A number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSO’s) in the area could be cut if Wrexham Council decide to remove funding, a decision scrutinised by Councillors this afternoon.
The part funding arrangement for PCSOs between Wrexham Council and North Wales Police has been in place for several years. The funding agreement is in place until March 2019, however as part of the budget saving proposals it is recommended this will be scrapped over the next two years, saving £140k next year and £140k the year after.
The long titled Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee / Crime and Disorder Scrutiny Committee met late this afternoon to look at that, and 24 other savings proposals.
Lead Member Councillor Hugh Jones presented the brief report by giving a ‘history lesson’ setting the scene to why Wrexham Council was funding PCSO’s in the first place. Cllr Jones told the meeting how back in 2007 the Council part funded them to tackle anti social behaviour, and back then the role of the PCSO was just that – to support communities and wards, rather than the wider role they have today.
Bringing the story up to date Cllr Jones explained how the first Police in Crime Commissioner in North Wales oversaw a budget reduction meaning the 48 PCSO’s in Wrexham was reduced to 36. Nine PCSO’s are thought to be at risk of being scrapped if Wrexham Council’s funding is removed and alternative funding is not found.
Various letters from the Chief Inspector and Police and Crime Commissioner were cited with Cllr Jones pointing out the main plea in them was to the UK Home Office for extra funding.
Cllr Jones said: “The role of PCSOs has moved to mainstream policing, rather than community work that we funded from the outset. Their roles have changed over the years. So it is right we should consult and decide if, given the changing roles, if it is right to continue to fund them to level we have previously given that role has become more mainstream policing.
“Wrexham is certainly unique in North Wales and possibly in Wales that we contribute to the funding of PCSOs. I think it is right to consult and consider if public want, and we want, the public to effectively to pay twice for this as they are paying police precept as well.”
Cllr Brian Cameron kicked off the questions, asking if any assessment had been made on the effect any withdrawal of funding would have on Wrexham and the people of Wrexham.
Cllr Jones told the meeting North Wales Police were preparing a report into an alternative policing model with the revised PCSO numbers worked into it. Cllr Jones promised that any decisions would only be made after that report was produced.
Cllr Krista Childs enquired to Cllr Jones of his main concerns on reducing the PCSO numbers.
Cllr Jones replied: “The question to us is what is right for Wrexham, and is it right for us to be funding PCSOs alone in North Wales. We all know about reduced visibility of PCSOs in many of our wards, but the original concept has changed. Is it right to continue to fund them when the role has changed and is somewhat different from when we first agreed to fund them?
“To answer the question, any reduction of police resources is a matter of concern to the public. We have benefited from briefings from police which have told us the nature of criminality has changed, and there is a lot more behind the scenes police work, there are numbers there working to keep us safe. That does mean less people visible on the front line, that doesn’t mean work is not being done.”
Cllr Cameron came back to ask: “Do you not think it is the wrong time to look at ending the agreement given that anti social behaviour and drug problems in the town centre?” Speaking on the unique funding element on PCSOs compared to other authorities he added: “For me, I’m more concerned about Wrexham than North Wales. It is a tick in the box that we have been able to fund them. What happens if we end this agreement, are we going to see anti social behaviour reduce? I don’t think so.”
Cllr Jones spoke of the ‘Gold Command’ in place to deal with substance misuse and issues in town centre, “As a result significant work and resources are being put in to deal with the underlying causes. We are working in partnership with police, health, housing and third sector organisations and a significant number of agencies on the issues. If that is successful it will reduce demand on front line police resources.”
Cllr Jones also pointed to recent ‘significant’ arrests in the last two weeks tackling alleged drug dealing.
Cllr David Bithell enquired if Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had started to attend such ‘Gold Command’ meetings, after Cllr Jones himself hammered them for being absent. Cllr Jones explained the situation had changed from the previous ‘disgrace’, and now ‘had full attendance’.
Cllr Bates told the meeting that he had been told that if the council withdrew funding ‘there wouldnt be a reduction in any PSCOs’, adding he had concerns over A&E at the Maelor Hospital and “Do we throw money to pay for doctors and nurses there, Wrexham Council should look after its own responsibilities. Where will it end?”
Cllr Jones said he had not had any indication to that extent, and that in his discussions with senior officers such assurances had not been given.
The Chair of the meeting Derek Wright interjected giving clarity on the comment, stating the comment referred to by Cllr Bates was made in a workshop around Community Councils, and was about ‘no cut to rural policing’ rather than PCSO’s and was a Wrexham Rural specific comment.
Cllr Cameron pointed out that PCSOs ‘do not grow on trees and someone has to pay for them’ adding, “If we cut them we will not see a reduction in crime but an increase.”
Cllr Nigel Williams said he had ‘mixed feelings’, “I think we get good service from PCSOs, but I do understand not all councillors feel the same about that. Looking at the rising crime figures we want to see a police presence. If we are looking at a new model, what is their role going forward, will we see them walking around or driving around?”
Cllr Jones replied to say the Council have asked for ‘professional advice’ from North Wales Police on how the resulting 18 PCSOs would be deployed across Wrexham, “When we went from 48 to 36 they went from being a regular presence in the ward. With the change in policing pressures there has been a further drift away from ward based PCSOs.
Cllr Carrie Harper confirmed to Cllr Bates that it is a case of if the PCSOs are cut they will not be replaced and that position was ‘pretty clear’. Cllr Harper pointed out that over the budget scrutiny meetings risk analysis had been requested, “We have been told we can’t have those. This is a perfect example of where it is beneficial to have had sight of that information. I would hope any risk assessment would cover the impact of cuts.”
“The further letter from the Chief Constable highlighted reduced visibility of policing if cut, and increased pressure on the remaining PCSOs. These are issues we have to take seriously. Can you assure us you have assessed risks and implications, and what discussions have taken place with North Wales Police on the cuts proposals?”
Cllr Jones referred to his previous answers about working on a revised policing model with North Wales Police, adding “No decisions have been made.”
Cllr Bithell enquired if the discussion on the number of cut PCSOs should be in Part 2 as it referred to job loss figures, however was advised that was not the case as it was clearly public the entire funding was due to be removed, and therefore the impact was clear.
Cllr Davies pointed out “It is in the public interest on what the council is paying for, and what it gets for that.”
Cllr Davies carried on to make two further statements, pointing out she did not feel the other funding positions of councils in North Wales was relevant, “I don’t think the terminology is it right, we have responsibility on where the need is, and that is what Wrexham needs, not what is right compared to others. Wrexham has a greater need for community safety.”
Referencing comments from Cllr Terry Evans she added: “You have said the town centre will improve not deteriorate. I would question that. The Lead Member for Economy has raised concerns about lack of visibility of PCSOs in the town centre himself.”
“PCSOs do cross cutting work for Wrexham Council and that is not recognised. With regards to that work and vulnerable residents, has there been any work done to measure the impact if that taken away, as those residents will be responsiblity of the Council, often out of hours, and will come at cost.”
Cllr Jones again referred to the policing model work being carried out, and reiterated comments about Wrexham being the only local authority that pays for PCSOs in North Wales. Regarding the latter comment he added: “We have an increasing number of community agents who are taking on the work of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. It is not a question of abandoning people, but ensuring the right resources are deployed dealing with the right issues.”
“I will say again, no decision has been made until all assessments have been taken into account.”
The Committee agreed to note the comments in the report, and requested an opportunity to conduct pre-decision scrutiny if and when required, if the proposed cut takes place.
Top pic: Archive image of a PCSO!