mark Polin said that the number of districts in the force was poised to drop from 15 to 10 as part of a area-wide reorganisation.

The move would see the number of policing districts in both Wrexham and Flintshire reduced from three to two and would also mean the loss of inspectors.

He also revealed that one in 11 frontline officers could be axed.

But Mr Polin said neighbourhood policing would remain a priority and that he was confident the standard of policing would be maintained.

A report by North Wales Police Authority and North Wales Police had initially said that as many as one in seven officers could lose their jobs but, as Mr Polin explained, an expected rise in the police element of council tax over the next four years will plug some of the deficit left by the cuts.

“We’re looking at a gap of £24.6 million over the next four years,” he said. “That could alter again because the most recent announcement is up for consultation. We’re still waiting to hear on some of the Welsh Assembly Government elements of funding. The latest, from a Police Authority meeting last week is that we are working on the assumption that there will be a four per cent rise in precepts for the next four years which will mean the gap we then face is about £15 million over the next four years. That equates to the loss of 242 jobs, a mix of police officers and police staff.”

Earlier this year the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition announced that central government police funding will reduce by 20 per cent in real terms by 2014-15.

In an interview with Leader in October, Mr Polin admitted that, in dealing with the cuts, he was facing the toughest challenge of his 27 year career in the service.

However, the region’s top cop had already begun the process of looking at efficiency savings and was looking at a force-wide restructuring as one of the ways of doing this.

“We’re looking at ways of saving money that is going to lessen the impact on frontline services,” he said yesterday. “We are looking at reducing the number of districts to 10. In basic terms we will be losing inspectors. Districts will become larger including in Wrexham and Flintshire.

“Notwithstanding the fact that we would lose inspectors, these districts, though larger, are capable of being run by an inspector and his staff.”

While the number of district inspectors might be reduced, Mr Polin, revealed that response officers would be based in strategic response hubs, such as Mold and Wrexham. These, he said, would be manned by an inspector 24/7.

Despite the changes, he maintained that neighbourhood policing would remain a priority. He added that the government had indicated their intention to sustain funding for PCSOs for the next two years, on the basis of which, he said, it would be possible to retain the current number of PCSOs.

A review of the force’s estates is currently under way and the Chief Constable said it is likely some police stations will close.

The force is, however, looking at other ways of working.

“Some of this may come down to what the community values more – a visible policing presence with an officer on the beat and a building.

“There’s a stark contrast between the resources we have and the current situation. We are working with local authorities to look at the options – if there is a place where there is a library, medical centre and a police station, what is the possibility of providing a one-stop-shop?”

In 2009, North Wales Police Authority set five strategic priorities for the force – ensuring that people have trust and confidence in them; reducing and resolving crime and anti-social behaviour; protect people and reduce harm; deliver a quality service that meets the needs of the community; and provide a well led, organised and skilled workforce.

“We’ve looked at the priorities and we remain content that they are the right priorities in the public eye,” Mr Polin continued. “We’ve a consultation survey on them running now, we get the results of that in January. We’ve also got to make sure that the resources we have got are being used to maximum effect.”

In order to do this, the Chief revealed that there will be changes to the ways that calls are handled and that, in some cases, though “clearly we’ll have regards for the victims concerns”, an officer may not attend if it is deemed unnecessary.

“If a car was broken into five days ago, the forensic evidence is gone and the call is simply for insurance purposes then, in such an instance, we might not attend,” he said.

Mr Polin conceded that there would be changes but said he was determined that they should not affect public confidence in the force.

“I recognise my personal responsibility to maintain the service and to seek to look the interests of my staff,” he said. “We want to maintain a high standard of policing - crime is down by 10 per cent and anti-social behaviour is down by 14 per cent. We want to maintain our strengths and move forward.”

See full story in the Leader

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