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Suffolk: Police control merger bid sparks concerns for lives and livelihoods

PUBLISHED: 23:37 27 February 2014 | UPDATED: 23:44 27 February 2014

The force operations room at Martlesham,

The force operations room at Martlesham,

Battle lines are drawn following a meeting to discuss moving Suffolk’s police control room to Norfolk.

Future of policing:

Opening yesterday’s meeting Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore stressed no decisions would be made on the future of Suffolk’s control room until a later date.

He said: “This is part of a journey. I can absolutely assure everybody no decision has been made and it certainly won’t happen in Suffolk unless I agree to it.

“We need to look at all the options before we can make any decisions. I would like to remind everybody that one of primary responsibilities is to deliver the Crime Plans – one in Norfolk, one in Suffolk.

“I personally take extremely seriously the social and economic impacts of the decisions we make.”

He added any decision made would not lead to a reduction in police performance and he was not prepared for Suffolk policing to be absorbed into a bigger force.

“I am not signing up to a regional approach. I don’t believe that is necessary. I was elected to look after Suffolk. “That is not there for negotiation as long as I am in this post. I am here to look after Suffolk.”

Suffolk’s Chief Constable Douglas Paxton told the meeting although large scale cost-cutting still needs to be made it was important to acknowledge the impact on staff, and decisions would not be taken lightly.

Addressing staff in the room he said: “We are sorry. We are sorry that we have to bring this recommendation. We understand we probably can’t fully know what sat in your hearts when you heard the news that the recommendation would be for pretty much a single site. Our commitment is to work with everyone involved and people are treated with maximum dignity and respect.”

A centralised centre is being considered by the need to cope with savage Government to police force grants brought on by the economic downturn.

It is estimated a combined control room would save £1.844million each year.

Suffolk is not said to be a cost-effective site for a centralised control room as it would cost too much to find a back-up facility if an emergency occurred. Norfolk does not have the same problem.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said he was sceptical about the proposals and remains to be convinced that merging controls rooms would be of benefit to the county’s residents.

Meanwhile, his Norfolk counterpart Stephen Bett is understood to be for the recommendations made by the chief constables of both counties.

Yesterday warnings of the danger a combined 999 command centre could pose were expressed during a public meeting of Norfolk and Suffolk’s Collaboration Panel at Martlesham police headquarters.

Politicians and staff railed against relocating the emergency control centre to Wymondham, or elsewhere in Norfolk.

More than 100 people attended the meeting. In addition to highlighting potential risks, workers told of the devastating impact losing their jobs would have. If the proposals are eventually agreed by Mr Passmore and Mr Bett, the transition would begin in spring next year. It is envisaged a combined control room would be fully operational by the autumn.

Yesterday, a 30-minute segment of the meeting was given to the views of staff and other public representatives.

Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere told the panel: “It is an experiment with the safety of the people in Suffolk. I think you should think very, very carefully about going down that route.”

Members of Unison, which represents many of the workers, and control room staff told of the hazards of moving the command and control centre away from Suffolk. They said it would mean people despatching officers from a location where they were unlikely to have local knowledge of Suffolk or persistent callers and offenders.

With many duplicate road names and villages such as Reydon and Raydon in Suffolk, speakers said the accumulated years of experience they had were vital in dealing with emergency calls.

The ambulance service control room’s move to Hellesdon, Norfolk, was held up as an example of the risks which could ensue following various incidents which have occurred.

Jane Basham, prospective parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk and former candidate for the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, branded the promise of a public consultation on proposals a “sham consultation”.

She said: “It’s disappointing that we appear to be so far ahead and we are only now talking consultation. I believe any future consultation will be a sham consultation.”

Lisa Brown, a control room supervisor who has worked for Suffolk Constabulary for 30 years, spoke of how the despatchers and call takers shared a bond which would be decimated by losing their jobs.She said: “I was very proud to get my job in the control room. You would not just be ripping the heart out of Suffolk as a county, you would be ripping the heart out of a lot of people here.”

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