Beds Police rapped by watchdog over response to austerity measures

PCC Olly Martins with chief constable Colette Paul
PCC Olly Martins with chief constable Colette Paul

Beds Police is one of the three worst constabularies in England and Wales at dealing with austerity measures, a report has revealed.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has tracked how efficiently forces have made savings since a 20% reduction in funding was announced in October 2010.

Of 43 forces thirty five were judged to have made a ‘good’ response to cuts– while Beds Police was one of just three to be told it ‘requires improvement’.

The police watchdog said that the county force has ‘significant policing challenges in the short term’, while issuing a stark warning over a raft of cuts to officer numbers.

The report read: “The force previously reduced its police officer numbers to a level that put at risk its ability to provide effective policing and this had a serious impact on performance.

“The force recognised this...under the leadership of the new chief constable, with oversight by the police and crime commissioner (PCC), it is now taking steps to increase its police strength to safer levels through the recruitment of 60 police officers.”

Beds Police is planning another recruitment drive in the autumn, in addition to the 28 new PCSOs who have joined in the last 12 months.

Of three areas assessed by HMIC, Beds Police was given a ‘requires improvement’ rating in two and a ‘good’ rating in one.

The force was told it needs to improve its efficiency to deal with an ‘unusually high level of serious threat’.

HMIC reports that earlier this year Beds Police ‘did not have a full understanding of its current level of demand’, though since ‘the force has recognised that it needs a better understanding of demand in order to manage its response more effectively.’

Another area of concern was whether the force is able to provide an ‘affordable way of policing’.

Though praising a back office sharing agreement with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire forces, the report urged work on the deal to be stepped up.

It said: “HMIC is concerned that a significant amount of work remains to be done, and that any delay in finalising or implementing the plans could seriously affect the force’s ability to provide effective policing in the longer-term.”

PCC Olly Martins defended the force’s record, adding that police funding needs to be re-examined.

He said: “It is disappointing to be classified as ‘requires improvement’, particularly when at the same time it is acknowledged we are in the process of taking the steps required to deal with the various challenges we face.

“However HMIC’s categorisation reflects the underlying truth about our predicament.

“That’s why, whilst the current Home Secretary has made clear there will be no review of the police funding mechanism this side of the general election, it is imperative that whoever is the Home Secretary after May 2015 urgently addresses the inadequacies of the funding formula for policing. 
“Police funding needs to work in a way that recognises the demands forces like Bedfordshire face.”

Chief Constable Colette Paul added: “One of my priorities when I arrived as the new Chief Constable was to recruit people to the force and to fill any vacancies to strengthen our capacity so that we were in a position to deliver as good a service as we can to the public within the constraints we have.

“Looking back now, we’ve come a long way although we still have more to do over the next five years to meet our ambitious five year plan.”