Suffolk: Watchdog’s fears over the future of Suffolk policing
PUBLISHED: 00:01 22 July 2014 | UPDATED: 06:56 22 July 2014
A police watchdog has raised fears for the future of neighbourhood policing in Suffolk and the constabulary’s ability to cope with major crimes.
The force faces slashing £16.4million from its budget by 2018, having already saved millions of pounds.
Although Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) acknowledges the constabulary is making good progress towards balancing its books, it also raises the spectre of the potential problems in policing the county due to the drastic Government cutbacks.
The watchdog warned some smaller forces, such as Suffolk, could be at risk in the next three to five years if recent methods used to slash budgets do not change.
The report states: “Suffolk has a high level of risk and recent changes to its collaboration programme with Norfolk Constabulary puts it at further risk as it moves into the next spending review period.”
It highlighted its concern over the decision not to merge both counties control rooms which was made by Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, and backed by the EADT and Ipswich Star. This would have saved Suffolk police £632,000 a year.
HMIC inspector Zoe Billingham said: “Continuing to apply the cost reductions in the same way in the next four years as they’ve been applied in these four years is not an option, and we’re very clear that the viability of some forces could be placed in jeopardy in three to five years’ time.
“By that we mean they would have to cut too hard and too deep into neighbourhood policing and they may not be able to guarantee or maintain the service that we’re currently seeing to the public.”
The HMIC report also warned that smaller forces with a large area to cover or high demand could find themselves unable to respond to “unexpected events”.
In a joint statement Mr Passmore and Chief Constable Douglas Paxton said: “The report says our response to the financial challenge of the spending review to date has been good.
“It highlights how we have delivered savings while reducing crime, improving our response to calls from the public, and increasing levels of satisfaction among those who need our help.
“It also stresses that we have achieved these savings while protecting front-line crime-fighting roles and the “Bobby on the Beat” in our Safer Neighbourhood Teams.
“However, the report does not shy away from highlighting the financial challenge we face.
“It judges that our savings plans for 2016 and beyond need development. Since HMIC inspected us in April, we have strengthened our plans.
“It is inevitable that over the next four years we will have to become a leaner organisation, with fewer officers and staff.
“Our goal at all times will be to keep people safe, whilst operating with fewer resources.”
Commenting on the report Suffolk Police Federation Chairman Matt Gould said: “With the cuts being applied to Suffolk, we will not be able to continue to offer the same levels of service to the public in the future that we have offered in the past.
“With less officers and resources you have to reduce the number of things you do for the public.
“You only get less for less.
“I do not accept we will not be able to deal with serious offences such as murder.
“We have always called upon our neighbouring forces to assist when necessary and this applied to our biggest force, the Met, when the London riots occurred in 2011.
“The protection of neighbourhood policing is essential to us in Suffolk.”