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Peter Lamb: Finding the funds to save West Sussex’s homeless

In his article this week, Leader of Crawley Borough Council Peter Lamb addresses the proposed cuts to housing support services, and suggests where West Sussex County Council could find the funds to save them.

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Louise Goldsmith, the Leader of West Sussex County Council, tells us that cuts to Open House and other housing support services are necessary because they don’t have the money to fund them any longer.

Open House receives a grant of £262,075 and I was able to highlight in minutes where the money to save every hostel in West Sussex, about £1m, could come from.

More news: Man stabbed in Crawley High Street

However, the full cut being proposed is £6.3m, so let’s look if there’s anywhere we can find the remaining £5.3m. For instance, last year West Sussex spent £5,933,666.54 on taxis, with a further £165,299.47 on travel expenses. £5,476,737.16 went to consultants and £831,450.74 on advertising and publicity, well they did increase their Policy and Communications budget by £300,000 last year, so that’s not really a surprise. They also spent £742,319 on books and newspapers, to be clear that figure excludes schools and libraries.

With all the empty West Sussex sites in Crawley alone, it’s not a surprise they spent £212,972.42 on vacant properties and a further £594,443.45 on office removals. Recruitment saw £537,219.64 being spent, alongside a peculiar £143,201.18 for ‘Music and Video’, with a further £198,656.84 on postage and £101,660.85 on stationery.

Now, no doubt there are good reasons for much of this expenditure, but that’s £15m which seems more questionably spent than the £6.3m necessary to support the homeless, vulnerable elderly and victims of domestic violence. I’d suggest Nathan Elvery, who was appointed Chief Executive two years ago at an ongoing cost of £220,166, starts by looking there. That’s before asking himself whether he really needs so many layers of senior management.

More Peter Lamb: Peter Lamb – ‘Give the UK the chance it needs to succeed’ after Brexit

When I became Leader at Crawley I removed the director-tier, so now heads of services report directly the Chief Executive. At West Sussex County Council they not only still have directors, but executive directors. That seems like the real expense West Sussex residents can no longer afford.

Opinion

Are the days of our local PCSO’s numbered?

With Norfolk abolishing the role of PCSO’s will other counties including Sussex eventually join suit?

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[Image created from Sussex Police Stock Library for illustrative purposes]

It was a surprise move described by Norfolk police as ‘ground-breaking’.

Last October (2017) plans were announced aimed at delivering what the Norfolk force described as ‘effective and efficient policing set against unprecedented increases in complex crimes and a £10m savings requirement by 2020’.

Essentially two areas were being addressed.  The first a review of their neighbourhood resources and in such a removal of their PCSO roles allowing an increase in police officers.

The second, an investment in detective and specialised investigation resources.

It should also be added that they also closed seven public counter offices.

In all, 176 staff found themselves potentially out of work.  Since the announcement last year however, the majority have been redeployed within the force with many now becoming police constables.

All these changes came into force in April this year and now 7 months later we look with fascination at what effect this has had and what the repercussions could be across the country.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said:

“The changes enabled us to invest in frontline resources and place more police officers in roles that support our local neighbourhoods. Community engagement and neighbourhood policing continues to be at the core of our model through 49 Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT). Each team has at least one Beat Manager focusing on local priorities and problem solving local issues. This, coupled with the work of the seven Engagement Officers who are based in each district, and 14 Sergeants dedicated to neighbourhood policing ensures the force remains responsive to the needs of local communities while being able to meet the challenge of complex crimes such as child abuse and cyber-crime.

Additional initiatives include Operation Moonshot, which uses intelligence innovatively to prevent and deter criminals across the county and Operation Solve. Operation Solve has effectively taken demand from the frontline and offered a more efficient service to the public with residents and business being able to report their crimes directly to the force through our website. Using officers on restricted or recuperative duties, Solve investigates crimes such as retail theft, making off without payment and shoplifting.”

There has been so much talk recently of the need for more officers on the streets around Crawley.  Announcements made of the huge amount of investment being poured into Sussex Police and the sheer number of new officers being trained.

But what has happened in Norfolk could have profound implications everywhere, none more so than in Sussex and in particular Crawley where serious crime appears to have had an alarming increase.

Why?

The reasons behind Norfolks decision were also based on the sheer volume of crimes that they did not have the resources to handle.  They needed more officers.  They needed to take action.  They needed to take a grasp of the situation and actually engage in a way that visibly showed everyone that they meant business.

But wait, isn’t this exactly what is happening right now here?  Have we not seen a rapid increase in serious crime?  Do we not need to see more visible officers on the streets?

Our Police Commissioner will happily tell us about an extra 200 officers coming to Sussex…by 2022.

200!  Across the whole of Sussex?  In 4 years?  And how many will leave in that time period? Answer is 150 a year.  Ok, before this sounds worrying let’s explain one thing.

Sussex has to recruit 150 officers a year to ensure there are no shortages.  What this extra 200 means is that an additional 50 officers a year for the next four years is being added to the numbers.

The very presence of an officer can turn around a situation and give calm to peoples anxieties.  Wasn’t this part of the reason for creating PCSO’s in the first place?  But it was also to engage with people in a way that regular officers just didn’t have the time to do.

Well yes, but there is prejudice at play here.  It is a prejudice that stems from the very fact that PCSO’s are singled out not just by their status and responsibilities but also by the very badges they wear.  It is a prejudice that flows through to the very people they stop who do not show even the slightest amount of respect that they would to a Police Constable.

Yes the police need more of a presence, but perhaps the way it has been done so far is worth reconsidering and this is where the idea of removing the PCSO role in favour of Police Constables becomes more attractive.

It would level out a very uneven playing field, remove issues around prejudices and bullying of officers (which if you have ever witnessed between unruly youths and PCSO’s is both brutal and ugly).  Ultimately it would give a boost to the town in a way that it hasn’t so far.

What also makes the Norfolk decision so worth following is how they seem to have devised a way to both increase regular officers AND continue to build the local relationships.

It’s almost them saying “you wanted more officers, well now you have them and they mean business”.

No-one is saying that PCSO’s haven’t played an integral part within the force, nor that they haven’t done great work.  But what Norfolks model could be highlighting is that perhaps a look back to older days could be what has been missing.

We put this to Sussex Police who said:

“We have no plans to remove the role of PCSOs in Sussex. It is a role we value and one which is valued by the people of Sussex. In fact, we have recently recruited 36 new PCSOs who have completed their training and are now out working on the front line in communities across Sussex.

Over the 2018-22 period we will be strengthening local policing in Sussex, with 200 more officers in the force by 2022.”

In an additional show Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said:

“PCSOs are an essential and much appreciated part of our policing capacity to serve communities across Sussex and I have no intention of changing that.

Sussex Police are recruiting PCSOs and Police Officers at the highest levels for over a decade and they are being deployed to frontline roles as quickly as the force can train them.”

Defiant response which does show that the county has its own plan in place (well we don’t want to appear like sheep following the heard).

But be under no illusion, changes can and do happen and if the College of Policing sees something happen in a positive way through Norfolks actions then you can be sure they will be letting everyone know and quickly.

Oh and don’t let anyone let you think that all levels of the police force aren’t watching Norfolk closely – because they are!

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