The fight to defend frontline policing in Lancashire has been tough – and it isn’t over.
Since the parliamentary elections in 2010, funding for police forces has been slashed by the Government. By 2020, Lancashire will have lost more than £90m.
That’s why I launched the ‘Cut the Cuts’ campaign with the Chief Constable and together – with backing from Lancashire residents – we helped stop the Government’s further assault on police funds that would have taken even more off us.
I am truly grateful to everyone who supported us but we know the purge of public finances isn’t over, even if the Government says otherwise.
Despite the cuts, I have ensured the Chief Constable has maintained neighbourhood policing.
Inevitably teams are smaller than before, and in some areas they also provide immediate response – but we still have local policing across every inch of the county.
The number of police officers overall will have fallen by 900 by April. When more than 80 per cent of our budget is spent on staff, this has to happen to make such savings.
However only 19 per cent of the budget spent on frontline services has been cut. Back office, estates, and supplies and services have taken more than their share of cuts and we have saved by collaborating, on procurement for example.
Why put so much importance on defending frontline policing?
I made this a priority in my Police and Crime Plan because that is what you, the residents, keep telling me matters most to you, but it is important everyone understands neighbourhood policing is one of many things we do.
We have teams working to tackle child sexual exploitation, modern slavery, gangs and serious and organised crime to name but a few. Early action teams work to stop crime escalating and our force is supported by specials, cadets and community volunteers.
All these teams are working together to be there when you need them to keep Lancashire safe.
New police HQ is essential
With all the talk of cuts, it may be difficult to understand the need for an expensive new HQ.
I have been asked why we are looking to build the new West Division Headquarters on the former Progress House site on Clifton Road.
Well, the answer is Blackpool’s current Bonny Street police headquarters is out of date and costs too much to run.
Costs like heating and maintenance come from our annual budget. The same budget that pays for police officers and staff. Currently it costs £500,000 a year to run this very inefficient building.
Essential repairs are needed that would cost a one-off £14m and in any case the custody cells can’t be upgraded to meet new Home Office standards.
Even then, the building would only last another 10 to 15 years.
The Bonny Street location isn’t ideal either, as police vehicles have to negotiate the town centre one way system and heavy traffic when responding to incidents.
The new-build will be funded through capital finance made up of savings taken from our reserves, income from property sales and some borrowing.
The new, energy efficient HQ – with a 50-year lifespan – will be fit for the 21st century and will serve the whole division.
It will save us £180,000 a year in running costs, money that can be used to help protect the front line when borrowing is paid back.
Its location, close to the M55, will improve links to the rest of the Fylde coast – meaning response times will still be met, and in some places could improve.
As a bonus, the new-build will also help boost the local economy, with local contractors undertaking the work and apprenticeships created to work on the build.
Ranked among the top forces
It’s official – Lancashire residents can be proud of the fact they have one of the best police forces in the country.
Inspectors have once again praised the way we work. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary ranked the force “good” overall, and told us we are “outstanding” in the way we engage with members of the public.
I have invested heavily in new technology that frees officers up to spend more time out on the frontline, fighting crime and engaging with residents. It is important all our officers understand the needs of the residents they serve and treat everyone fairly.
And we narrowly missed out on the top ranking for the culture within the workforce. We have worked hard in this area and it is pleasing to see how far we have come.
We are not complacent. We know we can continue to improve. But the latest report acknowledges all the progress we have made in recent years. I will work hard to ensure that continues so we carry on getting even better.