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Suffolk: Chief Constable outlines risks of merged police control room and how he would combat them

PUBLISHED: 10:00 26 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:40 26 April 2014

Chief Constable Douglas Paxton

Chief Constable Douglas Paxton

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Suffolk’s Chief Constable has outlined the potential risks to the public of moving Suffolk’s police control centre to Norfolk.

However, Douglas Paxton has also detailed how any hazards would be limited if the controversial proposal is given the go-ahead.

The concept has been put forward as Suffolk and Norfolk police need to find combined savings of £36.7m by March 2018. Suffolk’s shortfall is £16.4m. More than 100 posts in Suffolk’s control room would be put in jeopardy by any merger.

Mr Paxton outlined the business case for the move, which he and Norfolk’s Chief Constable Simon Bailey have recommended to the counties’ police and crime commissioners, ahead of a top-level meeting next week.

Although there has been a public backlash against the proposal Mr Paxton said he is confident if the merger goes ahead it would not put residents in the county at risk. A merger would reap an estimated saving of £1.84million a year.

On Wednesday the two chief constables along with Suffolk and Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioners Tim Passmore and Stephen Bett will discuss the proposals further at a Norfolk and Suffolk Collaboration Panel meeting in Wymondham.

Mr Paxton has warned “significant experienced staff” are likely to leave the constabulary leaving the location not chosen to host the control centre, most likely Martlesham, short of trained workers. This would have detrimental impact on the service and increased overtime costs.

However, he added a contingency has been put in place.

In addition there is a high risk of some staff becoming disaffected by the change, leading to an adverse impact on morale and performance. There is also the possibility of a legal challenge or industrial action.

It is hoped the potential for this could be managed through continued consultation.

Another issue is Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies operate their local policing models differently which could lead to inconsistences in the service provided from a central site.

The terms of a project to harmonise working practices are currently being prepared to negate this.

There are also fears changes in senior management personnel could lead to a lack of consistency and continuity during a complex and intensive period of change.

Additionally there is a risk a significant percentage of staff may not choose to move to the merged centre, leading to an urgent recruitment drive. The worst case scenario predicts such a change could lead to between 45% and 54% of staff in any centralised 999 centre being newly-trained personnel.

Mr Paxton stated work is under way to encourage experience personnel to move across and help smooth out any transition.

Mr Bett is known to be in favour of a combined control room, but Mr Passmore is more sceptical of the benefits to Suffolk. Both men need to agree before any merger could go ahead.

Earlier this month Mr Paxton confronted fears that any loss of local knowledge by moving the control room to Norfolk would put residents’ safety at risk.

He said: “I would not have put forward the recommendation unless I felt it was worthy of consideration.

“We (the chief constables of Suffolk and Norfolk) concluded that we can deliver this (merger) safely. In doing so we would use a mixture of technology.

“The chances of getting confused about Acacia Avenue in Ipswich and Acacia Avenue in Norwich are very remote.”

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