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West Midlands Police win praise for cutting spending and crime

West Midlands Police win praise for cutting spending and crime

🕔21.Aug 2013

policeTop marks for West Midlands Police from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for continuing to cut crime and keep Bobbies on the streets despite having to make £120 million in budget cuts.

In a gushing report HMIC praised the force’s “innovation and creativity” in pursuing a change programme which helped to deliver the required savings and keep 93 per cent of officers in post.

It also noted the huge savings – the force was set the challenge of saving £121-million between 2011 and 2015 – were being made “without denting public satisfaction” with the latest figures showing that almost nine in 10 West Midlands’ crime victims were pleased with the service they’d received.

By March 2015 the force expects to have 574 fewer members of police staff and 1,601 fewer police officers – reductions of 16 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

But the HMIC report highlighted that over the first two years of the review period, recorded crime (excluding fraud) fell by 20 per cent – significantly more than the national average of 13 per cent – whilst victim satisfaction stood at 86.6 per cent which is higher than most other forces.

You might think West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Bob Jones would be pleased to have such a strong performance recognised, but you’d be wrong.

No sooner did the HMIC hit the doormat than Jones fired off a sharp response to Home Secretary Theresa May complaining that he could take little assurance from the report  and going on to condemn the “obscure methodology” used by the inspectors.

The letter is consistent with Jones’s increasingly verbal onslaught against the PCC system, in particular the question as to whether HMIC actually has any lawful powers to comment on or interfere with budgetary decisions taken by PCCs.

It must be the case, also, that Mr Jones was far from pleased by HMIC’s suggestion that the biggest public spending cuts in history appear to have had no impact on performance. Crime is falling even though the force has 1,601 fewer police officers.

The former Wolverhampton Labour councillor famously began his period in office by insisting that the country didn’t need police commissioners, he didn’t really want to be one, but since he had been elected he would give the job a go. And pick up a £100,000 salary to boot.

In his letter to Mrs May, Jones said: “I acknowledge their conclusion that West Midlands Police has had a well organised and robust response to the most challenging financial position of any police service in the country.

“Officers and staff have worked very hard to make the necessary changes created by the financial pressure, all the while successfully continuing to reduce crime across the period. The on-going financial challenge emphasises the importance of the new Innovation and Integration Partnership that aims to reduce costs and drive continued service improvement.

“I can however take little assurance from the report as the new HMIC arrangements have limited expertise and credibility. I find some of their methodology likely to cause confusion rather than clarify the situation.

“I would also add that as Police and Crime Commissioners have the final responsibility for setting the budgets for police forces and HMIC has no responsibility to inspect Police and Crime Commissioners then it remains unclear as to how HMIC can usefully come to any conclusion about the financial position of the force.

“I also struggle to recognise many of the figures used in this report such as the numbers of PCSOs and feel that the prospect of having anything like the number suggested is minimal.

“I remain committed to continuing to manage the financial position in a way that will seek to protect the services that really matter to our community.

“As such I will continue to urge residents of the West Midlands residents to look at the more relevant figures in our budget reports. These reflect the reality of the position in the West Midlands rather than that presented by HMIC’s obscure methodology.”

West Midlands Police deputy chief constable Dave Thompson managed a rather more diplomatic response than Mr Jones: “I’m pleased HMIC has recognised we’ve responded positively to the challenge and managed the cuts whilst keeping officers predominantly on the beat and in front-line crime fighting roles.

“We’ve carried out a comprehensive audit of our internal processes to reduce waste, duplication and inefficiency – saving money and enabling us to work slicker – but are still spending money in places we believe represents best value for the public and will be most effective in cutting crime.

“HMIC acknowledges, though, that being asked to make further savings will be a challenge…and I can’t emphasise that enough.”

Meanwhile, Jones-watchers are waiting to see how the PCC responds to a letter from Birmingham scrutiny committee chairman Waseem Zaffar setting out concerns about the policing of a demonstration in Broad Street by the English Defence League.

Although the letter is broadly supportive of the efforts of police, council and community leaders, Zaffar , a Labour councillor, raises a number of issues in order to be “helpful”.

These include an assertion that some police officers were engaged in the “racial profiling of Asian youths” by photographing them and taking their details.

Zaffar writes: “It was felt that this targeted behaviour was detrimental to community relations.”

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