Earlier this week HMIC published a report which looked at how Bedfordshire Police has responded to the savings challenge laid down by the Government in 2010. It found that we are “moving in the right direction, and the pace of change is now increasing”.
Disappointingly, despite recognising the significant progress we have made in tackling a particularly difficult financial challenge, it felt that further improvement is needed and that the current number of frontline officers is too low.
Thankfully we identified the need to increase the number of frontline officers last year and put in place the money and processes necessary to undertake a recruitment campaign. This doesn’t happen overnight, but 58 new officers have been recruited and are now in training.
They will be policing Bedfordshire’s streets by December - ahead of a further 30 officers due to be recruited this Autumn - alongside the 28 PCSOs who have joined us this year.
This doesn’t mean that until then policing levels are too low to cope. We have already made changes to the way we work to alleviate the pressures on demand and indeed our officers, including the introduction of fast response vehicles in parts of the county where that is most needed, changing shift patterns for PCSOs to make them even more visible, and working hard to double the ranks of our special constabulary.
Moves designed to deliver the savings the Government demands AND enhance performance will see us remodelling the workforce mix to ensure it is fit for the future.
The good news is that the changes we’ve made so far are already delivering results. In Bedfordshire, 94% of officer resource is deployed on frontline policing roles, a lot higher than the national average.
Notwithstanding some glowing references, the report doesn’t really do justice to the incredible amount of work that has been done to meet the difficult financial challenge we face. Bedfordshire is fairly unique – it is a small force, with low funding, policing a kaleidoscope of rural and metropolitan issues.
I cannot conceal that there are still tough times ahead. It looks like government funding will continue to be cut and even with the new recruits our officer numbers will be about 150 lower in 2015 than they were in 2010. But there is a plan to find the savings whilst keeping officer numbers where they are and keeping our county safe.