Police chief: Given all the challenges, change is the right thing to do
PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:00 27 October 2017
Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015
OPINION: Last week, I had to place over 170 staff at risk of redundancy. Many were long-serving colleagues and all dearly loved by their communities.
You may rightly ask why?
Believe me I did not do so lightly. These proposals have been two years in the making. Back in August 2015, I commissioned Norfolk 2020 to design a policing model which was fit for the future. The model had to be evidence based, fully costed and scalable.
We knew that crime had changed, and we knew we faced severe and ongoing budget reductions. Through consultation, research, pilots and analysis, Norfolk 2020 carried out the most thorough review in my history with the force. As a result and, although I understand and regret the human impact these proposals will have on my staff, I know that I am doing the right thing for Norfolk Constabulary.
The reasons for my decisions come down to two key factors – costs and circumstances.
The first, costs, relates to the cost the organisation has to pay for every person we employ. This is a different, higher figure than salary because it includes things such as pension and national insurance contributions.
The key fact uncovered during my 2020 review is that the organisational cost of a PCSO is no longer significantly different to a PC. Significantly, we found that the difference in cost is less than £2,000 with the average annual cost for a PCSO being £39,800 while for a PC it is £41,620.
Since the PCSO role’s inception in 2002, the Winsor review of police officers’ pay and conditions in 2012 significantly reduced the costs of officers. In the meantime, Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies introduced a joint job evaluation system and new pay scales which brought about a rise in the salaries of PCSOs.
With such a small difference between the two roles, I have to consider the difference in powers and flexibility which warranted officers bring. When faced with a budget reduction of £30m since 2010 and a further challenge of £10m still to save, I have no choice but to look at the 80% of our budget which I spend on people. This inevitably leads to a reduction in officers and staff and with fewer employees; you need the maximum flexibility and powers.
The second major reason is circumstances. The world of 2017 is vastly different from the world that existed when the role of PCSO was created. Do you remember a world without Twitter, or Facebook? When PCSOs first arrived in 2002, neither of these things existed, nor the terror threat with which we are now confronted.
Unfortunately for the role of PCSO, the impact is also seen in the developing cyber world, in sexual crimes, in the unprecedented increase in reports of adult abuse and child abuse and in our own exploitation of technology to combat crime and arrest criminals. The need for a warrant and the need for the powers, training and equipment to face up to these threats are greater now than it has ever been. In the last 12 months, Norfolk Constabulary has had to meet the challenge of raised terror threat levels twice. This requires a surge in police officers but also requires us to continue to have enough other police officers to keep Norfolk safe.
This is why I have also had to propose a significant reduction in the number of Public Enquiry Offices (front counters) in Norfolk, closing seven of the 10 we have. In the fifth biggest county in the country, I know this will inconvenience and even anger some of my communities. But only 15,000 members of the public (out of a county of 859,000) came through the doors of those stations last year. Compare that to the need to provide sufficient call handlers to answer the increased phone calls, sufficient Safer Neighbourhood Team Patrol officers to respond to the calls for service and sufficient detectives to handle the 357% rise in high impact, high harm offences such as rape and child abuse. Faced with these stark choices, and with limited funding available, the case, for me, is clear.
In summary, Thursday last week was one of the toughest days in my career. Some 176 of my staff are now at risk of redundancy. An outcome that in no way comments on the quality of service they have given for many years. However, given everything we face as a county and as a country, I believe it is the right thing to do.