Monday, 13 June 2011

Local police stations may be sold off as spending cuts bite

The public are to be asked for their views on the future of police premises and front counter services in the county after the Constabulary considered a report outlining potential savings of up to £1 million annually and one-off sales of over £4 million.

The potential savings - which may see the closure and sell off of police stations in Carnforth, Over Kellet, Cowan Bridge, Caton, Cabus and Bowgreave (in Old Garstang) - are part of on-going work to identify savings in the region of £42 million over the next four years.

The Constabulary has been reviewing the properties it uses and the services it provides via front counters in some of its police stations.

The reviews, which were noted by senior managers last Friday, outline a plan to make no changes to the busiest stations across the county, such as Lancaster, Morecambe, Fleetwood and Garstang, but to close a number of the front counter desks and to dispose of those premises where there is limited demand from the public, or where the public have no access, or which are unoccupied.

Speaking after the meeting, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Cooke said: “The Constabulary recognises that the closure of any front counter, or indeed any police premise, is iconic for the public and will cause concern. This is why it has looked closely at visitor numbers in particular to identify those which are used the most in order to limit the impact to a potentially smaller number of people.

“We fully expect that this will be a difficult discussion for us to have with the public and one that will be highly emotive, but there is the potential to save in the region of £1 million per year in running costs through the proposals set out in this review, and more than £4 million from the sale of the properties.

"These are significant sums of money," he added. "It will be vital for us to carefully consider how we strike the right balance between finding the savings whilst limiting the impact on the public and protecting officer numbers in what is an already constricting environment.”

The Front Counters review has looked at a range of issues including opening hours, services provided to the public and working practices across the force, and a number of recommendations are being made as a result of the findings.

The review has found that 81 per cent of the total footfall of visitors across the county is catered for by just 17 of the front counters. The remaining 21 are dealing with only 19 per cent of the overall footfall and are therefore recommended for closure in the report considered at last Friday’s meeting, though all decisions were delayed, pending consultation with the public and key stakeholders.

The front counters that remain open will offer a standardised and consistent service to the public, unlike at present where people can potentially be sent to other police stations to access the service they need. They will not close for lunch, for training purposes or for any other reason outside of these hours so this will be a better service for the public.

“We believe that by closing the front desks which are currently underused and offering a standardised service in all of the remaining front counters will result in an improvement on the current position," argues Andy Cooke, "which sees people being sent from one counter to another depending on the services they need to access.

“However, we recognise that police station closures can cause anxiety and concern amongst local people which is why we are asking the Lancashire public for their views to ensure that we are taking these into account when making the final decision on closures later this year."

“Over recent years, we have extended our reach into the community and now operate out of almost 200 different bases across the county.  This means we rely less on the public coming to us. The continued development of on-line and digital services also provides additional opportunities for the public to access services differently and this will continue as technology moves forward.”

“We fully understand the importance people place on local police stations," noted the Chair of Lancashire Police Authority, Malcolm Doherty, "and intend to work closely with the Constabulary on the consultation regarding these proposals. We need to know what people really feel on the subject and Police Authority members will be actively involved in that work.

“However, we do need to find further savings and we are faced with some difficult choices in order to meet the required budget reductions, but I should stress that no decisions have yet been made as far as these plans are concerned.  I can assure people that we will take their views into account when the time comes to take that decision.”

In North Lancashire, Cockerham, Preesall and Hambleton police stations are already closed and up for sale.

Maureen Le Marinel, Branch Secretary of UNISON the Trade Union representing Police Staff employed on Front Counters across the Constabulary, said “I welcome the public consultation the Constabulary and the Police Authority are undertaking.  This is something that our members have raised with us as part of the force review of Front Counters due to cuts.

“Any closure of Front Counters will impact on the jobs of our members and we will continue to work with the Constabulary in order to mitigate any job losses through proper consultation and using agreed procedures, as we have over the last two years in order for the Constabulary to identify the £42 million savings that they have to find through no fault of their own.  We would urge all members of the public in the communities of Lancashire to take part in this important process”.

Mark Sweet, Lancashire Federation Secretary, said: “We fully support the Constabulary in its need to review all areas of business. The federation’s priority is to look after the best interests of police officers and if the loss of police buildings goes to protecting jobs, then we would fully support the organisation in making those difficult decisions.”

• Three months of consultation, commencing on 1 July, will now take place before the final decisions are made later this year and more details of how people can share their views will be released soon.

The Proposals in Full: Northern Division Front Counter and Estates Organisational Reviews


Police station and premises recommendations

*Premises that are shown as being ‘on the market’ have already been identified prior to the reviews as surplus to requirements and are not part of the consultation process.

Station/ Premises
Current status
Proposed status
Visitors per hour
Nearest alternative police station
Lancaster
Open
Front Desk
Open
Front Desk
8.6
N/A
Morecambe
Open
Front Desk
Open
Front Desk
5.6
N/A
Fleetwood
Open
Front Desk
Open
Front Desk
3.6
N/A
Garstang
Open
Front Desk
Front counter decision TBC
To be retained
1.6
Lancaster/ Preston
Poulton
Open
Front Desk
Complete Closure and to be sold
3
Blackpool Central/ Fleetwood
Cleveleys
Open
Front Desk
Complete Closure and to be sold
1.7
Fleetwood
Carnforth
Operational base
To be retained
N/A
N/A
Over Kellet
Rural Beat
Occupied
To be sold
N/A
N/A
Cowan Bridge
Rural Beat
Occupied
To be sold
N/A
N/A
Caton
Operational
base
To be sold
N/A
N/A
Cabus
Rural Beat Occupied
To be sold
N/A
N/A
Bowgreave (Old Garstang)
Operational base
To be sold
N/A
N/A

Cockerham
On the market
N/A
N/A
N/A


Preesall
On the market
N/A
N/A
N/A
Hambleton
On the market
N/A
N/A
N/A

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