Norfolk police chief spells out importance of control room merger for frontline

Chief constable Simon Bailey is facing pressure to make savings. Chief constable Simon Bailey is facing pressure to make savings.

Friday, March 14, 2014
6:42 AM

Norfolk’s chief constable has warned that either plans to merge police control centres with Suffolk go ahead - or the county’s frontline might have to reduce by up to 40 police officer posts or 70 PCSO posts.

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Stephen Bett. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYStephen Bett. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

The stark message was spelled out by Simon Bailey at a meeting with Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett to discuss plans to merge the control centres and create a single super centre at Wymondham which would save around £1.8m per year.

Speaking at the public meeting in King’s Lynn yesterday, 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.”

He added: “The recommendations, to create a single control room and a single-site shared services partnership, will realise savings of at least £2m a year for Norfolk. If this is not agreed, I will have to look to take the equivalent of 40 police officers or 70 PCSO posts out of my community policing teams. The choice really is that stark.”

Norfolk currently has around 1543 police officers and 260 PCSOS but the reductions which might need to take place if the merger does not go ahead equate to a cut of more than 2.5pc in officer numbers and more than 26pc in PCSO numbers.

Mr Bailey said the idea of single-site control rooms was not new and believed advances in technology would “mitigate” any concerns about perceived lack of local knowledge.

He said the proposals, which have been presented to both Norfolk and Suffolk PCCs for consideration, must be considered “in the context of the huge challenge we face”.

Mr Bailey, who described alternatives to the merger as “very, very unpalatable”, said: “I feel confident that this proposal does not present a risk to our communities and is the right thing to do and, let me be clear, if a single control room in Suffolk had been the most financially viable option, I would still have supported it.

“Is it more important to maintain separate control rooms or to have more officers and PCSOs locally based to respond to our communities’ needs?

“We’re facing a staggering financial deficit and we gave to bridge that gap whilst doing our level best to protect offices and PCSO numbers. I believe that is exactly what our communities of Norfolk would want me to do.”

A business case for the proposals will be re-presented to both PCC’s on April 30 after they asked that more work be carried out.

Speaking after yesterday’s meeting Mr Bett said he “wholeheartedly” supported the proposals describing the alternative as “devastating”.

He said: “In a nutshell, if Suffolk and Norfolk don’t do this then I’m afraid both Suffolk and Norfolk Constabularies are going to suffer dire consequences.”

Last month it was revealed that senior members of Suffolk and Norfolk constabularies were proposing to relocate Suffolk’s force control room to one shared by both police forces in Wymondham - which 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.

The cuts follow the Home Office announcement about the second Comprehensive Spending Review in December 2013.

There are 170 police call-handling staff in Norfolk and 134 in Suffolk, and individual briefings were held last month.

Norfolk was chosen over Suffolk because its control room required least investment to handle the extra call capacity.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has said that he is sceptical about the proposed merger and that he will only agree to it if he believes it is in the best interests of the people of Suffolk.

What do you think about the recommendations? Write to EDP letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPletters@archant.co.ukgiving your full name and address and contact details.

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