A short time before Christmas police chiefs and commissioners were told how much money their forces were likely to get from central government in the next financial year. It’s a figure which is eagerly anticipated and once received accountants, senior officers, the Police Federation and others tuck themselves away for a few days and try and work out the implications.
As well as increasing this central grant there was provision for police and crime commissioners to increase the amount that can be raised from local taxation. That’s something I’ll be asking us all about in the coming weeks.
Last year work by my office showed that people would support an increase in band D rates of £1 a month, providing they could see the benefits. That investment, along with a prudent management of other resources like our estate, allowed us to achieve a great deal, much of which will be realised in 2019.
So in my first blog of the new year I thought I’d concentrate on some of the progress that has been made in the last 12 months and update you on what we plan to deliver before next Christmas.
The extra money in 2018 meant we could progress several projects. Perhaps the most important, and the most visible, was the increase in police constable numbers. The one single issue that unites almost everyone I speak to is a concern about police numbers, and I’m pleased to say that my office, with the support of the public, was able to deliver a budget which has allowed the force’s college to be exceptionally busy.
In line with public demand the force has been recruiting and training more officers to increase numbers to 3,015 by April 2020. That has meant that in 2018 we were able to buck the national trend and add to our ranks, with 45 more officers compared to the previous year, while most other forces saw a drop in numbers. Making this happen is no small task – because of retirees we need to recruit and train 575 new officers to hit our target.
We are also working smarter through the Bluelight fund that was established with your help, partnering up with the ambulance and fire service in Cornwall to joint fund 10 tri-service officers in areas where the police, the fire and ambulance services have a limited presence and where it is unaffordable to deploy a resource from a single agency. This innovative scheme has received a lot of attention nationally and I know that when the officers formally pass out in February our communities will welcome them with open arms.
In Devon a similar scheme will see 10 bi-service officers introduced in rural communities this year in a project funded by the police and fire service.
Anyone who has had an interaction with an officer in recent weeks might have noticed that they are now equipped with body-worn video cameras. This too was funded by the rise in the 2018/19 precept. It keeps our front-line officers safer because people know their actions will be caught on camera. An added benefit is that it has been shown to result in more criminals being convicted in the face of irrefutable evidence – meaning less court time is wasted and victims are more likely to see justice being done.
The new year will also usher in vast improvements to our police estate. By managing this carefully, selling those sites we no longer need and reinvesting money raised, we will be able to deliver one major project and progress a second significantly.
Later this month (January) we will be officially designating the Bodmin Police Hub as an operational headquarters for Cornwall. Politicians in the Duchy have often raised their concerns about a perceived imbalance between the two counties and this will give a renewed focus on Cornwall and the issues that matter to residents there.
Additionally anyone passing Middlemoor recently will be aware of the £29m ‘South Side” development. This will be the brand new operating base for hundreds of officers serving much of Devon and will include a state-of-the-art custody suite. Again, this is an investment that will give hard-working front-line employees the working conditions they deserve and provide even safer conditions for those who are held by the force. It will be part funded by the sale of the Heavitree Road Police Station in Exeter, with the city’s neighbourhood beat officers moved to the Civic Centre in a partnership with the city council.
Certainly we could do with a greater income – delivering more for more, but couldn’t every business, family or charity in the country? Hopefully my office and the police force has shown that with a little imagination and a tight eye on outgoings progress can be made despite tough economic times.
Our police force is larger, better equipped and more carefully managed than it was a year ago, with hard work and your support we should be able to improve still further in 2019.
I’d like once again to thank all those emergency service workers who worked hard over the festive period and wish you all a happy and safe start to the New Year.