Following on from my exchange with the Labour Cabinet Member at October’s Full Council and my blog last week, yesterday the Mayor of London announced that he plans to close and sell off Eltham Police Station.
For the record, I remain firmly convinced that this is a mistake and at some point in the future Londoners will demand real police be based in their neighbourhood which will send a future Mayor scurrying round trying to find suitable sites for a new police station.
Many people have suggested that this was not a real consultation and I feel that the response to me from Cllr Smith at Full Council presumed that no change was possible. She said at one point:
“Are we going to lecture the police and the mayor of London on how they manage their budget cuts? No we’re not.”
However, it is worth noting that Bexley Council and its Greater London Assembly Member (Gareth Bacon) did in fact get the plans changed so that Bexleyheath Police Station will stay open. In the Bexley Times piece, the Mayor of London is quoted as saying:
“In Bexley specifically, over the course of the consultation process new considerations were made about the operational impact of closing the police station at Bexleyheath. The MPS has spent additional time reviewing this and has come to the view that in order to avoid operational risk to the delivery of services in the future, a police station in Bexleyheath is needed.
“Further, many people in Bexley expressed strong views about the closure of Bexleyheath Police Station and the impact that this would have on public confidence.
“As a result of these factors, which came to light during the consultation period, we have taken the decision to retain Bexleyheath as the Bexley 24/7 front counter, as is the status quo.”
So broadly speaking a neighbouring borough did tell the Mayor of London how to manage the budget cuts and he responded to a more informed opinion from those who were in the community. Which must lead to the question – Why did our Labour Council not do the same for Eltham? It is hard to say whether it is incompetence or they genuinely don’t care but their failure will have a long-term impact on the people of Eltham.
As someone who attended the consultation meeting and met with the Deputy Mayor of London responsible for Crime and Policing, I know Greenwich didn’t try hard enough to persaude the Mayor that Eltham needed to stay open and there is a limited amount a backbencher as part of a small opposition party can do.
Having said that I was grateful for the time Ms Linden spent discussing Eltham’s closure with me and for the email I received from her yesterday. I understand that she had difficult decisions to make and the Royal Borough of Greenwich made the closure of Eltham far too easy for her.
Ms Linden’s email reads:
Following a substantial consultation with Londoners, today we have published the joint MOPAC/MPS Public Access Strategy. This can be found here.
We publish this Strategy at a time of unprecedented pressure on the MPS’s budget – having had to save £600m since 2010, as a result of Government cuts, and with a further £400m to save in the years ahead due to continued real-terms reductions in funding. As a result of this pressure, unless additional funding from the Government is made available, officer numbers are now projected to fall below 27,500 in London for the first time since 2002, at a time where the population is 1.5m higher and where crime across the UK is increasing.
That is why the measures set out in this strategy are part of our plan to do everything possible to protect front line policing by reducing costs throughout the MPS. This is alongside efforts to lobby the Government for urgent action to increase police funding.
As with any change on this scale, some communities have voiced genuine and passionate concerns. Through the consultation process, we have listened to those concerns and where possible and operationally viable, revised our plans accordingly. We grateful to everyone who took the time to have their say and help guide us as we make these difficult decisions.
With regard to Greenwich specifically, as we discussed, the 24/7 front counter will remain at Plumstead. The front counter at Eltham will be closed in December and the entire building will subsequently be sold. I appreciate this is not a decision you will be happy with.
I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with you and discuss the issues directly, and address the points which you raised in your letter, particularly providing reassurance that all officers will not be based in Plumstead, but that they will be based in hubs around the borough and clarity on the data used. It is clear from the large number of responses to the consultation that this has been a proper process, with good engagement in Greenwich and right across London.
MPS operational leaders are clear: the closing of a police station does not mean the withdrawal of policing from a community, rather it means we can support officer numbers as much as possible at a time of real pressure on policing. The changes will not affect the service people receive when they dial 999. As they have been for many years, emergency response officers spend their shifts not in police stations, but out on patrol, being directed to incidents by the control room as and when they arise. We anticipate no impact on response times arising from these changes.
The Mayor is also doubling the number of Dedicated Ward Officers to ensure that there are two in every ward by the end of the year. These officers will be located closer to communities and running new community contact sessions, every week, in every ward.
This strategy also sets out plans to improve the MPS telephone service, as we know that this accounts for 70 per cent of crime reporting in London. As crime has risen across the country, demand on 999 in London has increased by 12 per cent so far in 2017, which has had an impact on police resources. So, the proposals outlined in this strategy will seek to help the police more efficiently manage this demand, which requires a greater concentration of limited resources on frontline policing.
The document sets out proposals to improve the MPS’s online offer in order to make systems more user friendly for people who would rather report a crime online than in person.
It is also important to see these necessary changes as part of a wider transformation plan across the MPS to improve the service provided to Londoners. This aims to help officers spend less time in stations and more time out in the community tackling and preventing crime. This includes issuing officers with new technology, like tablet computers, saving them from having to needlessly return to bases. Furthermore, the Mayor’s commitment to restoring real neighbourhood policing – through delivering two Dedicated Ward Officers in each community – will make officers more visible and accessible, helping to build trust with the communities they serve.
Our first priority is always keeping Londoners safe. In a time of UK crime rising and restrained budgets, we have a duty to direct resources to those things that matter most to Londoners. As a result, this strategy sets out a clear plan for maximising investment in front line policing….
Deputy Mayor for Policing And Crime
Website www.london.gov.uk | Address 2nd Floor, City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2AA”