The region’s new crime commissioner is to review every police station in the region to see if it can be closed down amid fears of even greater cuts to officer numbers.
In his first Police and Crime Plan, Bob Jones highlighted the serious difficulties facing the force in trying to meet government cuts, and said being efficient was no longer enough.
The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner also warned that the force was gearing up for a £25 million budget cut every year for the foreseeable future.
And in a blog posting Mr Jones said he was greatly concerned about the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review set to be announced in June which could mean even higher cuts for the West Midlands.
He said: “We may instead move rapidly to a vicious circle of increased crime, where a shift of resource away from preventative measures leads to more crime and less prevention. The danger is a police service that slips back to a “blue light” reactive service, chasing around, responding to ever increasing crime with limited capacity to pro-actively prevent growing increases.
“There is real pressure on policing, and a further massive cut to our budgets could push us towards a new tipping point – sending crime on a sustained upward path for the first time in two decades. A further 10 per cent cut in West Midlands Police would take our organisation’s job losses to almost 5,000, with about half of these police officers. The scale of it is without precedent: two and a half thousand fewer officers in the West Midlands.”
The force has already shed around 2,200 jobs, but Mr Jones said the force would be forced to make another 2,000 cuts if the 10 per cent cuts were introduced.
In his report Mr Jones said he had serious concerns over plans to privatise the probation servicem attacking any suggestion of it going to a private company out for a profit, and has written to the Ministry of Justice with his fears. The report said: “The fruitful partnership with the Probation Service on offender management must not be damaged during this process. The commissioner has responded to the Ministry of Justice voicing his concerns about the risks associated with a profit motive driving this important aspect of the criminal justice system.”
A key element of the proposals is coming up with a coherent plan to deal with a 20 per cent real term funding cut by 2015 – meaning the budget needs to save £126 million by that date. Mr Jones hit out at what he has described as “unfair” allocations of central government cash which means that the region has missed out to the tune of £300 million in recent years.
He said: “For many years the use of damping on the funding formula used by government to allocate money to policing areas has resulted in a failure to recognise the real needs within the West Midlands with successive years of underfunding. Over the last eight years more than £300 million of funding that should have come to the West Midlands has been allocated to other forces through application of this unfair funding formula.” Mr Jones set the force’s revenue budget for the next 12 months at £559 million, which includes a three per cent increase in the police precept from council tax in the region.
The money will be used to create 100 new police staff posts to free front line officers and recruit 50 police community support officers (PCSOs) and the same number of specials.
Of the overall budget, a total of more than £20 million will be spent on PCSOs, and the full amount also includes £390 million on police officers, £102 million on back office staff, and the Police and Crime Commissioner Office, which costs £1.8 million.
Mr Jones warns that he anticipates £20-£25 million budget cuts every year for the foreseeable future. A series of schemes were announced to try and build in cost savings for West Midlands Police. They include:
* Small police station cells to be replaced with larger custody blocks to cut costs.
* Non-emergency call handling centralised from the current 11 locations to two hubs.
* Investment in low carbon cheap fuel to run vehicles.
* Reducing the number of supervisory ranks to get more officers out on the streets.
* Review of all local police stations to decide if they can be afforded, and how important their location is to “making communities feel safe locally.”
On the issue of police stations, the report adds: “Any proposals will be consulted thoroughly and no changes will be made unless it can be demonstrated how service will be maintained but from a different location.”
Last month the force revealed it was closing Steelhouse Lane, Queens Road and Belgrave Middleway police stations in Birmingham. Officers could instead be moved into local shopping centres.
A greater emphasis will also be placed on tacklin specific communities, because of the fragmented nature of the West Midlands. The force is set to develop local policing plans based on local authority areas.
In terms of fighting crime Mr Jones highlighted house burglary and violence as being priorities and promised to specifically target high crime neighbourhoods.
The report pledges that over the next 12 months overall offences will be reduced by five per cent, burglary by eight per cent, violence where injury is caused by eight per cent and in high-crime areas, to reduce the level of offending by seven per cent. According to police figures six per cent of the force area accounts for a quarter of all crime committed.
Recorded offences in the region have fallen by 18.8 per cent in a year, against an average 13 per cent in England and Wales.
Mr Jones said the force had now reached the point where simply being efficient was not enough to meet future savings targets. A new operating model “will be developed that can meet public expectations and the need to work with fewer resources. The core of this work is about moving from being reactive to being predictive and intervening early to stop things happening. Traditionally the police came when something happened and work was about responding and investigating”. The new model is focused on crime prevention, working with other agencies to tackle issues which cause people to commit offences including targeting high crime areas and persistent criminals.