Friday, 22 October 2010
Cuts Casualties? All PCSOs placed ‘at risk’ by Lancashire Constabulary
After the government's massive cuts announcements earlier this week, the real and potential casualties of the Comprehensive Spending Review are already beginning to rise, with all Lancashire's Police Community Support Officers told their jobs may go by March next year.
Nicknamed "Blunkett's Bobbies" after the Home Secretary who introduced them in 2002, all PCSOs in Lancashire were told earlier today that their jobs might be disestablished on March 31st 2011 amidst increasing uncertainty over future funding.
The news comes despite the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice Nick Herbert's past support of PSCOs, condemning a reduction numbers back in 2006 - but who now appears to be leaving final decision making to chief constables.
Trade union UNISON has condemned the potential redundancies, calling them "devastating".
The Constabulary pays for its 427 PCSOs through a central government grant or by funding received from partners such as local councils but there is no certainty at present that either of these avenues will continue after the end of the financial year.
Pay for PCSOs varies from force to force, usually starting at just over £16,000 a year, rising to £22,000, with the most experienced officers earning around £25,000.
While there has been some criticism from the right wing press of their effectiveness (quite coincidentally, we're sure, in the run up to the Government's CSR announcement), for many the officers are a welcome addition to law enforcement, helping the police with intelligence gathering, particularly for 'low level' crime such as anti social behaviour, graffiti, litter, abandoned vehicles and vandalism.
PCSOs have different roles in different forces, but they usually patrol a beat and interact with the public, while also offering assistance to police officers at crime scenes and major events. Although based at a police station, they spend most of their time out on patrol, working outdoors in all weathers. They also visit homes and workplaces on their patch.
The Lancaster and Morecambe district has about 40 PCSOs, of whom 10 are part funded via the Lancaster District Community Safety Partnership, set up in 1998 under the Crime and Disorder Act which put a statutory duty on agencies to work together to reduce crime, disorder, antisocial behaviour on a district wide basis.
Supporters argue the officers offer an approachable face for the public, have local knowledge and a genuine interest in and commitment to neighbourhood issues as well as the time to support victim and tackle anti-social behaviour
With an estimated £50 million to find over the next four years, as confirmed in the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement, Lancashire Constabulary, which employs some 3,649 full-time police officers, knows it will not be able to find any additional money to cover the funding gap – which would amount to some £220,000 per week - and so has taken a decision to start formal consultation proceedings with the Trade Unions.
The constabulary says taking this action now means that the force would be able to reduce the number of PCSO posts quickly should it need to from 1st April 2011 and therefore avoid a situation of making its financial position worse.
“This is a hugely regrettable position for us as we place a great deal of importance on the role our PCSOs play in Lancashire," commented Chief Constable, Steve Finnigan, "and we know that many members of the public feel the same way.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but reflects the seriousness of the financial position surrounding the funding of PCSOs and the current lack of clarity.
“However, unless we start this formal consultation process now, we run a very significant risk of finding ourselves in a position where we are putting an even greater burden on our finances, and those of the public purse, by being left with posts we simply cannot afford.
“This 90 day consultation notice does not mean that all our PCSOs are going to be made redundant or in fact lose their jobs because we can’t be clear on that at the moment. But it does pave the way for us to act quickly if we need to once we have the clarity over the government funding.”
Mr Finnigan added that he and his colleagues would continue to work tirelessly to keep hold of as many PCSO posts as possible and to work hand in hand with the Trade Unions.
"We are very disappointed that it has been necessary to take this step," added Chair of the Lancashire Police Authority, Malcolm Doherty, " and stress that it does not mean that all PCSOs will disappear from the streets where they play such an important role in the Neighbourhood Policing Teams.
"Work will continue with the Constabulary and our partners to enable us to retain as many PCSO posts as we possibly can.
“However, the magnitude of the financial challenges ahead and the uncertainty over future funding for PCSOs mean that we have to be realistic and consider all the options available to us. By making this move at this time, we will be able to react swiftly if we need to.
“We appreciate that this will be a very stressful period for those involved and we will work with the Trade Unions and other staff welfare groups to ensure anyone affected receives a high level of support.”
Responding to the announcement UNISON Lancashire Police Branch says it believes the cuts will devastate the lives of many of their members and they will fight to retain these jobs which are so vital to our communities.
“We understand why the Constabulary has had to make this very serious and difficult announcement," Maureen Le Marinel Branch Secretary of UNISON said. "This government has cut policing budgets so severely that the employer claims they have no other option but to make this announcement today.
"The Coalition Government is reneging on its election pledges to support its communities in its ‘Big Society’," she added. "Let’s be clear - PCSO’s are value for money. They are the visible presence on our streets dealing with local crime, anti-social behaviour and gathering vital intelligence.
"UNISON believes there are alternative choices this government should consider. Putting people out of work will not make our economy stronger- it will weaken society. Crime will increase as we lose the vital contribution PCSO’s make on our streets and in our communities.
"We will not stand by and let this happen.”
Nationally, there were 16,814 (full-time equivalent) Police Community Support Officers in the 43 forces of England and Wales as at 30 September 2009. Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate in July Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice Nick Herbert told the audience the Government wanted PCSOs to be a "continuing as part of the policing family" and useful in "offering reassurance in neighbourhoods, well supplemented by the wider responsibilities that a neighbourhood policing team has to fulfil."
However, he also warned there were not "limitless resources for policing.
"There never were - and the situation is tough."
• More about the role of PCSOs at www.policecouldyou.co.uk
• PSCO Powers (2008)
• Unofficial PCSO forum: www.policecommunitysupportofficer.com
• Police Service Strength England and Wales, 31 March 2010
• Policing in the 21st Century Consultation