Policing tsar hits back at overhaul criticism

POLICE AND Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove has defended a controversial restructure of the Humberside force against a chorus of criticism.

The cost-cutting which will see the number of officers fall by nearly a quarter from their 2010 level by next March, has been condemned by an East Riding Council review panel for being carried out “at undue speed” and having the potential to damage response times.

In July, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary criticised the use of reserves to make up the shortfall in the required £30m savings by 2019.

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But in contrast to the council, HMIC said the “new affordable” structure needed to be in place “quickly” to start making savings.

Mr Grove, who meets Chief Constable Justine Curran today, insisted the plans would give residents a better service, and said he would not allow “minor distractions” – like the council – to deflect him from his “mission”.

He admitted there would still be an £8m shortfall but maintained his intention was “to balance the books before reserves run out”.

Mr Grove said he inherited an organisation two years ago that was “inherently inefficient and wasteful of public money” and was paying for “too many layers of bureaucracy and management” to cover separate divisions, despite some excellent staff.

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Those geographical divisions were being removed and the force was moving to a one-shift model to better match resources with demand. He said: “It was spending more than it received. It was on borrowed time and heading for bankruptcy.”

There was no pot of cash to draw from, but Mr Grove said he would be able to borrow money against buildings the force has recently built, adding: “East Riding Council is in a similar situation – it is living beyond its means. Neither myself nor my office have been consulted about the reductions in service the East Riding is making.

“East Riding Council says we are proceeding too fast, HMIC has said we need to speed up. I am quite reassured – it means we are probably doing it around the right speed.”

Mr Grove said figures in the HMIC report which suggested the number of police stations would drop to 15 by next March were wrong. “I have repeatedly pledged in numerous town and parish councils that the community will not lose its police station – some may move to better locations, particularly if there are opportunities to relocate,” he said.

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However, recent experience in Hessle, near Hull, where an 11th-hour dispute meant the police did not move into a new council-run customer services centre, shows it is not plain-sailing.

Mr Grove admitted response times currently “weren’t as good as they should be” as there were too many officers in stations doing administrative work.

The restructure would see CID officers back on neighbourhood policing teams and “massive” investment in new technology would free up officers – according to a trial around two hours per eight hour shift.

Asked about rural areas with slow internet speeds, Mr Grove said they would be entering arrangements with organisations which had broadband connections and wireless, adding: “If there’s a blackspot maybe the parish council chairman won’t mind us tapping into his.”