New twist in plans to merge Norfolk and Suffolk’s police control centres

PUBLISHED: 13:19 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 13:25 10 April 2014

The Norfolk police control room at Wymondham, which is at the centre of reorganisation proposals for Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Norfolk police control room at Wymondham, which is at the centre of reorganisation proposals for Norfolk and Suffolk.

Archant © 2009

The controversy over proposals to merge Norfolk and Suffolk’s police control centres has taken a new twist – after a vision was unveiled for all Suffolk’s emergency services to have a central control room based in the county.

£350,000 advice bill

Norfolk and Suffolk police paid a consultancy nearly £350,000 for advice on merging its control rooms and other administrative posts, it has emerged.

The constabularies recruited consultancy firm Capita to help compile a report for the proposed administrative changes at a cost of £348,884.90.

A total of £123,569 was spent on the control room work.

In addition to the merger proposal, the work also included looking at relocating other civilian staff posts from Norfolk into combined departments based in Suffolk.

Suffolk’s share of the whole bill was £151,764.93 with Norfolk’s portion coming to just over £197,000.

Simon Stevens, a spokesman for Suffolk Constabulary, said: “Since 2010, Norfolk and Suffolk have been working closely together to cut costs whilst transforming services.

“The Contact and Control Room (CCR) and the Shared Service Partnership (SSP) are just two work streams from a plan that has stretched right across both constabularies.

“Whilst our own staff have helped co-design the SSP and CCR business cases it was felt appropriate to engage professional advice to provide independent scrutiny.

“Following a procurement exercise an initial amount of £64.5k was spent on the first stage of the SSP.

“Following the conclusion of the first stage two further stages totalling £160.8k were procured to deliver a final business case.

“Capita developed the justification report for a single CCR concept.

“This was also presented to the Collaboration Panel and following feedback an in-house team was tasked with developing the final business case.

“The Collaboration Panel has been updated on the progress of both work areas regularly.”

The merger could see the loss of about 70 jobs – in order to help meet a combined £36.7m of savings needed by the two forces by March 2018 – £20.3m for Norfolk police and £16.4m for Suffolk.

There are 170 police call-handling staff in Norfolk and 134 in Suffolk.

Norfolk and Suffolk’s police chiefs have been at loggerheads over a proposal to merge the two force’s police control centres.

Councillors back plans for merged Norfolk and Suffolk control room
Merged Norfolk and Suffolk police control room ‘would save £1.8m per year’

The chief constables for the two counties – Simon Bailey and Douglas Paxton – had put forward a business case stating that the control room would be based in Norfolk, possibly at the current headquarters at Wymondham.

But that idea, which would save £1.8m a year, has sparked criticism from staff whose jobs are at risk and claims that lack of local knowledge could hit public safety.

Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett has made it clear he is in favour of the idea, but his Suffolk counterpart has said he is sceptical about that proposed merger and would only agree to it if he believed it was in the best interests of the people of Suffolk.

And, at a meeting last night, Tim Passmore gave a clear sign of his unease over sanctioning the move, when he revealed he had spoken to the Home Office about creating a central 999 centre in Suffolk for ‘blue light’ services.

Speaking at a meeting at East Bergholt High School, Mr Passmore stopped short of saying he would refuse to let Suffolk Constabulary’s 999 centre be merged and relocated to Norfolk.

But he said: “This is going to just about be the biggest decision I have had to make in my life.”

After stressing every alternative needed to be explored before a final decision is made, Mr Passmore told the audience he has spoken to the Home Office which had been supportive of his concept for a central 999 centre in Suffolk for ‘blue light’ services.

He said: “I do think one of the alternatives I should be looking at is in two or three years if we don’t go ahead with the control room [merger] what about the linking of the blue lights services – ambulance, police, fire and coastguard – here in Suffolk?”

Mr Passmore also said he would not rule out increasing the council tax precept in future if it meant the county being able to keep its own police control room.

He added: “This is something we have got to get right. There won’t be a second chance.”

Due to their government grants continually being slashed, Norfolk and Suffolk police need to find combined savings of £36.7m by March 2018.

Norfolk’s chief constable, Mr Bailey, has previously warned that if the plans to merge police control centres with Suffolk do not go ahead, it would mean the county’s frontline might have to reduce by up to 40 police officer posts or 70 PCSO posts.

At a public meeting in King’s Lynn last month, Mr Bailey said: “I am responsible for the future of operational policing in our county and now face the unenviable task of having to downsize Norfolk Constabulary.

“A reduction of £20m from my budget in the next three years is inevitably going to see a reduction right across our workforce, this includes the number of officers and PCSOs on the beat in our communities, but I feel duty bound to ensure these reductions are kept to a minimum.”

What do you think of the proposals? Write, giving full details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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