Norfolk and Suffolk police chiefs clash over control centre merger proposals

Independent Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Constabulary Stephen Bett . Photo: Steve Adams Independent Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Constabulary Stephen Bett . Photo: Steve Adams

Peter Walsh Crime correspondent peter.walsh@archant.co.uk
Friday, March 21, 2014
6:30 AM

Norfolk and Suffolk’s police chiefs are at loggerheads over controversial plans to merge police control centres.

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Stephen Bett

Stephen Bett, who was elected Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner in November 2012, said he did not have a “personal problem” with Mr Passmore or anyone.

He said: “I will work with anyone if they can save more money. It’s as simple as that.”

He said the proposal to merge the control room was about ensuring both forces could make the savings required by the government.

He said: “It seems that people are trying, from what I’ve seen, to make it tribal – that Norfolk are trying to take over Suffolk or vice versa but it’s not that at all. We’re trying to save money in desperate times.”

He said it was “imperative” these savings were found otherwise by 2017/18 the Norfolk force would find itself on a “cliff edge” and suggested it might well be a similar position in Suffolk too.

The idea to create a single control room at Wymondham is expected to save £1.8m a year, but has sparked criticism from staff at risk and fears over public safety.

Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner, Stephen Bett, is behind the plan and last week warned his Suffolk counterpart, Tim Passmore, there would be “dire consequences” for both forces if it failed.

But Mr Passmore hit back at the comments and said: “My view is we will sort ourselves in Suffolk. We don’t need any advice as to how we will deal with this.”

And today, with the business case to be presented to both crime commissioners at a meeting in Norfolk at the end of April, the battle stepped up a gear.

Tim Passmore

Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore insisted there was no “war of words” between him and Norfolk’s crime commissioner, but said his job was to do his best for the people of Suffolk.

He said: “There are going to be some differences of opinion on certain things”, adding: “This is opposing what is bad for Suffolk just the same as Stephen will say he wants the best for Norfolk. If there’s a division, that’s clearly it.

“Having robust debates is a very healthy part of the decision-making process.”

One thing, however, Mr Passmore did “take exception to” was Mr Bett commenting on officers in Suffolk. He said: “I don’t comment on Norfolk – he needs to keep his nose out.”

Mr Passmore said he had asked for the business case to be looked at again as he did not think it was robust enough and not in the best interests of Suffolk.

Mr Bett said he and Mr Passmore had known about the plan since April last year, when they both received proposals for future collaboration opportunities and agreed guiding principles.

Mr Bett said: “We spent about £354,000 doing this, getting the business cases, and up until that meeting in Suffolk [last month] as far as I knew from what he had said to police officers doing the business case with Capita he had seen all the business cases and was happy with
the control room business case.

“So when it came down to that meeting I was very surprised when he came out against it because he knew that Suffolk would save £2m and we would save £2.2m.

“I’m genuinely amazed by what’s gone on and what he’s said on radio and TV and
at that meeting – I was completely bowled over by it.”

Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore is pictured outside a Police Investigation Centre. Picture: SUPPLIED.Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore is pictured outside a Police Investigation Centre. Picture: SUPPLIED.

While Mr Passmore admitted he agreed a business case should be looked at, he said “at no stage did I agree that was the way we were going” and believed it to be a “slight misunderstanding”.

He insisted he has said repeatedly that “we should look at other options as well” ,including other forms of collaboration.

Mr Bett said: “It’s not a Norfolk/Suffolk thing, it’s a countrywide thing – all police forces are having to save a shed-load of money and going parochial will not save this money.”

But Mr Passmore said he was not being parochial, explaining that Suffolk already collaborated significantly with Norfolk in a number of areas and would look to continue.

The control room proposals – which could see the loss of about 70 jobs – are part of cost-cutting measures aimed at bridging a combined funding gap for the two forces of £36.7m by March 2018.

Do you have a crime story? Email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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