Crisis on the Streets of Lancashire

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The Lancashire police force is “outstanding”. That’s the conclusion of the review of police force efficiency published this week by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It’s one of the most cost effective police forces in the country at only 49p per head, it’s made savings of £74m since 2010, yet it will be rewarded for its efforts with further cuts up to £161m. Police officers will drop from 3,611 in 2010 to 1,699 in 2020 and the PCSOs (community support officers) will disappear. This is the result of the expected cuts in police funding in England, plus proposed changes to the government’s police funding formula announced last week.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan says these cuts would severely limit the capabilities of Lancashire Constabulary. By 2020 it would only provide an “emergency-only” service, responding to 999 calls and a few priorities. It would leave the force unable to tackle other crime and carry out preventative work.

The potential impacts include closing all enquiry desks and the loss of specialist support units, mounted officers, dog units and road policing units, and dramatic cuts to departments that deal with serious and complex crime. In addition the county-wide network of neighbourhood policing teams – community beat officers and community support officers – would be swept away.

In the Lords I asked the government what assessment they have made of the impact on police numbers and local crime of the proposed new funding formula…in counties such as Lancashire. For the Government Lord Bates said that allocations for individual police force areas have not been set and decisions on funding will not be made until the spending review reports in November.

I pointed out that Lancashire was a pioneer in the development of neighbourhood policing. It has a highly successful neighbourhood policing system across the country (as I know well from working with the team in Colne and the Waterside ward which I represent on Pendle Borough Council). I pressed him to say whether this and the other police cuts are the legacy that the present Government want to leave in Lancashire.

He said: “No, absolutely it is not,” but gave no indication of how they might be avoided. He said that the previous arrangements were widely criticised by all chief constables and police and crime commissioners who wanted something simpler, more transparent and easier to understand and more stable for the future,” and added: “When you consult on something such as that, there will be winners and losers.” He said that Lancashire is making representations to Mike Penning (the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice) along with Lancashire MPs, and ominously promised “transitional arrangements” and “dampening”.

The question is are the Conservatives, the self-confessed party of “law and order”, going to be responsible for closing down much of the policing operation in one of the largest shire counties? I’ve little doubt this is going to be one of the hottest issues in Lancashire for the whole of this Parliament unless they back down now.

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