We need fairer funding to protect the public, says PCC
Wiltshire and Swindon's Police and Crime Commissioner has sounded a positive note in his overview of the year about the way the Force keeps the public safe and deals with new demands and threats.
But Angus Macpherson warns in his Annual Report that sustaining this performance will become increasingly difficult because of continued financial pressures.
Mr Macpherson writes: "Wiltshire still receives unfair funding from central government. This means we have less money to spend protecting the public than almost all other areas in England and Wales."
Speaking about his new report, Mr Macpherson says: "The Home Office did the right thing last year in letting PCCs increase the policing element of council tax by up to £12 a year in 2018/19. I'd like to thank the public for backing the increase.
"I committed to maintain the numbers in community policing, the bedrock of Wiltshire Police, at 445 police officers and 131 PCSOs if I raised the policing precept. I have delivered on this promise.
"In 2019 I will look for opportunities not only to maintain the numbers of local police and PCSOs but to increase them if there is a further rise in the policing precept.
"The Government needs to reform the formula which allocates funds to me. We have been historically under-funded and the people of Wiltshire and Swindon deserve a fair deal.
"We face the same complex range of threats that bigger and better-funded forces face, a fact brought home to us all very powerfully with the Salisbury chemical weapon attack.
"We get £151 per person to spend on policing. The national figure is £171. It does not make sense to give policing in Wiltshire £20 less per person than the national average.
"I have been pressing the case with ministers at every opportunity. The National Audit Office recently reported that reform of funding is needed. The NAO criticised the Home Office approach as 'ineffective and detached from the changing nature of policing'.
"I support the NAO and call on the Home Office to tackle this disparity urgently. The people of Wiltshire and Swindon and those served by other smaller rural forces are getting short changed.
"I have less money to keep the public safe than all of the PCCs who border us. It's a policing postcode lottery and is unacceptable."
Mr Macpherson says that, as a result of the precept increase this year, the Force will be aiming to recruit 20 officers in December 2018 and a further 20 officers in April 2019 to maintain the establishment.
He is pleased with the progress being made in delivering his Police and Crime Plan, and that the Force has again been ranked "good" by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services for its effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy, and for its crime recording compliance.
The Commissioner notes that recorded crime in Wiltshire and Swindon rose by five per cent compared to 2017-18, but says that was lower than the national average increase of 11 per cent. Burglaries and vehicle crime are returning to expected levels "thanks to significant enforcement and crime prevention work".
Nerve agent attack
In the second annual report of his current term as PCC, Mr Macpherson speaks of "an extraordinary period of demand on Wiltshire Police" triggered on Monday 5 March 2018 when the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal led to the Force declaring a major incident and drawing on mutual aid support from nearly every force in the country.
Mr Macpherson writes: "Throughout the incident I was enormously impressed by the hard work and dedication shown by officers, staff and volunteers. They worked tirelessly to ensure the public were kept safe."
The attack had highlighted how "every day emergency services run into unknown and potentially dangerous situations in order to help and protect the public".
The Commissioner said the total projected cost for Wiltshire Police is around £10m. To date, the Home Office has reimbursed £6.6m.
He writes: "It's important to me that these additional costs are not shouldered by Wiltshire Police. I have been in frequent contact with the Home Office and I am pleased that the Policing Minister Nick Hurd has recognised the financial implications of the operation. It remains an absolute priority for me to recoup these costs."
Response to 999 and 101 calls
Mr Macpherson says the emergency 999 response has been "exceptionally good", but he became aware during 2016-17 of public concern about the answering of non-emergency 101 calls.
He invested £250,000 to address the problem and instructed the then Chief Constable to ensure the average time taken to answer 101 calls was reduced. Performance has improved considerably, along with staff recruitment and retention.
He writes: "The average wait for calls to the Crime Incident and Recording Bureau has fallen from five minutes at the beginning of the year to less than one and a half minutes. Only six per cent of people chose to abandon their calls, down from 20 per cent".
The Commissioner launched his five-year estates strategy in the summer of 2017.
He explains: "It sets out how I will ensure that our estate supports policing in the 21stCentury and matches the Chief Constable's operational needs. My investment in mobile technology means that officers and staff no longer need return to a police station to write up reports."
Significant work will be carried out in Warminster, Tidworth and Royal Wootton Bassett "to bring ageing sites up to modern standards".
Mr Macpherson says he and Chief Constable Kier Pritchard want officers and staff out in communities or working alongside partners in shared buildings: "This not only increases visibility and cements relationships but also means we can share costs and put more money into frontline policing".
He has set the "ambitious" goal of reducing estate running costs by 20 per cent with the savings directed back to the front line.