Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner and Lancashire Constabulary are running a consultation on police plans to reduce the number of front counters at police stations across the county as the number of people using the service continues to fall.
In some stations as few as three people per day have visited on core business, leaving the Constabulary with little option but to review the service.
The review will not result in any station closures nor change the way areas are policed but it will deliver £1.4m of the £19.8m in savings the police need to find by 2020 – this is on top of the £72.2m cuts already delivered since austerity began.
The proposals include closing ten desks and reducing opening hours of the others. All the proposals are based on a detailed analysis of current use and are supported by a range of improvements to other contact methods such as telephone and online crime reporting.
Now stakeholders and the public are being asked for their views on the proposals, but with a clear message that savings have to be delivered and the public demands on Constabulary are no longer in stations but out in the community and on the telephone.
The business case put forward by Constabulary suggests that £1.4m of the current £2.8m spent providing the front counters service can be saved and is based on evidence that:
• Fewer crimes are now reported via police stations but demand on the telephone contact centre continues to grow with more than 2,400 calls dealt with every day
• The cost of serving a member of the public at each station varies from £5.77 at the busiest stations and £44.23 at the quietest, based on hours worked and number of people seen
• Much of the work of front desks such as immigration registrations, some driving and vehicle checks has moved online reducing their use still further.
Clive Grunshaw said: "Firstly I want to reassure our communities this review will not change the way areas are policed. Front counters are not staffed by police officers and this review will not impact on officer numbers.
"Of course these changes are taking place as part of the way the Constabulary looks to manage the continuing cuts to its funding by Government.
"But it is more than just that, what the Constabulary wants to do is ensure services provide value for money and are delivered in a way that people want to receive them.
"We have to look at how the public want to report crimes and make sure that service receives the investment it needs. The public have been voting with their feet for some time and the front counters proposed for closure serve only three to ten people a day."
Chief Superintendent Peter Lawson, the senior officer responsible for the review said: "The Constabulary has conducted a thorough review of the front counter service and it shows their use by the public continues to fall. Some of this is due to changes to processes such as immigration checks and some vehicle checks which are moving online, but in the main it is due to improved technology and greater use of phones.
"Our enquiry desk staff perform a valuable role and this needs to be maintained, but not at the current level which far outweighs demand. Members of the public will still be able to contact local officers, engage with local policing teams and gain the help and support they need."
Should the changes go ahead they would come into force form January 2018. Additional investment is already been made into online reporting and improvements to technology will further enhance the service next year.
Full details of the proposed changes are on the next page along with some frequently asked questions to help the public.
Public Enquiry Desk review: The proposed changes:
Should the changes go ahead, then they will be implemented from 2018. Members of the public will still have access to the yellow telephones at each station to ensure they can contact the police when they need to. Neighbouring stations will still be available for all other business.
The Commissioner is asking for submissions in writing to the Commissioner's office, FRONT COUNTER REVIEW, County Hall, Pitt Street, Preston PR1 0LD or via email@example.com (please mark your email FRONT COUNTER REVIEW in the subject box. The deadline for responses is 21 July 1917.
Frequently asked questions:
Why does Lancashire Police want to reduce the number of front counters at police stations?
The Constabulary needs to make sure it is using its resources wisely and getting good value for money especially as they still have to make £19.8m more in savings by 2020. Serving a member of public at our enquiry desks based on the costs of staffing them versus the number of the people they serve, costs between £5.77 at the busiest station and £44.23 at the quietest. By making sure our busiest enquiry desks stay open and closing our quietest ones we can improve value for money and make some of the savings needed.
Will this proposal mean I see fewer police officers?
No – the way areas are policed will not change as a result of this review and the police stations will remain open. Neighbourhood teams will still be based in the stations and still patrol the same areas. That does not mean there will be no changes in the future as budgets continue to fall, but the plans for front counters will not impact on officer numbers.
What is a police front counter?
