Gwent Police and South Wales Police forces have merged their forensics operations in a bid to save £1 million in public money, at a time when both forces are facing serious budget cuts, this is a sensible decision. The Westminster government announced a 20% cut in police budgets back in October 2010.
Gwent Police has to make some £34 million pounds worth of budget cuts (savings), and South Wales Police has to achieve some £47 million pounds worth of budget savings (cuts) by 2016. The new Joint Scientific Investigation Unit, which will be made up of staff from both forces, will employ 160 staff - 110 from South Wales Police and 50 from Gwent. The fact that no redundancies have been made in either force in creating the unit, should also be welcomed.
Our Police services are facing, much like the rest of us, difficult times financially, Gwent Police is planning to close 17 stations to the public as part of cost-cutting measure, changes which would save around £500,000. Despite the spin and the talk of ‘redesigning the way people accessed its services’, when the dust settles a cut is still and cut and a closure is still a closure. What this means is that from July front counter services won’t be available at:
• Ystrad Mynach
Gwent Police will retain the Police stations as bases for police officers, specialist departments or office accommodation. Newport’s Central Police station will remain open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Police Stations at Abergavenny, Ebbw Vale, Cwmbran and Blackwood will also remain open to the public from 08:00 to 20:00 GMT, seven days a week. Similar cost cutting measures are being undertaken by South Wales Police and North Wales Police forces.
The Police budget cuts have already lead to a reduction in Police numbers in Wales and England. There were 135,838 police officers in September 2011 - 6,012 (4.2%) fewer than the 141,850 of a year earlier. Only Surrey Police out of the 43 forces in England and Wales actually increased police officer numbers. The figures also show that police numbers have been cut further in Wales and England than they have been in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
One possibly unforeseen consequence of Police budget cuts may be a boost to the Conservative privatisation agenda – G4S a private security company has signed a deal to design, build and run a police station in Lincolnshire. This agreement between G4S and Lincolnshire Police is first of its kind in the UK. As part of the deal, around two-thirds of civilian support staff employed by the force are to be transferred across to the private sector. This contract may will save Lincolnshire Constabulary around £20 million pounds but we may well ask at what cost over the medium term to support staff terms and condition and the provision of services to the public.
While this is probably a step too far for most people, until Policing and Criminal Justice are devolved to the National Assembly. Despite any mutterings to the contrary from Labour in Wales’s elected representatives in Westminster our Police forces here in Wales are in my opinion acutely vulnerable to back door privatisation and further cuts in services. The sooner Policing and Criminal Justice are devolved the better for all of us here in Wales.