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Police Authority bows out and says: ‘We’ve all done very well’

Police Authority bows out and says: ‘We’ve all done very well’

🕔19.Nov 2012

The final West Midlands Police Authority meeting lasted barely an hour and was marked by a defiant self-congratulatory tone among members who praised their efforts in cutting crime and facing up to difficult issues of heightened community tension in Birmingham.

After 17 years in its present form, the Authority is being disbanded to make way for Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones who formally moves into the hot seat this Thursday.

Mr Jones, a Labour city councillor in Wolverhampton, was an ordinary member of the public at the final meeting of the Authority he has served on for two decades.

He takes over at a difficult time for West Midlands Police, which has to find £120 million in Government savings.

The force has set out plans to lose 1,850 employees, including 1,060 police officers, 20 police community support officers and 770 civilian staff. However, Mr Jones expects to begin recruiting police officers for the first time in four years during 2013-14.

Asked to say a few words he shook the Chief Constable’s hand and repeated promises to ensure greater community involvement in deciding crime-fighting priorities.

Predictably, Mr Jones faced an immediate challenge from the Police Federation.

The organisation, which is the closest police of non-officer rank have to a trade union, demanded to know what the new Commissioner’s priorities would be.

West Midlands Police Federation chairman Ian Edwards said: “We would like to congratulate Mr Jones on his election. We want to meet him as soon as possible and look forward to working with him.

“He takes on this role at a critical time for policing. The Government’s 20 per cent cuts to policing budgets are starting to bite and are affecting front-line services.

“Police officers do not understand why policing is facing such harsh cuts when overseas aid spending has been increased by 34 per cent. The Government’s first duty has to be the safety of its own citizens.

“We want to discuss our concerns with the new PCC and find a way to work together to help protect our police service and therefore our communities.”

Although the police authority has come in for some criticism in the past two years, notably over the public relations disaster of Project Champion which involved placing scores of CCTV cameras and vehicle identification equipment in mainly Muslim areas of Birmingham, members were in no mood to apologise.

Vice-chairman Diana Holl-Allen echoed Chief Constable Chris Sims in declaring that West Midlands Police force  had learnt valuable lessons from Project Champion and was all the better for it.

Mr Sims told members they should be proud of their achievements. Crime in the region has halved since 1995 and the latest figures record the sharpest fall in reported crime during the past year of any force in the country, he added.

The Chief Constable described the Birmingham city centre riots of 2011 as a “seminal moment” for the force and the police authority in leading to closer working relationships with communities.

Mr Jones is expected to highlight his immediate priorities later this week, with the abandonment of controversial privatisation plans at the top of the agenda.

He will scrap the Business Partnering for Police programme which had shortlisted several firms deemed capable of taking responsibility for delivering non-operational matters. The scheme, which was being worked upon in conjunction with Surrey Police, would have transferred work such as guarding crime scenes and monitoring CCTV cameras to the private sector.

West Midlands Police, Surrey Police and the Home Office have spent £5 million between them on investigating the privatisation programme. Surrey Police announced it was pulling out earlier in the year.

Mr Jones said: “It’s a waste of money. We’ve spent enough on this already and I intend to stop it.”

He intends to announce the formation of a working party to investigate ways of improving police IT without travelling fully down the privatisation route. Mr Jones added: “There will be an option to use the private sector if that is best but we should do so under the direct control of the chief constable, not having private companies managing police officers and staff.”

 

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