Friday, 11 December 2009

On the Beat, On the Books

#pbr - In the Pre-Budget Report this week, Chancellor Alistair Darling produced the seemingly magical rabbit from a hat as he announced 'efficiency savings that would not hurt frontline services'.

Alan Travis reports that it is politicaly unpalatable to reduce policing numbers, especially heading into a general election, but that £1/2billion savings would be found over the next four years. He explains that this is predicted to be found through greater control of logistics, central procurement methods and better management of staffing (including reductions in overtime).

However with a statutory duty to ensure the Police are properly resourced the local Thames Valley Police Authority has been discussing budget proposals.

TVPA Chairperson Khan Juna explained that members have been working "to develop a budget which strikes a balance between effective policing across the Thames Valley and the difficult financial climate we are in."

Chief Constable Sara Thornton said she had proposed a 2% increase in council tax precepts in combination with £5m savings (split 50-50 between staff and non-staff costs) and that this will enable the force "to increase the number of police officers in line with the growing population and will post 73 officers from support roles to operational policing."

On the mean streets of Reading the impact of the changes are already being noticed as police have shifted tactics in an attempt to 'disrupt' criminal activity without making arrests which would require administrative support.

But TVPA Treasurer Bob Atkins issued a note of concern that this could still leave the authority facing an annual £10m deficit in its £369m budget as the £141m central government grant is cut by 5% - particularly as the proposed savings are an increase of more than 50% compared to £21.6m reported in the past three years.

BBC Berkshire reports discussions are ongoing and likely to see adjustment before TVPA agrees a budget on 19th February 2010.

Elsewhere Matt Wilkinson interviews departing Assistant Chief Constable Nick Gargan as he is promoted to the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), who is concerned that current growth in policing numbers is unsustainable.

He explains that there are 4,250 police officers employed by Thames Valley Police compared to 2,683 ten years ago, about 3,000 against 1,142 civilian support staff and 520 among the new rank of Police Community Support Officers.

The issue has taken on a direct political context in Reading with the loss of joint-funding from Reading University for a team of local PCSOs which hit recent headlines.

Labour campaigner Anneliese Dodds has come out in favour of the budget cuts while supporting PCSOs at the expense of Police Officers (who are fully trained, insured and have also the power of arrest).

Oranjepan says:
With improved reporting of crime statistics, greater community participation in deciding Police priorities and further emphasis on smarter policing (such as the development of NPIA and anti-crime panels) continued growth in pure policing numbers could hurt the ability of the Police to protect the public effectively.

It is not acceptable that financial resources are distracted from where they are needed in reaction to political pressure ahead of a general election.

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