This week there have been two areas I would like to update you on.
Sutton Coldfield Police Station
There has been a lot of coverage around police buildings in the last few weeks. Understandably at a time when the public are feeling concerned over crime, people are sensitive about policing changes. I also know lots of you are wondering what these changes means for your work. Let me restate the position and hopefully offer some reassurance.
We have set out our future strategy for the force’s buildings. It is driven by three main issues.
The need for buildings that suit modern policing. The force is and will be investing heavily in technology which will create an ever more mobile organisation. The custody redesign has shown big sites are better than smaller buildings so we need to carry this direction on. We have a Commonwealth Games to police in four years and our command and control site is in need of development. What we have isn’t suited for the future.
The second issue is cost. Some of our buildings are just not fit for purpose and there is a backlog of £20m in repairs. Some of the buildings, indeed some of the most interesting or externally attractive, are at the end of their life and quite empty. We need buildings that are fit for purpose, modern sites which facilitate great team work. The new strategy can save us around £5m a year in building costs and create more efficient buildings.
Finally we know we can share. A high number of the poor buildings we intend to dispose of are small neighbourhood stations and this has caused a lot of concern. Quite rightly we want neighbourhood teams in their communities! This is why a large part of the estate plan is to look at re-provision of the neighbourhood buildings with partners. At this time we have not worked out where these sites will be BUT we won’t close buildings until we have engaged with the public to look at where the alternative provision will be. You will also be clearly told if you are affected in good time.
Perhaps understandably lots of the focus has been on what we are taking away and not what the future vision is. We know which buildings are underused or at the end of life but not yet where we will go as we leave them. The aim of the strategy and the engagement is to work this out over the next few years – nothing is closing soon from this plan! I give you my assurance there is a lot to discuss before any of the sites in the strategy close and I hope for some real creativity on where we can share with partners.
The force has been graded as inadequate in the PEEL inspection on effectiveness on the area of vulnerability. I need to say straight away that a grade like this on the inspection actually causes me a great deal of personal upset. The inspection says WMP has improved. There has been some great work to continue our improvement on organised crime and vulnerability. I take my hat off specifically to PPU and Locate with clear improvements on how we are managing areas we set out to improve.
The inspection grade is completely due to the call backlog we experienced during and after the summer. West Midlands Police was not alone in this experience and our grading is due to concerns over how we were managing vulnerability within these calls.
I have been around long enough to know complaining about HMIC inspections always looks like sour grapes. I have real issues with the logic and sample size that drove this grade. However backlogs we did have!
However the big question for me is wider than this.
West Midlands Police has the youngest population of any police force, the second most diverse and the highest amount of its population living in the top 20% deprived neighbourhoods of any force. Our population is also growing at above average levels. We have a great deal more vulnerability than other forces.
We are now funded at a level below the national average. We have income now £20m a year lower than Greater Manchester Police, our most similar force, with a similar area but smaller population. Our budget has gone down by 28% since 2010, the biggest reduction in policing.
The 10% rise in local taxation residents are paying this year results in one of the lowest percentage funding rises and the second lowest per head of population.
We are consistently rated by HMIC as having outstanding financial planning and are one of the top forces for efficiency.
70% of our call demand is dealt with over the phone.
Should the question be how West Midlands was managing its backlog or is the real question why one of the most efficient forces in the country, with some of the highest policing need and diminishing funding had a backlog?
As always our collective determination to deliver for the public will push us on and steps have already been taken on escalation and log closure doctrine, (the backlog was more about closure than outstanding calls) but we should be under no illusion we are having to run harder and faster than many other forces.
You can read about the force’s HMIC report here