A few Fridays ago, readers may remember an extraordinary meeting taking place in Maple Lodge to discuss the outcomes of possible cuts to the police budget and the effects to policing in Worcester Park.
Given that I am chair of the Worcester Park Residents' Association and as part of that role, also chair the local Police Safer Neighbourhood Team Ward Panel, I should really report on this here from that position rather than from the point of view of someone watching proceedings from an outside perspective. I would therefore invite comments from those who were present to augment what I have written here.
Anyway, to give a little more background, back in early October, Michael Freter, chair of the Hamptons Estate Company (previously the Hamptons Residents' Association) asked me to call an extraordinary police ward panel meeting to discuss possible threats to local policing due to the difficult budgeting decisions being made at the moment. Given the concern over the issue I agreed this was appropriate and set about doing so. I wanted to invite our local MP Paul Scully and our London Assembly Member, Steve O'Connell (who might be termed as Boris's representative in Sutton and Croydon) to inform the meeting about what is happening at higher levels and so we could ask them to take our concerns to higher levels.
The only evening that both of them could attend the meeting was unfortunately a Friday evening (the 30th) which meant that two of our local councillors and both representatives from the Hamptons were unable to attend due to previous engagements. However Cllr Wingfield was able to be there to represent the councillors and Michael Freter had given me some points which I agreed to raise at the meeting on his behalf. Being that the meeting was to discuss the budgeting and running of the metropolitan police, the local police felt it would not be right for them to be present, but they expressed their appreciation that we were trying to secure a better outcome for them. The picture above shows (from left to right) Steve O'Connell AM, myself, Paul Scully MP and Councillor Paul Wingfield.
Around 20 - 25 local residents were present at the meeting to hear the information from both Paul and Steve and to discuss and debate the issue. For a single topic the meeting went on for almost two hours but being an extremely urgent issue, I felt it was important to let everyone speak who had something to say.
One of the main outcomes of the meeting was a resolution that I should write to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to express our views and position and to ask that the existing local police situation in Worcester Park remain unchanged. I have put a copy of most of that letter below, as it sets outs clearly much of what was discussed at the meeting without me needing to repeat myself.
I have since heard back from Paul that he had a meal with the Chancellor George Osborne recently and used the opportunity to press him about this mater. On Thursday he publicly stated:
"Hopefully last Monday evening will have born fruit. I spent it asking the Chancellor to have another look at the police budget before considering anything that will have an effect on neighbourhood policing across London."Steve also promised to bring up the issue with Boris Johnson but added that Boris would not put up with the loss of local Safer Neighbourhood Policing in London.
Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe on the 17th November:
Dear Sir Bernard,
As chair of the Police Safer Neighbourhood Team Ward Panel in Worcester Park, London Borough of Sutton, I recently called an extraordinary ward panel public meeting (Friday 30th October) to discuss concerns about possible changes to local policing in the face of reportedly expected budget cuts. This was attended by Paul Scully MP and Steve O'Connell AM.
There are two things that came out of this meeting which I would like to make you aware of, plus the outcomes we would like to see locally.
First, the general conclusions drawn about what is going on was seen clearly as a negotiation in public with the opening position being every possibility on the table including the unpalatable ones.
We can see that the recent ominous headlines are a result of political game-playing by the Met and the politicians. Essentially the pitch to the politicians is ‘make any more cuts and we’ll destroy your showcase policing policy and blame you’. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation, the main losers will be us, the public. We note also that the HMIC has criticised the police in general for expensive budget failures. Poor planning on future staffing, wasteful computer systems and a paranoid fear of the private sector. We accept that money needs to be saved and these failures should be addressed before taking the axe to PCSO’s and the success of Neighbourhood Policing. At the same time we asked our MP Paul Scully to raise our concerns with the Chancellor George Osborne to ensure that the police budget allows our Neighbourhood Policing system to continue in as unchanged a state as possible.
Second and more importantly, our existing Neighbourhood Policing setup in Worcester Park is an example of why it is so important not to lose our Neighbourhood Policing system. Gary Weaving is our own dedicated PCSO in Worcester Park ward. Gary is well known in the local area and provides a valuable bridge between the police and the community. He knows the area well, he knows who the local trouble makers are, and he knows who the local vulnerable people are. He is always friendly and approachable and has a rapport with the local traders in the high street as well as local residents. We believe his understanding of the local community is a source of invaluable intelligence which has been instrumental in helping bring and keep crime down in Worcester Park. Additionally in 2013 Gary received a Met Police ‘environmental efficiency’ commendation award for his leading role in creating the ‘fishery’ in the wetland area of 'The Hamptons' part of the ward, something he did in his own time for the local community he wishes to serve.
It would not only be a terrible loss to our local community to lose PCSO Gary Weaving, that loss would be hugely disproportionate to any financial gain from such a change.
I have no doubt that the majority of London Borough wards have similar stories to tell and that our dedicated ward officers and PCSOs have proven themselves to be both an effective and efficient tool in reducing crime locally. In light of recent events in France, I would also argue that such officers are our intelligence foot soldiers and that without them, a vital source of information for our security services would be cut off.
As the Worcester Park ward panel we are resolved to ask as the highest priority, the retention of Gary Weaving as our dedicated ward PCSO. We would also ask that our current system of Neighbourhood Policing remain unchanged and lastly the retention of our Police Office at 154 Central Road, Worcester Park, KT4 8HH.
I look forward to a positive resolution to this current set of negotiations, which will see both sides take a sensible position bringing both the necessary financial benefits while retaining the effective and efficient aspects of Neighbourhood Policing.
(Chair, Worcester Park Police Safer Neighbourhood Team Ward Panel)
We all hope that with our efforts and the undoubted pressure being put on from many local communities, we will retain our valued Safer Neighbourhood Police in Worcester Park.
Update (26th November)
What a relief! I'm sure we are all very pleased with the outcome of yesterdays budget spending review with the Chancellor protecting the police budget.