Police Federation condemns cut in opening hours to save money

A DECISION to slash the public opening times of North Yorkshire’s police stations has been condemned amid concerns that front-line policing will be gravely affected.

A county-wide review has been conducted by the North Yorkshire force of all of its police stations amid swingeing multi-million pound cutbacks.

Senior officers confirmed yesterday that front counter services are due to be reduced in 15 stations and closed altogether in two bases, although the revised opening times will not be disclosed until the summer.

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Officials from the Police Federation branded the move a “retrograde step” and stressed vital face-to-face contact with the public was being undermined.

The federation’s chairman for North Yorkshire, Sgt Mark Botham, said: “This quite clearly shows the huge impact that the cuts in funding are having.

“It is a retrograde step, and one which appears to have been made without any meaningful public consultation. We would expect to see a meaningful consultation with both ourselves and the general public over any cuts that are having to be made.”

The overhaul of front counter services is part of the efforts by the North Yorkshire force to counter a £24m budget deficit caused by the dramatic reduction in funding from the Government.

A police spokesman confirmed that discussions were continuing about redundancies for front counter staff, but he stressed numbers of job losses had yet to be finalised.

The stations which have the lowest level of demand from the public will now see their front counter opening times reduced, although exact details will not be finalised until June.

However, Assistant Chief Constable Tim Madgwick maintained that major stations in York, Scarborough and Pickering would remain unaffected, while opening times in Knaresborough would actually increase.

But front counter services will be cut at Bedale, Catterick Garrison, Eastfield in Scarborough and Harrogate, as well as Filey, Malton, Northallerton and Richmond.

Stations in Ripon, Selby, Skipton, Stokesley, Tadcaster, Thirsk and Whitby’s main police station on Spring Hill will also see opening hours reduced.

At two locations, Settle and Ingleton, front counter services will cease altogether and residents will instead have to make appointments to see their Safer Neighbourhood Team officers.

Mr Madgwick said: “North Yorkshire Police has had to consider a range of efficiency measures in response to the significant budget deficit which all public sector organisations are facing in the coming years.

“Our review of front counter services showed that some of the resources committed to running these facilities were not providing value for money in their current form.

“In this economic climate when we have to prioritise resources according to demand, we simply can not afford to be operating front counters where hardly any members of the public made use of them or during the quieter periods of the day.”

Efforts to keep officers in the heart of North Yorkshire’s communities have, however, seen the introduction of nine mini-police stations during the last two years. A 10th police base will open in the centre of Whitby next week.

Mr Madgwick claimed the new bases would still be key to supporting larger stations.

He also stressed that, despite the cuts to front counter services, the public would still be able to contact the force throughout the day or night via the emergency 999 number or by making appointments.

The Yorkshire Post revealed on Wednesday that the force was planning to close its Newby Wiske control room and handle all cases from its other centre in York.

Up to 150 call-handling staff are now said to face an uncertain future.