Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has won a second unique Special Grant from the Home Office to fight gang, gun and knife crime and fill a hole in the cash-strapped force’s finances - just a day after agreeing to stay for a further year as a Caretaker PCC after elections were postponed for a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioner Holloway had persuaded Government that the rules for Special Grants in policing needed to be changed to allow forces like Bedfordshire Police to qualify, despite previous criteria which meant that such grants only covered spending in the service that lay outside ‘business as usual’ which took place on a single day. Having done so, PCC Holloway received her first Special Grant last year of £4.571m to cover the unprecedented costs of fighting gang, gun and knife crime in the county over a three year period. She has now been awarded a further £3m for the Force to also assist with these costs in 2020-21.
“Only yesterday I launched my publication to mark the end of my fourth year and what should have been the end of my term, before the PCC election was delayed by Government by a year to May 2021. I have set aside my own plans to stay until then as I believe that only someone who has been chosen by the people of this county should be a Caretaker PCC but, as you can imagine, it gives me huge pleasure that the Grant I’ve fought so hard for has indeed come in and I’m going to be able to deliver on its promise.
“Everybody told me at first that the rules would not be changed and that this wouldn’t be possible. I’m of course delighted that the Home Office recognised that Bedfordshire Police required extra assistance and that the Special Grant was absolutely deserved to help to bring serious youth violence under control and it’s working; the extra money last year enabled the Force to double its specialist response to gang, gun and knife crime - known as Op Boson - with a second unit created for the north of the county to mirror that in the south. Between them they have been responsible for enforcement leading to more than 150 years in prison terms and knife admissions to our hospitals have finally plateaued.
“This means that, flying in the face of solved crime rates across policing, the Op Boson units have achieved between 80 and 90% success in relation to these terrible crimes.
“That’s not all the first Special Grant helped to achieve; as well as vast amounts of Class A drugs, cash and weapons being recovered, I was able to continue to support record recruitment of the 160 PCs I promised last year as well as an additional 18 to cover those who fall out of training (plus a further 18 through the national uplift). If I hadn’t won the grant, recruitment would have had to stop dead to divert funds to pay for the policing of gangs, guns and knife crime,” said the PCC.
Commissioner Holloway pointed to the double benefits that will also arise from this year’s Special Grant, of which the first £2.2m will be paid within the week.
“Without this new Special Grant for £3m, we would not have been able to continue the fight against youth violence at this level. We couldn't have maintained two of these units, however overwhelmingly successful, without a £2m hole in the Bedfordshire Police budget. As it is, Op Boson’s successes across the county will continue; some very dangerous people will be put away and drugs gangs will continue to be dismantled and I will prove all that to the Policing Minister Kit Malthouse in an end of year report once we reach the end of March as he needs to know what ‘more’ he gets for ‘more’ investment, when looking back over the first year of Special Grant support.
“Not only that but I will be able to recruit 156 PCs this year - 100 to replace leavers, 20 as I’d promised as brand new posts and 36 more as our share of the national uplift; Covid-19 permitting of course.
“This means that this is now an excellent time to apply to join policing in Bedfordshire as you can put in an application whether or not you are able to travel,” said the Commissioner.
Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said: “This is excellent news for the force and the law abiding citizens and communities of Bedfordshire, it will enable us to continue our focus on guns, gangs and knife crime with our excellent Boson teams leading the way in tackling these determined criminals. Whilst it ensures that we continue to grow our workforce to meet the increasingly complex and serious challenges faced by policing today, we know that until the funding formula is revised we will not be able to meet the current and future levels of demand in the way that the Commissioner, myself, all my officers and staff and importantly the public would like.”
However PCC Holloway pointed to her concern over warnings that the Special Grant process may not be able to be accessed in the same way in future years.
“PCCs and Chiefs have been warned by the Minister that he intends such Special Grants to return to their original purpose to cover events occurring on a single day, such as a terror event or call on policing to protect the US president or recent NATO conference at Watford. I feel strongly that the people of this country and county want the money they invest in our policing, either through general taxation or the local precept, to be spent on their own protection.
“I’m very grateful for both Special Grants which I won because the Home Office Police Funding team is fully aware that, until the whole national funding pot and the way it is divided among forces is reviewed, Bedfordshire Police simply does not have the resources from either Central Government or the council taxpayer to meet its extraordinary level of demand. That’s clearly recognised at the centre and these two Special Grants mean it can never again be argued that the reverse is true,” she said.
The ongoing precarious financial position of the Force and its limited front line - despite 18 extra officers last year and 36 this financial year as a share of the 20,000 strong national uplift - to deal with such serious and violent crime on its patch, is the reason why Bedfordshire Police was also recognised among the 18 forces in most urgent need for a further £1.36m grant to increase visible policing against serious violence in 2019-20.
“This built on the Op Boson work with phenomenal successes, especially from the purchase of earlier forensics, to allow very dangerous people to be charged within the required time frame and put away for a long time. It also meant that we could pay for enhanced data analysis to produce a product to precisely target emerging gang, gun and knife crime hotspots and paid for the Op Sparkler patrols, flooding such areas in a very targeted way and using stop and search and other tactics to crackdown on those responsible. This is now recognised as a national blueprint for success,” said PCC Holloway.
Bedfordshire’s Assistant Chief Constable, Dr Jackie Sebire, the national lead for serious violence, is responsible for the county’s operational response to such violence and the Op Boson and Op Sparkler patrol outcomes.
She said: “We have shown that when we are provided with sufficient funding our staff are able to make a significant impact. We have devised an nationally innovative evidence strategy combined with the professionalism and dedication of our staff which we can now see the successes of.”
Both the PCC and senior leaders of Bedfordshire Police say they are fully aware that police enforcement alone cannot solve the gang, gun and knife crime problem, which can only be stamped out by dealing with root causes and diverting young people away from gang membership, gun and knife carrying and exploitation in the first place.
The PCC won a further £880,000 grant, with the help of ACC Sebire, last year which has led to the setting up of the county’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit bringing police, youth offending, local authority, health and charity partners together to work with communities to find solutions that will connect with their young people. This week, the PCC’s office was submitting a second bid to the Home Office for match funding to continue with the unit.
“I’ve pointed out to the Home Office, who have said they are beyond impressed with the work done so far in Bedfordshire and the speed of the progress of the VERU, that funding - as in Germany - needs to be made available for at least 10 years or we will never know whether these approaches change attitudes and behaviour in the following generation.
“I’ve also written to the Minister to make him fully aware of how vital these two Special Grants have been and future extra assistance will continue to be until the national funding formula is finally adjusted and rebalanced, as I have been promised, to continue this outstanding progress in Bedfordshire which has led to the Force being graded as ‘Good’ across the board this year by the police watchdog,” said Commissioner Holloway.
Those wishing to apply to join Bedfordshire Police can find details available on the Bedfordshire Police website.