Front Counters are used by public and visitors who want to get in touch with the police for a variety of reasons. Their core business has changed over the years with fewer crime reports made via police stations. Core business at enquiry desks along with incident reporting includes people answering bail, immigration reports and people such as solicitors or witnesses attending for appointments and people reporting lost or found property.
How else can people get in touch with police?
The vast majority of crime reports are made via 999 in emergency situations, for minor incidents its 101 and via the website. The public have said in a survey that they prefer to report incidents this way too. As more and more people choose to use the telephone or online services, so the number of people calling at police stations has fallen with some stations seeing only a handful of visitors in a day.
If you have reported a case already then your police officer will give you a contact number or email address to get in touch with them directly and the Constabulary will be launching an improved new online reporting system. While as a member of the public you may not see a significant difference to the way this currently operates the technology the police uses will be improving and this will improve the service they give to you online.
For general information or to keep in touch with your local police, you can also sign up to receive regular alerts through the In the Know messaging system or follow your local policing team on Facebook and Twitter.
Why can't the police make savings elsewhere?
Lancashire Police has had to make savings of £72.2m in the last seven years. That is around a third of its overall budget. The reason for the savings has been reductions in funding from Government and rising costs such as inflation, national insurance and other costs. An additional £19.8m of savings still need to be found by 2020.
The force has looked at many different ways of reducing expenditure while trying to protect services as much as possible.
This has included:
• Better procurement (buying) arrangements – in some instances joining with other forces or partner agencies to buy in bulk to get better discounts
• Making cuts to back office jobs and roles
• Reducing the number of policing divisions from six to three which has saved costs on the number of senior officers and administrative staff
• Call centres were centralised to one central control room again meaning savings on staff and equipment could be made
• Buildings and estate have been reduced with further plans in the pipeline such as Bonny Street police station. The annual running costs had to be met from the budget but by moving to more efficient buildings saves money
• Staff reductions –as more than 80% of the police budget is on staff, inevitably staffing numbers have fallen. There are currently 800 fewer police officers and 400 fewer police staff than there were in 2010.
• Mobile technology has been introduced to ensure officers can reach vital information while out in the field or in their vehicles rather than returning to the station – maximising the time spent in neighbourhoods
• New ways of working have also been introduced that mean neighbourhood police are also responding to emergency call outs in some areas.
What do other police forces do?
Lancashire currently has a high number of front counters in its area with 23 when compared with Greater Manchester which has 12 and Cumbria which has just ten. A reduction to 13 front counters brings the county into line with our near neighbours.
Where will I go to report a crime or incident if my front counter closes?
Majority of crimes are already reported via 999 (emergencies), 101 or online via the police website. These services will be enhanced due to growing demand. If you still want to report an incident or crime in a police station you can do so at your nearest front counter and these will be publicised. Officers also have the ability to take crime reports using their mobile devices and can often deal with these at the scene where appropriate.
What evidence has the police considered in reaching this proposal?
The Constabulary has undertaken a detailed analysis of all data of front counters to ensure they understand who is using the front counters and why. They have also looked at when people visit and this has resulted in additional proposals to change opening hours in the future too. This has led to the current proposal to reduce from 23 desks to 13.
Has the public influenced this proposal?
Yes – The Police and Crime Commissioner's office undertook a survey of residents over two consecutive years asking them how they want to contact the police to report minor crimes. Only 7.5% of the public said they wanted to report a crime or incident at a police station with the largest number preferring to use the telephone and many stating they would like to email or use a secure online means of reporting an incident.
How can I have my say?
The Commissioner's office is accepting feedback on the proposals but will need your feedback by July 21. This is because formal consultation with staff has to take place and this is over a prescribed period if the changes are to be implanted by January 2018.
Representations are requested in writing to the Commissioner's office, Front Counter Review, County Hall, Pitt Street, Preston PR1 0LD or via firstname.lastname@example.org (please mark your email FRONT COUNTER REVIEW in the subject box and ensure you leave your contact details if you require a response. The deadline for responses is 21 July, 2017.