Fears police have reached crisis point over budget cuts

Photo Ian Robinson Police press conference at Lancashire Constabulary headquarters in Hutton Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw and Lancashire Chief Constable Steve Finnigan
Photo Ian Robinson Police press conference at Lancashire Constabulary headquarters in Hutton Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw and Lancashire Chief Constable Steve Finnigan
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Top police chiefs have warned the Government further austerity cuts will put Lancashire in danger of becoming a “reactive” only police force.

While outlining his plans to meet the £73m budget cuts yesterday, Chief Constable Steve Finnigan voiced his concerns over the impact further cuts would have.

He said: “These cuts have been made too deeply and too quickly. Services are being squeezed from both ends.

“We have tried to look at sustainability. Many forces have had a complete erosion of neighbourhood policing, but that is not the case in Lancashire. Our community beat managers are the jewel in our crown.

“I am now worried about the prospect of more cuts. If they are enforced it could change the way we operate as a proactive police force and leave us as a reactive service.

“These changes are the most radical we have made in the last 30 years. We have to look at prioritisation and make some really hard choices.”

To date Lancashire Police has made £40m of cuts, earmarked £20m more and identified a further £13m to find.

As part of the latest cuts it has been announced 165 police officers will lose their jobs by 2017/18 - taking the overall loss of officers to 700 since 2009.

Another 275 police staff will lose their jobs totalling 550 since 2009. Of those 74 will be Police Community Support Officers.

The Gazette told last week how crime had risen across the resort - violent crime, sex offences, anti-social behaviour, car crime and criminal damage had all risen between April and August. Robbery and burglary are up a huge 26.5 per cent – an increase of 72 crimes.

Police could not confirm which posts will be lost and where at this stage.

Other big cost cutting measures include shift system changes, the closure of Leyland custody suite and reducing the number of police divisions from six to three. This means police on the Fylde coast will now share resources with the former Northern divison which covers Fleetwood, Lancaster and Morecambe.

A reduction in the number of senior officers including the loss of five Chief Superintendents, and one Assistant Chief Constable has also helped the budget.

Previously centralised resources such as fire arms, police dogs, horses, and road policing units will now be redeployed back into the divisions, meaning more officers will be allocated to the frontline in the short term.

The number of control rooms taking calls from the public is also set to reduce from six to one - meaning those staff working in Blackpool - as seen on 999 What’s your emergency? - will now have to commute to Hutton for work.

Changes to the way officers are supported by the criminal justice unit, which puts together the paperwork to take to the Crown Prosecution will also be centralised.

Ch Con Finnegan said some of the gaps will be made up by recruiting more Special Constables and police volunteers, Special Constables from 424 to 650, community volunteers from 280 to 580, and recruit 450 police cadets by December 2014.

Community leaders fear Lancashire Police has reached a “crisis point”.

Rachel Baines, chairman of Lancashire Police Federation, said the removal of 700 officers from the county’s frontline could not go unnoticed.

She said: “You can not take 700 officers off the streets and expect to retain the same levels of service, it’s impossible, officers are already massively stretched.

“For us public safety is a massive concern, if a member of the public calls the police about a crime they deserve to get a response.

“The worry is, where will the remaining £13m cuts be taken from?

“The Chief Constable has a difficult job and if reducing the number of divisions reduces running costs then good.”

Ann Allen, a member of Mereside Residents’ Association said further cuts could see the police force as we know it disappear.

She said: “It is not right, we shouldn’t have to lose anymore police officers.

“We are clearly at a crisis point if the chief Constable is saying we can not accommodate anymore cuts and that is really worrying.

“It’s all very well trying to recruit more volunteers but they can not completely take on the role of a fully trained officer.

“As a tax payer I don’t think it is acceptable. The way we are going we could lose the force as we know it and have it replaced with volunteers. The thing is its not the officers’ fault.”

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw agreed the police were at a “tipping point” when it came to implementing further cuts.

He said: “These figures (the cuts) take so much away, Lancashire Police is in danger of reaching a tipping point.

“My concern is what will happen if the Government move the goal-posts again.

“I want to reassure the people in Lancashire that to keep them safe, especially those who are most vulnerable, remains our utmost priority.

“I would like to ask for residents’ patience during the implementation of these changes and pay tribute to the Constabulary’s officers and staff for continuing to deliver really high standards with fewer resources in difficult times.”

David Slattery-Christy, from the Whitegate Drive Community group, added: “The last thing we need is to lose more officers and be at risk of more cuts.

“We already have ongoing problems like anti social behaviour in Blackpool and not enough officers to tackle it. Hitting already stretched resources with more cuts could be devastating.”

The changes will be rolled out steadily between now and 2017/18.