Norfolk Change Programme (Agenda Item 6)
Inspector Paul Wheatley will be in attendance representing the Chief Constable, to inform Members of the consultation process which has resulted in the forthcoming closures of the Public Enquiry Offices in Swaffham and Attleborough and the change in opening times at Dereham and Thetford.
Chief Superintendant Mike Fawcett, Inspector Paul Wheatley and Sandra Scott – Change Manager were in attendance at the invitation of the Commission, in view of the concerns raised about the planned closure of the Police Enquiry Offices (PEO) in Attleborough and Swaffham.
Members were given a presentation on the strategic and financial challenges being faced by the constabulary and talked through the process which had led to the closures.
Norfolk Constabulary had a £26million funding gap to March 2020. £16million savings had already been identified including £360,000 from the PEO closures. Front line services were being shielded from cuts where possible to maintain public confidence and to minimise redundancies.
A graphic representation showed that over 90% of the budget costs were staff related. That figure had to be reduced to meet the financial challenges.
Councillor Rogers asked if any attempt had been made to recruit more Special Constables and he was advised that there were 258 in the organisation at the moment. There was also a Police Cadet scheme for 13-18 year olds and it would be a natural progression for them to become Special Constables.
Councillor Joel was aware that people complained about police stations closing, but they did not actually use them. He asked if the stations could be sold if they were owned by the police. However, it was pointed out that police stations were not closing – only the front counters in the stations. Officers would still be located there and there would be a yellow phone provided at all stations for public use.
It was pointed out that the cost of the PEO in Swaffham was about £30,000 per annum. As only about four or five people actually used it each day that equated to £25 per visit which was not a good use of public money.
Councillor Gould said there was also a lot of concern about the amount of money spent on Police Pensions and their early retirement age, but it was pointed out that the Government had increased the retirement age to 60 and the pension pot was completely separate to the budget.
The Vice-Chairman asked for a comparison between the number of Officers in Norfolk and Suffolk. The figures were not available but there were less in Suffolk due to lower demand but Suffolk had a bigger funding gap.
The Chairman noted that the staff costs seemed to be disproportionately high. He reiterated the question about police owned property.
Ms Scott advised that the estate was currently being reviewed. Partnership working with the Fire Service was being investigated around the County. It was likely that the Attleborough police station would move to the fire station. (The new station at Attleborough would have a front counter to future proof it.) Currently the ambulance co-location would stay as it was, but the Director was changing and there might be an opportunity to engage with them in future.
Councillor Bambridge asked what burden looking after the Sandringham Estate placed on the rate payer and he was informed that it was central government and the Ministry of Defence Police that took responsibility for that so it had little impact on Norfolk Constabulary.
Councillor Darby was concerned that everyone paid the same amount of Council Tax but in some areas they received a different level of service.
The Chairman was concerned that there had been no consultation with the Town, District or County Councils about the PEO closures and asked if there would be any consultation on the fundamental changes in the estate which were now being considered.
In response Ms Scott presented some slides which showed the journey taken to reach the decisions made and why there had not been any consultation with residents. The first stage had been to look at the current provision, which was a three tier service over 15 locations. Each had different opening times and days. Out of 45,000 contacts from the public per year only 21% were at police stations.
It had been decided to adopt a holistic, county-wide approach to maintain as broad a presence as possible; minimising closures, meeting statutory requirements and tailoring the service to meet demand based on evidence collected on the key functions that were being delivered.
11 stations would be retained, all providing Monday to Friday cover. That decision had been based on the socio-demographic information that had been collected. Thetford would be retained as would Dereham. The data had shown the peak times and the opening hours would reflect those.
A public footfall survey had been carried out between October and December 2013. It had clearly shown that the preferred method of contact was the 101 telephone number.
Consultation with staff and with Criminal Justice partners (for people reporting for bail) had been carried out. The PCC and staff associations had been worked with and they had looked at evidence from other forces. The Council had been advised of the decisions as soon as possible after the staff.
· Stations had been retained in the busiest areas and in deprived areas
· Yellow phones would be available outside stations
· Officers would still be located in stations
· Door buzzers would be checked
· Signage would be changed
· Additional information would be made available outside stations (eg firearms licensing procedure)
The Leader of the Council commented that the Watton enquiry office had closed seven or eight years ago and it had been ‘relatively painless’. However he had been concerned about the lack of consultation with the Council or the relevant Ward Representatives and he had written expressing those concerns.
