Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has offered all parish councils the chance to decide whether to pay for a dedicated Police Community Support Officer for their local area.
The Commissioner has written to all such councils throughout the county to confirm that her emergency grant win of £4.571m in December together with the Policing Settlement for all forces, which will deliver £8m to Bedfordshire Police in 2019-20, will allow her to recruit 160 Police Constables in this financial year. However she acknowledged that this would be insufficient to provide an officer for every neighbourhood.
“A number of councillors who have attended my annual Parish Councils’ Conferences on three occasions have voiced the wish to be able to pay for a PCSO for their area. I understand precisely why as PCSOs represent the police service not police force in their emphasis on problem solving and genuine engagement with communities.
"Just last week I opened Bedfordshire Police’s winter conference on Community Policing and one of the most outstanding speakers was a superb PCSO from Bedford’s Community Hub who has done truly outstanding work assisting almost 50 people off the streets and out of homelessness, helping to manage street drinking and begging and explaining to the public that donations to help solve the problem are best given to homelessness charities rather than to fund possible drug use,” said the Commissioner.
“I am reinstating an offer which I understand used to be available to parishes to fund a PCSO which the Force tell me would cost £31,200 each year, after it was explained to me that some of our parishes hold substantial cash reserves.”
The PCC is also brokering conversations with the unitary authorities and town councils to make a similar offer and to provide reassurance that the PCSOs they might pay for will not be lost into general policing duties in other areas.
“I can appreciate entirely why this might be a concern, given all the constant pressures on the Force, but the Bedfordshire Police senior team has confirmed that it would be prepared to discuss agreeing a maximum time for abstraction from duty for a PCSO in a specific area in these circumstances. Obviously a Chief Constable must always be in charge of where every officer might be deployed in extremis but both sides would need a clear agreement around this,” said the Commissioner.
“Nothing would please me more than being able to afford an officer for every community, but I live in the real world where I am not allowed to overspend on the budget. I have pushed this year’s finances to their absolute limit, as well as presiding over a process to scrutinise every officer and item of expenditure in one half of the Force, to be followed by the other, to get to recruitment of 160 Police Constables in this financial year but common sense dictates that, if other areas, particularly in the rural parishes, want a permanent police presence, it has to be funded somehow,” she said.
“The difference between this idea and the hours of a PCSO that some town councils, like Leighton Buzzard and Houghton Regis, have contracted in the past, is that it would not mean sharing a PCSO on the basis of overtime but recruiting one especially,” said Commissioner Holloway.
The Commissioner is presenting her balanced budget to the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Panel at its meeting next Tuesday (February 5 2019), when she will formally announce her plans for the council tax share of police funding plus the number of Police Constables she is supporting the Force to recruit in the year 2019-20 and those planned for the following two years beyond this.
Bedfordshire Police has already made savings of £34.7m since 2010 and is in the process of trying to find £11m more to balance the books as it plans to meet demand in the next few years.
“In fact the biggest problem for me in making this offer and giving the choice to parishes has been reaching all the parish councils in the county to ask them to discuss their views and update me as the contacts change regularly in some cases. I’ve been asked by one council why they read about this in the paper first and the answer is that I felt it a basic courtesy to write privately to councils first to ask them by letter and, only then, to comment about this in the media as I am now doing only today,” said PCC Holloway.