Police chiefs accused of 'chronic financial mismanagement' over closure of new cells for urgent repairs

The custody suite at West Yorkshire Police's Leeds headquarters in Elland Road, which has had to be closed pending urgent repairs.
The custody suite at West Yorkshire Police's Leeds headquarters in Elland Road, which has had to be closed pending urgent repairs.

POLICE chiefs have been accused of “chronic financial mismanagement” after The Yorkshire Post revealed a state-of-the-art custody suite at a new police station has had to be closed for urgent repairs.

Coun Amanda Carter, Leeds City Council’s shadow executive member for community safety, asked why the maintenance problems at the Elland Road cells had got to such a serious state just four years after opening.

The Tory councillor said the problems, reportedly peeling paint, raised “questions about how police budgets and contracts are being managed” by West Yorkshire’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, inset.

The facility was one of three built for West Yorkshire Police as part of a multi-million pound Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal with the company, Interserve. A similar custody suite at another of the new sites, in Normanton, Wakefield, is also in need of repair but remains partly open. Old cells in Leeds have been re-opened as a temporary measure.

Coun Carter said the stations should have been paid for outright out of police reserves, saying this would have saved taxpayers millions of pounds over the lifetime of the PFI contract. She also said the decision to centralise the Leeds district’s cells had been “ill-thought-out”, claiming the Elland Road suite can get full at times and prisoners have to be transported out of the area.

Exclusive: State-of-the-art police cells closed for urgent repairs just four years after opening in Leeds

Mr Burns-Williamson said the PFI contracts had been signed off by the then-coalition Government in 2011/12.

He added: “As with any building, no matter the age, there will inevitably be unexpected maintenance issues, the full costs of which will be met by the providers, as will be the case here.

"The temporary closure of the cells means that we can receive compensation which ultimately covers contingency costs and is not footed by the taxpayer.”

Read more: West Yorkshire Police's PFI buildings cost taxpayers £12.1m a year

He said while the maintenance problems might appear simple to fix, this was “not the case, which is frustrating”. He added that providing value for money was always at the forefront of his mind.

Assistant Chief Constable Catherine Hankinson, of West Yorkshire Police, said the force had custody suites in each of the force’s police districts, “allowing officers to take prisoners to their nearest suite and limiting the time it takes to do so”.

Interserve was offered an opportunity to comment.