1:00pm Thursday 10th January 2013
Exclusive By Tom Edwards
ABOUT 140 police officer jobs will be axed across the West Mercia force area over the next four years, it has emerged.
Under a controversial deal with Warwickshire, the forces will lose a combined 200 frontline officers by 2016 – 70 per cent of whom will come from West Mercia Police. A draft version of the Police and Crime Plan was launched yesterday by the region’s new elected police chief Bill Longmore.
It runs to 55 pages and is designed to last until 2017, includes 450 civilian job cuts across both forces, including 315 from West Mercia Police.
Some of the 140 posts set to go are vacancies which are currently empty, although police chiefs will not say how many. Both forces have formed an alliance designed at saving £31 million between them, £20 million of which would come from West Mercia.
Mr Longmore said: “The biggest challenge is the spending reductions we face. However, our plans to work with Warwickshire should help the maintenance of service standards despite these.
“From my first day in office we have been working hard to ensure we have a detailed and meaningful plan on which to consult.”
Police chiefs yesterday said they could not give any further figures breaking down the number of officers being axed in south Worcestershire at this stage.
Mr Longmore said he hoped natural wastage and promotions to other ranks would make up the bulk of the losses.
West Mercia Police has a budget of more than £200 million but is facing cuts in funding from the Government of at least three per cent by 2015.
Meanwhile, residents are being encouraged to pay for an increase in council tax from April – with Mr Longmore saying a freeze could lead to more cuts. He is giving households the option to pay an extra £3.64 a year.
He says the small rise would fund 30 police constable jobs beyond 2015/16 and wants the public to send him feedback.
l People have until Monday, January 28, to have their say on the plan, which can be viewed at westmercia-pcc.gov.uk.
To get involved, write to Mr Longmore at OPCC West Mercia, PO Box 487, Shrewsbury, SY2 6WB or e-mail opcc@westmercia. pnn.police.uk. There will also be a live webcast on his site on Tuesday from 2pm, where the public can get their questions ans-wered by Mr Longmore and chief constable David Shaw. People must e-mail questions to email@example.com in advance. A final version of the plan will be published in March.
Critics hit out at plans
CRITICS have labelled the plan as a breadth of ineptitude and claim Mr Longmore is using a sticking plaster to reduce crime.
The document outlines major cuts to police officers while saying it wants to give police community support officers (PCSOs) more powers and boost the number of special constables.
Tony Miller, a retired former civilian worker at West Mercia Police and councillor at Worcestershire County Council and in Wychavon, said: “At the moment there is a real battle going on with police forces – the Assoc-iation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has now been saying the 40-odd forces we’ve got at the moment is too many, which is a turnaround from what’s been said in the past.
“If you’re asking PCSOs to do the work of police constables, that doesn’t work well.”
Councillor Simon Gerag-hty, leader of Worcester City Council, said: “This is a crucial document, and I don’t think the public realise quite how important it is yet.
“I would welcome giving PCSOs more powers, but it can’t be at the expense of police officers.”
Worcester councillor Adr-ian Gregson said he was very concerned about job losses and it would impact on neighbourhoods across the city. He said: “I am worried the cuts will have a direct effect on the ability of police to respond and keep neighbourhoods safe.
“This is a sticking plaster and not a responsible alternative to proper policing – accountability is even more of an issue because of this merger with Warwickshire Police.
“The contents of the plan demonstrate a breadth of ineptitude.”
Mid-Worcestershire MP Peter Luff said: “I will be very disappointed if they put up council tax – that is always the easy option.”
The Police and Crime Panel, a watchdog-style body which scrutinises the commissioner, is going to be setting up a meeting to review the draft plan.
The session, which will be open to the public, will be used to send feedback on it to Mr Longmore.
It can veto any attempt to increase council tax, but other than that only has powers to offer advice.
Coun Paul Middlebrough, the chairman, said: “I’ve seen the plan but I can’t comment on it until the meeting takes place – we need to give everyone time to read it.”
Ron Ball, the commissioner for Warwickshire Police, was not available for comment yesterday.
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