Shake-up of Leeds PCSO numbers ‘not fair on all communities’ claim - despite assurances

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A proposed shake-up of police community support officer (PCSO) numbers in Leeds has led to claims that some communities could be left without enough feet on the ground.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported earlier this week that, under funding reforms agreed between police and council chiefs, the number of minimum civilian officers per neighbourhood could be cut, but they could be increased in crime hotspots.

The news was widely welcomed, as fears had earlier been raised that overall PCSO numbers could be slashed, or the teams scrapped entirely, as decision-makers battled with dwindling Government budgets on all sides.

There are currently 207 PCSOs in Leeds, 165 co-funded by Leeds City council and 42 by the police alone.

Under new terms proposed for 2016-2017 - and to be discussed by the council’s executive board on Wednesday - West Yorkshire Police would fully fund 160 roles and the council just 67.

That would be 227 roles in total paid for by the council and police - an increase of 20.

In addition, there are 23 PCSO roles currently funded by other partners like the airport and Morley town council, which are yet to be finalised in terms of future funding.

Since 2008, the council has made a 21 per cent contribution of over £1m to the overall cost of five PCSOs (165) in each city ward. The net financial contribution by the council will remain the same under the new arrangements.

However the current agreement with the police is now coming to an end and, following a request by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), it will now become an even 50/50 split between the police and the council.

Under the new arrangements, a minimum of three PCSOs would be in place in each of Leeds’s 33 wards - two provided by the council, one by the police - rather than the current five per ward.

Further allocations of officers will be made on a ‘need and support’ basis, with areas with high demand getting more PCSOs.

But despite assurances about the new system from leading council and police figures, political opponents have warned that many communities in Leeds will lose out.

Councillor Jonathan Bentley (Lib Dem, Weetwood), said: “All the recent talk about PCSOs in Leeds has been around the total number in the city but I fear this misses the point.

“The PCC has ripped up the funding agreement with the council and taken the decision on where they’re located out of local hands. “Instead he will get complete control over where the majority of PCSOs are deployed.

“It’s highly likely that PCSOs will be taken out of areas the police don’t think they’re needed and moved into inner city areas, irrespective of local feeling.

“Treating each area equally has ensured that PCSOs develop strong connections with the communities in which they are based and are valued by local people. Centralising their deployment might help the commissioner meet some of his targets but it does nothing to improve confidence in community policing.”

Councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the main opposition Conservative group, added that despite suggestions that “somehow the administration had fought the good fight on PCSOs, sadly the opposite is true”.

“The move to the 50/50 funding formula by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) could see areas of the city with very little coverage in terms of PCSOs,” he said.

“There has been no additional funding commitment by the administration, the funding remains the same.

“How can a reduction in five partnership funded PCSOs per ward to two or three such officers be painted as a success?”

At the council’s budget meeting last week, councillor Carter put forward a motion to provide an additional £520,000 to ensure that each ward in the city received an extra PCSO in 2016/17 - but it was rejected by a majority vote.

“The move to the 50/50 funding formula by the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) could see areas of the city with very little coverage in terms of PCSOs and my proposals would have boosted numbers and ensured that all areas received a balanced allocation of officers,” he added.

“There has been no additional funding commitment by the administration, the funding remains the same at £1.06m per year, and yes it looks like the PCC will also be increasing the amount he fully funds, but let’s be clear the council’s contribution remains the same and they rejected a good opportunity to increase funding for these vital officers, even though the cash for the extra officers would have been sourced from back office savings.

“How can a reduction in five partnership funded PCSOs per ward to two or three such officers be painted as a success?”

‘POLICE CHIEF’S FUNDING PLEDGE WILL PRESERVE A VITAL SERVICE’

Despite some criticism of the new arrangements - which will be finalised by Leeds City Council’s executive board next week - city leaders say a re-negotiation was vital to preserve the PCSO cohort.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “As a council we greatly value the great work and reassurance that PCSOs provide to residents living in communities’ right across the city, which is why despite the continued pressure on our own budgets and those of our partners, there was a real desire to ensure that a high presence was maintained in Leeds.

“I am delighted therefore that by working closely with the police, we have been able to secure this agreement that will mean PCSOs continue to operate in all wards of the city.”

Councillor Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member with responsibility for Safer Leeds, said: “I am pleased and grateful that tied in with the significant financial contribution of over £1m that we are continuing to make towards the part funding of 67 PCSOs, the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, has agreed to increase the number of support officers that the police will fund in the city over the next year. This will mean that the PCSO presence funded by the council and the police in Leeds will if agreed actually increase from April, which is certainly very positive news.”

And Chief Superintendent Paul Money, Leeds District Commander, said: “PCSOs continue to play a vital role in keeping our communities safe and they remain a key component in the future of neighbourhood policing.

“They will be deployed at ward level and work closely with staff from our partner agencies, including the local authority, to specifically tackle the issues that matter the most to the communities in which they work.

“The continued funding of PCSOs by Leeds City Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner and our other partner agencies clearly demonstrates that they share our commitment to maintaining the valuable work of PCSOs in communities across the Leeds district.”

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