Police force cuts mounted team but won’t merge

Police horses in Halifax Town centre.
Police horses in Halifax Town centre.
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A YORKSHIRE police force is to reduce the size of its mounted section to save money after abandoning plans to merge its service with a neighbouring team at a single base.

South Yorkshire Police will lose “several” officers and horses after deciding the force would keep its own mounted section but share resources with West Yorkshire.

A full merger, which would have seen South Yorkshire’s stables at Ring Farm in Barnsley closed and the horses and officers moved to West Yorkshire’s base in Wakefield, was rejected.

It had been expected the move would go ahead as part of wider plans for regional collaboration that have already seen forces in the region share an underwater search team, scientific support and firearms training.

In South Yorkshire the £1m annual budget for the mounted section is being cut by £300,000 and “several” officers and horses are expected to leave.

In West Yorkshire, officials said no decision had yet been made on cuts to the mounted section but that “deep cuts” to police budgets meant the service would be provided at the “lowest possible cost”.

One possibility is sharing kennelling and stabling costs as well as vet bills with the force’s dog section to save money.

The teams will still be expected to provide help in North Yorkshire, where there is no mounted section, and to Humberside Police, which recently announced plans to cut its mounted section entirely.

South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright told the Yorkshire Post a full merger had been considered before a “collaboration” option was chosen instead. He said: “It could have been made to work. It would have been outside the South Yorkshire border but fairly close to the motorway. In terms of getting it up and down the motorway it wouldn’t have been too onerous.

“In the end we said ‘what are our other options?’ We did a further review and said that it was viable to have our own mounted section.

“Unfortunately the austerity is really biting. We are having to do things we would not ordinarily wish to do. At the end of the day it is about making sure we balance the books and provide a service for the people of South Yorkshire.

“All the commissioners’ offices have shrinking resources; we are making reductions rather than putting in additional investment. We are all going about it in different ways.”

South Yorkshire Police currently has 14 horses, one sergeant, 12 constables and six support staff, while West Yorkshire Police has 18 operational horses as well as officers and other staff.

The teams help prevent disorder at major public events such as football matches as well as carrying out high visibility patrols and crime prevention work.

Mr Wright said only ten forces in the country have their own mounted section, with Nottinghamshire the latest to disband its unit. Mounted sections from Yorkshire could be sent to other parts of the country if required, meaning the forces could generate income through “mutual aid” payments.

Neil Bowles, of South Yorkshire’s Police Federation, said: “The community in South Yorkshire would not like losing the mounted section. They are a useful tool for community engagement. It is sad to think about them being cut.”

The region’s constabularies have been forced to find new ways of saving money as they try to find ways to cope with fewer resources.

Mark Burns-Williamson, crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, said his force would be going ahead with a “continued dedicated force mounted section”.

He said: “Collaboration is important as working together keeps us all safer and allows for important collective savings in this time of unprecedented government cuts.

“With such deep cuts being made to our budget we need to ensure we can keep protecting the public, such as at recent protests, and do this at the lowest possible cost.

“Our mounted section will generate income from when we help those outside forces who have no mounted section of their own and West Yorkshire will make sustainable savings over time by, for example, working more closely with the force’s dog section.”

A decision to scrap Humberside Police’s mounted section was confirmed earlier this year. The move to disband the unit, which includes six horses, is expected to save £500,000 a year.