Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, was joined by the Deputy and Assistant Chief Constables of Bedfordshire Police and members of the community team to meet residents to explain their plans for local policing at a public meeting in Houghton Regis (Monday January 14 2019).
The PCC opened the event at the Bedford Square Community Centre in Tithe Farm Road, Houghton Regis, by explaining the investment she is insisting on in new officers for local policing following her successful bid to the Home Office for a unique £4.571m emergency payment from the Special Policing Grant Fund and £8m in the Policing Settlement for all 43 forces in England and Wales for 2019-20, which was announced by Policing Minister, Nick Hurd, immediately before Christmas.
She explained that the Special Grant win had prevented an overspend which would have stopped recruitment in its tracks, following the unprecedented cost of fighting gang, gun and knife crime in the county. She revealed that the Policing Settlement had meant that she is insisting on investment in 160 new Police Constables this financial year and provision for 100 more in each of the following two years as the Government has made it clear that, by giving her the option of raising council tax by a maximum of £2 per month for a Band D home, improvements in local policing must be the result.
“I’m fully aware that this is a huge ask when Bedfordshire Police is also facing huge pressures of costs which increase each year with inflation. This coming year they include an anticipated pay settlement of 2% for officers and staff, a trebling of insurance for police vehicles and £115,000 to cover a shortfall in pensions nationally, despite extra income from Government in the Policing Settlement in two new grants of £1.318m and £1.117m to help with these pressures,” Commissioner Holloway told the audience.
“The increase in officers is necessary because it’s what every member of the public in every community tells me they want and it’s what the frontline at Bedfordshire Police need too. What’s more, the Government has made it absolutely clear that a council tax increase must produce improvements in local policing - that’s what people will primarily be paying more for - and if it doesn’t happen, in my view Bedfordshire Police would have absolutely no chance of having its fundamental funding position improved in the next Spending Review,” she said.
The Deputy Chief Constable, Garry Forsyth, confirmed the priority the Commissioner has placed for the Force in recruiting 160 officers in this financial year and explained that, in addition to the Government grant and council tax income, Bedfordshire Police will have to make further savings to achieve this.
“The Force has already had to make cuts of £34.7m since 2010 which has, of course, had an impact on the service we can provide to the public. We deal incredibly well with Serious Organised Crime at one end of the scale and protecting the most vulnerable at the other but we recognise that those in the middle, like some of you in this audience, can feel left out and let down at times when you call us over anti social behaviour or vehicle thefts and we don’t have the number of officers to respond because they are having to deal with situations which are life-threatening.
“At the moment we’re engaged in a process to examine every single officer and item of expenditure across the first half of the Force and we are finding efficiencies of up to £4m to avoid cuts in service. We will finish this at the end of January and then we’ll look at the other half. We’re also finding areas which need further investment, so it’s a complex picture but we are investing in local policing as your local Community Hub team shows and the Commissioner has made it absolutely clear to me what she expects,” said DCC Forsyth.
The audience was urged to have its say to support the PCC’s proposed rise in the local policing precept by just £2 a month for a Band D Home, as members of the audience indicated they were happy to do, in her current survey to gather as many views as possible of the public and partners, such as councillors. Members of the public can register their views at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/precept2019.
ACC Jackie Sebire and the senior officer responsible for Community Policing, Chief Supt. David Boyle both addressed local issues of concern in the Houghton Regis area, including unauthorised traveller encampments. ACC Sebire confirmed that she receives reports each morning of every illegal encampment in the county, that these are visited very regularly and that motor tax, insurance and MOT compliance are checked for all vehicles, contrary to popular belief, as contravention of these regulations would cross a threshold of criminality which allows police to use their Section 61 powers and move travellers on.
Chief Supt. Boyle and DCC Forsyth explained the difference between these police powers, which require a measure of anti social behaviour and criminality to be met in law before they can be used, and the Section 61 powers which would allow police to force travellers to move to a temporary site, if one was provided by Central Bedfordshire Council, with whom the Force is in negotiation concerning this provision.
The DCC confirmed that travellers using such a site have to pay a fee to use it which increases every day and also for utilities, which has proved a deterrent in other parts of the country.
The meeting was also addressed by (Acting) Inspector Craig Gurr of the town’s Community Hub team, which is shared with neighbouring Dunstable. The Hub currently consists of:-
* 1 Inspector
* 1 Sergeant
* 4 Police Constables
* 5 PCSOs
Sgt. Gurr detailed the recent work of the Hub officers, who are dedicated to problem solving in communities and meeting local area priorities set at regular meetings with town councillors and those from Central Bedfordshire Council. He revealed that this work has included the successful closure of a crack house in the town, six warrants since April to counter those dealing in cannabis and other drugs and successful action to deal with the problem of street drinkers, including fixed penalty notices to shops and off licences selling alcohol to those who are already inebriated. He also stressed the need for the community to pass on intelligence to police to alert them to drug dealing and other issues. The next Local Area Priority setting meeting will be on January 28.
He also pointed to the problems facing police in dealing with drug dealers and nuisance motorcyclists who use the local busway, cycle paths and a warren of hiding spaces in older social housing developments to escape or hide from view and the need for the community to work closely with police to counter this.
Chief Supt. Boyle stressed that those wishing to pass on information entirely anonymously concerning matters such as names, vehicles and registration numbers of those involved, could do so via the confidential Crimestoppers number - 0800 555 111 - where callers are untraceable.
Commissioner Holloway pointed to the success of the new Facebook page, Dunstable and Houghton Regis Community Policing Team, with posts reaching 4,792 in one recent case.
“If you want to know what your Community Hub team is up to, working on your behalf day after day, please take a look on Facebook rather than listening to rumour and speculation. Where reporting crime is concerned, please don’t think that posting your comments about crime and anti social behaviour on other Facebook sites is the same as reporting it to police. Please call them on 101, or 999 if it’s a life-threatening matter of course,” she said.
DCC Forsyth said he understood it could be frustrating to face delays on 101 at peak times but that Bedfordshire Police compares very favourably with the performance of other forces in terms of the total number of calls and the time taken to answer them on this national call line number.