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UPDATED: Suffolk Police announce cuts in officers, staff and police station access

Suffolk Acting Chief Constable Gareth Wilson ANL-150224-163502001
Suffolk Acting Chief Constable Gareth Wilson ANL-150224-163502001

Suffolk Police have today revealed the changes they will need to make to deliver the £20.5 million savings required by the Government by 2020.

The changes include reducing the number of safer neighbourhood teams (SNT) from 29 to 18, and reductions of 26 officers, 68 PCSO and 17 staff posts, though with the number of current vacancies the number of people affected will be smaller.

Tim Passmore ANL-150216-155059001
Tim Passmore ANL-150216-155059001

In addition, police station front counters will close, leaving three ‘public access points’ in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Lowestoft, though the police stress that the other police stations will remain operational.

The county’s temporary chief constable and police and crime commissioner have called on other public services to work with the force instead of relying on the police to fill in for them.

The police statement on the changes said: “The demand facing police has changed, so services need to be realigned to the areas posing the greatest threat, harm and risk.

“A series of projects are therefore underway to bridge this funding gap and to better respond to today’s challenges.”

We’ve got difficult choices to make but I think we’ve spent a lot of time getting this plan drawn up and worked hard to get the balance right
Suffolk PCC Tim Passmore

“The Suffolk Local Policing Review (SLPR) is the most significant review of policing in Suffolk for many years and is looking at better ways of structuring resources and delivering key services.

“A number of changes have now been agreed which will result in the re-design of teams and processes and a reduction in the workforce.”

Key changes include streamlined processes for the investigation of crime; a redefined remit for SNTs; policing areas revised to East, West and South and creating nine policing ‘locality’ areas, combining emergency response, investigations, SNTs, volunteers and the Special Constabulary.

The Suffolk force says 262 staff will be placed ‘at risk’ as a result of the changes.

The remaining 18 SNTs will be based in Bury St Edmunds, Brandon, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Haverhill, Sudbury, Stowmarket, Ipswich West (Landmark House), Ipswich Central (Museum Street), Ipswich East (Heath Road), Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Leiston, Eye, Halesworth, Beccles and Lowestoft.

Work will now be carried out to implement changes necessary for the new policing model to go live from April 2016. The changes are projected to realise savings of £2.7 million in 2016/17 and £2.3 million in 2017/18.

The savings identified as part of the SLPR will contribute towards £15 million of savings that have been identified to meet the £20.5 million required. The next stage of the review will contribute towards the remaining £5.5 million.

The force has also implemented a range of collaborative projects with Norfolk Police, including the creation of a number of joint departments serving both counties.

It adds: “Every effort will be made to redeploy individuals into other posts and will be provided with advice and support throughout the process.”

Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Wilson and commissioner Tim Passmore stressed this morning that the aim was to restructure the force to meet changing needs and make better use of public money and they called on other public agencies to work with them to do the same.

TCC Wilson said: “You want to sit in our control room on a Friday afternoon and see how many calls we get from other agencies giving us work because they close at 4.30 on a Friday. That’s what we’ve got to address.”

Mr Passmore said: “The public sector must step up instead of using police time. For example, 37 per cent of front line officer time is spent dealing with people with mental health problems – we’re not the health service.”

TCC Wilson added: “We’re there in time of crisis and need, but what we need is to have a cohesive strategy around people with mental health issues – we need to make sure we are supported by other agencies.

They will be talking to district councils about taking on responsibility for parking enforcement, which is currently dealt with by the police or district and county councils according to where the offence is.

TCC Wilson said changes to SNTs and PCSOs should be seen as a new structure, not just a cost cutting exercise.

He added: “What we’ve said is that the whole concept of safer neighbourhood is a core of our policing model. We’ve kept almost 100 PCSOs, when some forces are getting rid of them, because we think it’s right to have a good mix of PCSOs and officers communicating with the public.”

Mr Passmore said front desks had been closed at most police stations because so few people used them now that two thirds of ‘front desk interaction’ was at Bury, Ipswich and Lowestoft, so they could save £700,000 by closing the rest.

