With a fair weather forecast, a bank holiday and a half term to look forward to it was understandable that roads into Devon and Cornwall were busy on Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning.
The booming visitor industry is great news for the South West economy. It’s not just restaurants, bars and hotels that benefit from this but other sectors that supply them, from our fantastic food and drink producers to landscape gardeners, cleaners and the construction industry.
It might be the low pound or a growing realisation of exactly how much our region has to offer but there are reports of an increase in visits to Devon and Cornwall over the past two years.
New figures collated by my office have highlighted just how significant this sector has become. Over a three year average spanning 2015 to 2017 Devon and Cornwall had 12% of all overnight stays in England & Wales – second only to London. In our force area this equates to 40 million overnight stays.
One of the reasons our region is so attractive to visitors, overseas students and people who are looking to permanently relocate here is the quality of living. We boast vibrant cities, rolling countryside and stunning coastal communities. That quality of life is directly related to one of the lowest crime rates in England and Wales.
The challenges faced by our police force is the size of the force area and its rurality mean that the crime we do have can be logistically difficult to tackle. Our force has to deal with many of the problems faced by a conurbation, but spread over the largest police force area in the country. This spans 3,961 square miles and has a headquarters that’s closer to London than it is to the furthest extremities of the force area.
We only receive government funding to police its settled population of around 1.7m people but not the many millions pf people who visit us every year. Not only do these visits put an additional strain on our roads policing teams and those in coastal resort towns, but extra calls for police help, especially during the summer months, have the effect of dragging resources away from those areas that don’t have much in the way of a tourist industry.
On average across the year the Force receives 619 emergency 999 calls per day. Our emergency call demand can increase significantly during the summer period with levels rising to 24% above the average. A similar picture emerges if you analyse our non-emergency calls. The force averages 1,730 of these every day but in July last year this rose to an average of 2,169 calls per day.
A funding formula which has historically meant our force receives less government money per head of population for policing only exacerbates this problem.
I’ve written before about our bid for extra government funding under the Home Office’s Special Grant system. With the Brexit debate rumbling on and concerns about serious violent crime dominating the headlines it will take a concerted effort by my team, our police colleagues, politicians and the public to make our voice heard in Westminster so we can properly explain the summer funding challenge and the complexities of our force area to those in charge of the purse strings.
I am delighted, therefore, that our case garnered the support of MPs of different political colours when we visited Westminster to discuss the matter last week (21/5). Our vision is for a stronger police force which makes better use of technology and with more officers in its ranks is a compelling one.
But we need help from members of the public too. Over the coming months we’ll be asking you to back our bid for a fair deal for Devon and Cornwall that will help to keep all of our communities safer. We’ll be at shows and events around Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, as well as regularly lobbying in London on your behalf.