Following a review of neighbourhood policing, Kent Police is set to drastically reduce its Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) establishment from 336 to 104, says UNISON. Whilst vacancies have not been filled, this will still see 203 PCSOs reduced by roughly half to 104, none of whom will be aligned with communities. Gone will be scores of local community based PCSOs along with their more specialist colleagues who work, for example, in youth engagement and supporting victims of domestic abuse.
Once a fervent champion of PCSOs, refusing to cut them during previous austerity cuts, Kent Police seems to have fallen out of love with their PCSOs, preferring police officers who are being funded under the Government’s 20,000 police uplift programme.
Ian Pointon, branch secretary of UNISON Kent Police and Justice said: “Kent Police will sell this as providing a better service to the public. However, with an estimated budget black hole next year of £16M – £20M, this decision will provide a saving of £6.7M, by any standard a significant contribution to that overall target. If you want to find a motive for this decision, my advice is to follow the money.
“There will be those who welcome the additional police officers into neighbourhood policing. However, all my experience tells me those police officers will soon be pulled away for other duties because they have all the warranted powers of a police officer. This didn’t happen to PCSOs because of their biggest asset, the lack of those same warranted powers. PCSOs remained on their beats in their communities building those all-important local relationships, solving local problems around anti-social behaviour, obtaining vitally important community intelligence to assist in crime detection, and releasing police officers for duties that require their powers. PCSOs are loved by the public and they will be sorely missed. My real fear is that we won’t realise what we’ve lost until it’s too late.
“It would be remiss of me not to recognise that, following representations by this union and the involvement of the Police and Crime Commissioner, temporary Chief Constable, Mr Tim Smith approved a significant increase in the number of PCSOs to be retained; an increase of more than 100%. Notwithstanding this increase, this union condemns the loss of our PCSOs who, as the bedrock of neighbourhood policing, have selflessly served the public. In the year marking the 20th anniversary of the PCSO, this is extremely poor thanks for that public service; public service that until now has always been lauded.
“Kent Police will continue to feel a relentless squeeze on its budget, a budget that has failed to keep pace with inflation and the rising costs of energy and fuel thanks to the Home Office. Having approved a welcome pay rise this year, they also failed to provide sufficient funding to meet that cost. Sadly, it’s a tale as old as time and the Chancellor’s autumn statement has done nothing to reassure me about the future.
“We must not lose sight of the people involved in this process; our valued colleagues who will lose their livelihoods in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis; lose the ability to pay their rent or mortgage; lose the ability to provide for their family. There is a significant human cost to this decision.”
Notes to Editor
- Ian Pointon is the Branch Secretary of the Kent Police & Justice Branch of UNISON representing police staff and PCSOs in Kent Police.
- UNISON is the recognised trade union within Kent Police.
- UNISON, with more than 1.3 million members, is one of the UK’s largest trade unions and Europe’s largest public service union. Its members work in the public services, for private contractors providing public services and for utility companies.
- It is the 20th anniversary of the introduction of PCSOs who were introduced by the Labour Government in 2002 to act as the eyes and ears of policing. They were embedded into communities to provide that vital local link.
- Tim Smith is the PCC’s preferred candidate to be Kent Police’s Chief Constable. This is scheduled to go before the Police & Crime Panel on 6 December.
- The Government’s police officer uplift programme (PUP) is a pledge to recruit 20,000 more police officers in England & Wales before 31 March 2023. The funding for this is ring-fenced and can only be spent on police officers. A failure by an individual force to meet its PUP target can result in a financial penalty. The real irony of the Home Office ring-fenced funding for the PUP is that many police officers are now covering vacancies in support functions that used to be carried out by police staff. They’re not on the streets where the public wants them.