But he said they were investing more in tackling cyber crime and on roads policing while creating a new rural crime unit based in West Suffolk.

TCC Wilson was also confident that the resources were there to enable to force to cope with a major incident, such as a terrorist attack.

He said the SNT teams play a part in that by helping provide intelligence. Regular officers are supported by armed response units and immediate help can be sourced from neighbouring forces, while the National Counter Terrorism network would ‘spring into action’.

“I’m really confident that we would be able to work with our partners to deal with any incident,” he said.

Mr Passmore said he felt ‘very sorry’ for anyone who faced compulsory redundancy but said they had tried to reduce the impact of staff reductions by keeping vacancies open so people could be moved into other jobs.

He added: “We’ve got difficult choices to make but I think we’ve spent a lot of time getting this plan drawn up and worked hard to get the balance right. We’re absolutely convinced this is the best balance.”

He said he was convinced Suffolk would remain one of the safest places to live and work.

Suffolk is already part of a pilot project to help people with mental health problems who are in contact with the police.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) working with the charity the Julian Support are involved with an NHS-funded Liaison and Diversion Service where NSFT staff and a Julian Support worker are based in police investigation centre and deal with anyone the police consider vulnerable.

The service screens and provides onward referral for people who may be experiencing mental health difficulties to appropriate agencies.

Rachel Omori, Julian Support’s head of operations, said: “If the person has an underlying social problem we can work with the to support them with those issues.

“For example, if someone is not registered with a GP we can take them to a GP and help them register – not just tell them to go there.”

Alison Armstrong, director of operations (Suffolk), at NSFT, said: “Over the past two years, our trust has been working very closely with Suffolk Constabulary, our CCGs and other agencies to ensure that people experiencing a crisis receive expert care as soon as possible.

“In partnership with Suffolk police, we have provided a street triage service since April 2014. Based in Ipswich, the service enables a police officer and a Trust mental health practitioner to attend incidents where people are experiencing mental health difficulties. The idea of one body covering all parking matters has received a cautious welcome from St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s leader.

Cllr John Griffiths said: “Any changes to parking enforcement will need to be considered carefully and be fully costed including establishment and transition costs and the case will have to be made across Suffolk, but St Edmundsbury would be happy to play its part in this.

“It would also be a good time to ensure that all parking services and operations in the Borough, and in Bury St Edmunds in particular, are brought together in one place to both improve and make them more efficient and cost effective.”

He added: “I can empathise with Tim Passmore in terms of the tough decisions he is having to take, although the police at least have had their funding protected, unlike borough, district and county Councils.”

However, a Suffolk County Council spokeswoman said: ““With the exception of within Ipswich, the enforcement of parking restrictions is performed by the police throughout the whole of Suffolk and there are no firm plans for that to change.”

Staff and officers say there are still a number of front desk activities which require people to present or sign documents.

A condition of bail is often that the person must report to a police station at times set by the court.

Declan Gallagher, a partner and head of crime and motors at Bury’s Burnett Barker solicitors, said he feared that the change might affect people getting bail.

He explained: “It occasionally happens people are allowed to report by pressing the automatic call button at a closed police station and they get through to control and say ‘I’m here’.

“That’s fine with Joe Bloggs who’s an idiot and is doing it because he’s failed to attend, but if it’s to prevent somebody absconding, buzzing through to say ‘I’m at Bury police station’ may not be good enough.

“It’s solvable because the entrances to police stations have CCTV so they can tell them to look at the camera and their identity could be checked by, say ,a bail officer, but it doesn’t appear to have been taken into account.

“The bottom line is that provided they address it properly and ensure everyone can report for bail, it’s fine, but we’ve had no indication that is going to happen.”

He said that though motorists’ documents can now be checked on computer, there are circumstances when paper ones have to be presented, for example, if someone has just bought a car, if recently acquired insurance cover is not yet online or the vehicle is covered by trade insurance.

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