Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner issues apology after stating he would not hire more PCSOs if he had ‘all the money in the world’
PUBLISHED: 09:23 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:36 16 November 2017
Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner has apologised for his choice of words after he said he would not hire more PCSOs, even if he had “all the money in the world”.
Lorne Green’s comments were made at a police accountability forum in Long Stratton, the first held since proposals announced by the Norfolk force.
Those proposals include axing all 150 PCSOs, closing seven stations and shutting front desks to the public as part of a move that would save £2m.
The 150 PCSOs at risk would be replaced with 81 new police officers and 16 non-officer roles, as part of a move which will save £2m a year and follows the biggest review in the force’s history.
And Conservative commissioner, in response to a question about whether police bosses would consider keeping PCSOs if they agreed to take pay cuts, told the meeting: “If I had all the money in the world I would not hire more PCSOs.”
He said: “We need more officers who can investigate, who can be moved around the county, who can be called on at short notice to duty when duty demands.
“And PCSOs, as valuable as they’ve been, they don’t offer the flexibility and skills necessary to deal with 21st century crime in this county.”
But that sparked criticism, including from the union which represents PCSOs, and Mr Green today apologised for his choice of words.
Mr Green said: “I am sorry for my choice of words with regards to the proposal in relation to PCSOs; I did not choose them well.
“I apologise for any unintended hurt I may have caused. I have, throughout, been mindful of the pain and uncertainty caused by the proposal to put the PCSO role at risk.
“It has been important to me from the outset that the Force addresses and deals with the inevitable impact on these valued members of the Norfolk Constabulary community with great sensitivity.
“As such, I made a point at the public meeting of calling on the chief constable to outline the measures being taken to assist those at risk.
“I was heartened to hear that more than 40 PCSOs have expressed an interest in becoming Police Constables and that there may be further opportunities within the proposed future policing model. I will continue to closely monitor the progress of these efforts.”
Earlier today Caren Reeves, Norfolk branch secretary of UNISON, said the comments made at the meeting came at a time when PCSO members and colleagues “thought it couldn’t get any worse”.
She said: “Shame on PCC Lorne Green, that with an unfeeling, thoughtless, throwaway comment he can knock the legs out from under long serving, dedicated, loyal employees who are desperately trying to hold their lives together – coming into work, still professionally carrying on in their demanding public facing jobs while worrying about how they are going to provide for themselves and their families after 31st March next year.”
Chris Jenkinson, regional secretary, who is organising a day of action in Norwich on December 2, said the comments were “disappointing, surprising and foolhardy.”
Simon Bailey, Norfolk’s chief constable, had said at the meeting that he appreciated that PCSOs could take pay cuts, or could work 9am to 5am Monday to Friday, but would then not be there when they were needed.
He said the extra, fully warranted police officers they will get would provide more flexibility and allow them to respond better to modern crime trends.
He said proposals to cut PCSOs and shut public enquiry offices were “against a backdrop of a changing face of crime”.
The meeting heard the force’s budget was “under severe strain” with a further £10m or £11m of savings to be made.
Mr Bailey said the force, which had already saved £30m, had no option but to reduce its workforce.
He added: “When you look at our crime figures and numbers I think we’re doing absolutely the right thing.”
The meeting heard that 45 of those PCSOs at risk had expressed an interest in becoming police officers.
At least 20 or 30 others had shown an interest in other roles within the force.
Mr Bailey said those at risk were “to be applauded” for the way they had responded following the announcement.
Mr Bailey also said the response from members of the public looking to become police officers had been “unprecedented”.
The meeting also heard that Mr Bailey would be looking for the police and crime commissioner to lobby government to raise the police precept above the current 2pc.
To raise the police precept above 2pc would require a referendum.
But Mr Bailey said even if the precept were to be raised to its current permitted maximum, of up to 2pc, there would still be a need to plug a £10m gap.
Mr Bailey said: “I will make a case that we need to raise the budget beyond 1.9pc and I hope the government do raise that cap.”
Mr Green said: “My first duty is to ensure people are safe in this county.”
The PCC said if the chief constable says he needs more funds to keep the county safe he “can’t ignore that”.
But Mr Green says he has not yet received the figure the chief needs and once he did would consult the public on that.
Beverley Spratt, a Norfolk County Councillor for West Deepwade Division, who attended the meeting, raised concerns about any prospect of further council tax rises in what were difficult economic times for everyone.
Mr Spratt said members of the public were not “cash cows” and had to ensure their households kept to their budget and urged police chiefs to do the same.
He added it was “totally unfair” to keep looking to put up council tax.