Councillor Kybird had visited the police control room and the technology had been excellent with instant access to mapping which made the response to 101 calls much better. The police had also put mental health staff into the control room which had been very successful. The Chairman suggested that that was something that the police should publicise.
Councillor Joel asked if the police were able to use iPads out of the office to do their paperwork and save time. He was advised that the police had ‘tough books’ in a lot of their vehicles which were being upgraded so that they would be able to access other systems.
The Chairman asked if the huge expansion in the District, especially around Thetford, Dereham and Attleborough, had been taken into consideration as it would increase demand on the police. He also noted that that increase would bring increased Council Tax contributions.
Inspector Wheatley attended the Greater Thetford and Greater Attleborough meetings. It would be a challenge to staff the demand appropriately. Chief Superintendant Fawcett said there would be an opportunity to bid for extra staff at that time and increased demand would be met from the increased income.
The Chairman turned to matters of concern to rural residents many of whom were elderly. The Council was unhappy that it had not been consulted about a big change which affected so many residents. Councillors were the eyes and ears and mouth piece of residents and people couldn’t understand how the police could improve their service with reduced presence.
Chief Superintendant Fawcett could not say that there would be more officers on the beat because they had been working on reducing budgets for five years. All the back office functions had been looked at and they were now looking at how to deal with incidents without attending. They were being innovative with the budget and staff they had and were still providing a good service.
Ms Scott advised that the closures had been phase one, dealing with public access and taking out services where they could not be justified. Phase two would be about changing where services were delivered from by using joint location and technology. That phase would include consultation.
The Leader of the Council asked what proportion of the budget was under local control and what percent was collected locally. Chief Superintendant Fawcett advised that an increase in the number of people living in Norfolk would not provide an increase in the amount the police received.
Councillor Borrett pointed out that large swathes of the District were a long way from a police station. He asked if distance to the nearest station had been considered in the assessment.
Inspector Wheatley told him that Thetford was retaining its station and there would still be beat teams in rural areas. An appointment system was being introduced. Rural crime was looked at daily and if residents could not access the police they were visited.
Councillor R Richmond had attended a Safer Neighbourhood Area Partnership (SNAP) meeting the previous evening and that system was working well. He asked for assurance that that would continue.
Inspector Wheatley assured him that it would. He also noted that working in partnership through the Operational Partnership Team (OPT) had been central to solving Anti Social Behaviour problems and that engagement would also continue.
In Swaffham there would be a drop-in centre and a new beat manager who was local to the area. In Attleborough they were looking at both Sainsbury’s and the Library to try to set up a drop-in centre which would be open two to three times a month. Engagement was needed to identify local issues and it worked well in Breckland.
Councillor Carter pointed out that over the last five years the police precept had gone up by 1.9% per year equating to an increase of almost 10%, but the Council Tax had been frozen. He lived in a rural area and he never saw a policeman. They used to attend Parish meetings but did not now. Rural areas paid half the precept but did not get any improvements.
Councillor Gilbert agreed and said that they used to regularly attend Watton Town Council meetings but now they never came.
Chief Inspector Wheatley asked to be invited to meetings if there was an issue and he would attend but he could not go to every one.
Councillor Bambridge also represented a rural Ward and said that what people wanted most was a visible police presence in the form of beat officers.
Chief Superintendant Fawcett lived in a village and understood what was being said but they had to respond to where the demand was. If there was an issue the police would attend.
The Deputy Leader said she could not emphasise the value of SNAP meetings enough. They were open to the public and Councillors and local people set the priorities.
Councillor Sharpe asked if the towns were still being encouraged to pay for half a PCSO and it was confirmed that they were. Numbers were being reduced so if a town wanted to secure a PCSO they would have to part fund that post.
Councillor Richmond asked if the Crime in the Countryside initiative would be cut and it was confirmed that it would continue with e-mails being sent out to warn when issues such as fuel, van or tool thefts were occurring in specific areas.
The Chairman thanked Chief Superintendant Fawcett, Chief Inspector Wheatley and Ms Scott for a good presentation.