What now for Norfolk and Suffolk’s police collaboration after control room blow?
12:19 09 May 2014
With money-saving plans for a merged Norfolk and Suffolk police control room at Wymondham now in tatters and a grim warning that the county’s thin blue line is to get even slimmer as a result Crime Correspondent PETER WALSH asks what happens now?
It was a proposal which was expected to save £1.8m a year and help Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies meet the combined £37million of savings the government have said they must make by March 2018.
But plans for a super control room at Wymondham have been scuppered after Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said he could not agree to it.
The decision, described by Mr Passmore as the “biggest of his life”, went against the proposals put forward by Norfolk and Suffolk chief constables, Simon Bailey and Douglas Paxton.
Mr Passmore’s failure to back the plan also flew in the face of a warning by his Norfolk counterpart Stephen Bett that not going ahead with the merger would have “dire consequences” for both forces.
However finding a way to stop that stark forecast becoming a reality is what is now concentrating the minds of both Mr Bett and Mr Bailey as they try to come up with a ‘Plan B’.
Following Mr Passmore’s veto, Norfolk Constabulary now sees itself faced with finding savings of another £1 m which, according to Mr Bailey is the equivalent to 20 police officers or 25 PCSOs.
Mr Bett said: “We’re going to have a job to find as much in the way of savings as we would’ve done if we had done Plan A. We’re going to be about £1m short a year so it’s going to be a bit of a problem.”
Mr Bett said he expected to have a Plan B to present to the county’s police and crime panel (PCP) in July and while could not say too much about what it might entail admitted it would inevitably equate to reduced staff numbers.
He said: “I think as 83% of our budget is people we’ve got to find these savings so unfortunately people are going to be at risk. Which people and how many we’ve yet to get our heads around really.”
One of Mr Bett’s pledges in his successful 2012 election campaign was trying to protect the front line.
The former police authority chairman said that remains a key priority and insisted that both he and the chief constable will do what they can to limit the losses to officers at the coal face.
He said: “Simon Bailey has said he will try to do as much as he could to protect the front line and that’s what we’ll do.
“But at the end if the day we’ve got to find this money. We thought we’d gone some way to doing this and now Mr Passmore us against it we’re going to have to find it somewhere else.”
He added: “It will have an affect on both civilian staff and police officers I’m afraid but what exactly we’re not 100% sure.”
But despite the disagreement with his Suffolk counterpart, Mr Bett insists the decision will not greatly alter the ongoing collaboration between the two forces, which have a number of joint units.
He said: “We’re collaborated so much that there’s not a lot more we could do. The control centre was probably the final part of the jigsaw. There have been smaller things we haven’t been able to do but that was the big thing in collaboration. We cannot afford to unpick what we’ve done already - its working well and people on the ground are happy with it and in monetary terms we’ve got to carry on doing it because we can’t afford not to, its as simple as that.”
There was a similar message from Norfolk’s chief constable. Despite the disappointment of last week’s decision, Mr Bailey said the forces would continue to work together while he and Mr Bett set about finding other ways of saving the money they needed to.