More than 100 police officers could be in jeopardy if government presses ahead with pensions plan, chief warns
PUBLISHED: 06:30 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 06:58 25 October 2018
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Norfolk police could be in danger of hitting "an historic low" in officer numbers, if the government goes through with plans to change the way police pensions are paid.
This is the fear of Simon Bailey, its chief constable, who says the change would leave the constabulary in need of saving a further £5.6m by April 1, 2020.
It would be on top of the near-£10m the force is already having to find as a result existing funding deficits.
As it stands, retired officers are paid their pensions through wage contributions, which are supplemented from the treasury.
However, the home office is proposing to increase the employer contributions by forces - without increasing the funding to match it.
Mr Bailey said if this happens it would be “a real body blow” to Norfolk police, which has already found itself in a position of needing to cut £32m from its spending in the last eight years.
He said: “If we to have to find another £5.6m, the figure would be the equivalent of around 110 officers.
“Were we to have to lose this amount it would be an historic low [in numbers] for us. We currently have 1,520 officers in the county - we could be left with as few as 1,400.”
While Mr Bailey said the required savings would not necessarily be made through the loss of officers, he said he could not rule the possibility out.
He added: “The proposals mean I am going to have to look at how best to protect the county, but this inevitably means the quality of our service would be reduced.
“It would mean we would not be able to pick up the phone as quickly, restrict the investigations we can carry out and make it far more difficult for us to meet the expectations the public have of us.
“Everyone does recognise how difficult it is for us in times of austerity, but people do still notice when police visibility is lower.”
Mr Bailey urged members of the public to lobby their members of parliament over the proposals in any way they can and get the message across that forces would be severely harmed by them.
He said: “I have already been forced to make extremely difficult decisions due to austerity - particularly losing PCSOs - and I now have 400 fewer officers across the county than I had 10 years ago.
“I will do my absolute utmost to protect my front line services, but this would put me in an extremely difficult situation, in times where the budget is already strained.”
Lorne Green, the county’s police and crime commissioner, warned the move could deliver “a massive blow to policing in the county”.
He said: “With our chief constable warning of the potential for police numbers to be at an all-time low and fundamental services being under threat, it is gravely concerning.
“I will be contacting the home secretary and policing minister directly to make sure that message is heard loud and clear and seek their understanding.
“I am counting on the government’s pledge to work with forces to understand the impacts of what is being proposed.
“Where Norfolk is concerned, our county’s men, women and children have been fortunate to have a police force which has been working hard to weather the financial storms to this point - making tough decisions to find necessary efficiencies and radically change the way it works to build for the future and protect the services our communities need and rely upon.”
Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, described the proposals as “a real worry”.
He said: “The prime minister said at her party conference that austerity was coming to an end - it certainly does not feel that way.
“It is a massive worry for us and everything we are saying seems to fall upon deaf ears. We do not have the resources to do our jobs properly and it is as simple as that.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are working closely with forces to understand the impact this change will have and are in discussions with police leaders about mitigating the impact on the front line.
“The government is committed to continuing to ensure police have the resources they need to do their vital work and the home secretary has been clear that he will prioritise policing at the next spending review.”
National and Suffolk picture
Mr Bailey said nationwide the changes would see forces in need of finding an additional £417m to cover the pension costs - the equivalent of more than 10,000 officers.
South of the border, in Suffolk, the constabulary could be faced with a £4.1m bill - potentially putting some 80 jobs at risk.
Gareth Wilson, Mr Bailey’s opposite number in Suffolk, told the county’s police and crime panel the proposals would result in a “double whammy” of drawbacks for the force - also making recruitment more difficult
He said: “If the pension liability falls on the constabulary, we won’t be able to recruit - it’s a double whammy.
“If we are let to pick up the bill, it would be catastrophic in terms of service delivery.”
Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, said: “Persisting with this plan and making us scrape £4m from an already empty barrel would have disastrous consequences.”
Norfolk police has been required to shave more than £30m off its budget in the past eight years.
As part of this, a major overhaul was made in the way policing is carried out in the county.
In October 2017 it was revealed the decision had been made to scrap all 150 of the county’s police community support officers, which Mr Bailey described as one of the most difficult decisions of his career.
This also saw the closure of seven police stations across the region and seven public enquiry offices.
Significant savings were almost made by both Norfolk and Suffolk forces, by sharing certain services.
On top of the £32m savings made since 2010, the constabulary is facing the need to find an additional £10m by 2020.
The previous changes, which were unveiled last year and came into effect in April, are saving the force £2m per year.