New crime tsar in ultimatum to his ‘virtually invisible’ police chief

New Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside  Keith Hunter
New Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside Keith Hunter
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Humberside Police has £20m in unused reserves, some of which should be spent making policing more visible, new police and crime commissioner Keith Hunter has said.

The former Humberside Police chief superintendent and Labour candidate, who defeated Tory Matthew Grove in last Friday’s elections, said a proportion could go on hiring more PCSOs on short-term contracts “to increase police presence in neighbourhoods”.

Justine Curran, the chief constable of Humberside Police

Justine Curran, the chief constable of Humberside Police

There were under half the number of police officers in neighbourhood policing than there were previously, he said, despite three years of increases in the amount local ratepayers are paying towards the police.

Mr Hunter was speaking as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing carries out an inspection of the force’s efficiency – which last year was branded “inadequate.”

Mr Hunter will be meeting chief constable Justine Curran for the first time in his new role today.

Speaking on his first day in office, he said Ms Curran had been “virtually invisible” since taking up the role in 2013 and that he expects her to produce a plan of “how to improve the force into the future” in six months.

I am just stating the obvious – she will know that and understand that. It is not an axe hanging over her.

Keith Hunter on whether chief constable Justine Curran needs to turn round the force’s performance

She had not been entirely to blame, with Mr Grove “very happy to step into the role of spokesperson for Humberside Police”, and on many occasions acting as an apologist for poor performance.

He said: “I am just stating the obvious – she will know that and understand that (she needs to turn round performance.) It is not an axe hanging over her.”

He added: “I am not going to be a spokesperson for Humberside Police.”

Mr Hunter also pledged to be open and honest with the public - and not hide from them the impact Government cuts were having on the police. He said other PCCs and chief constables were frightened to speak out in case they were “punished.”

Unlike his predecessor, he would not be attending parish council meetings to “give a lot of anecdotes” and listen to stories about dog mess – instead spending his time “actually dealing with the issues” and ensuring people got the service they deserved.

Money from reserves could also go on improving call handling, with Mr Hunter saying he was still getting lots of complaints about how long it was taking to get through. Mr Hunter said the force needed to keep four to six per cent of their annual turnover in reserve, but £20m should be available over three to four years.

He also revealed that the gap between the actual number of officers the force employed and the number funded had grown to about 70 to 80. The money had been used to swell the coffers in anticipation of further massive cuts in funding, which were then hastily shelved by the Government after the Paris terror attacks.

Despite assurances from Chancellor George Osborne that police funding was protected, Humberside Police faced a real-term reduction in funding of £2.7m this year.

He said: “I think reserves should be used to improve the quality of service to the public in the two primary areas that people are saying there is a lack of service – neighbourhood policing and call handling.

“It is incumbent on police forces and other public services to spend money they have raised in taxes to provide a service they are meant to provide. It hasn’t happened over the last couple of years.”

Complaints have been made to a Parliamentary standards committee over unsubstantiated allegations about Mr Hunter made in the Commons in the run-up to the election.

Leader of the House Chris Grayling told MPs last week he had heard “allegations about the Labour PCC candidate” which if true, meant he was unfit for public office.

Mr Hunter said people “backed off very quickly” after he published a report from HMIC praising him and confirming he was suitable for promotion, adding: “I’ve nothing to hide.”

He said Mr Grayling had “chucked in a smoke grenade” and the smoke had cleared leaving “nothing”.