Monday, 22 March 2010

Open Letter on Surrey Police Review

This weekend, I wrote an open letter to Surrey Police Authority, based on my own consultations, highlighting the local impact in Elmbridge of Surrey's Operational Policing Review, and requesting further information. You can read the text of the letter below.

Peter Williams
Surrey Police Authority

Dear Peter,


Thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss the Surrey Police Review. I would like to take the opportunity of congratulating you, the Authority and the force on the tremendous job Surrey police do in challenging circumstances – not least given repeated cuts in central funding for Surrey police, and the arbitrary recent caps on the precept raised locally. Whilst Ian Taylor and his Surrey parliamentary colleagues fought hard to improve the financial settlement, I recognise that you were compelled to review the way the force operates given the existing budget. Equally, I was struck by Surrey’s strong performance – across the board – in the recent performance assessment conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Local Consultation

I support the overall thrust of the Operational Policing Review (OPR), designed to cut bureaucracy and increase police numbers on the street. It represents a real opportunity for Elmbridge and Surrey, but it does not come without risks. Given the proportion of funding for local police provided through the precept, not to mention the decline in funding from central government, taxpayers in Elmbridge will legitimately ask whether they are getting bang for the buck.

The consultation process has a long way to go, and I welcome your assurance that there will be opportunity for further local public consultation in due course. Equally, it makes sense to feed in some preliminary issues so that they can be born in mind from the outset. At present, only the executive summary (of the report dated 10 December 2009) is available. Please could you let me know when the full document, or any further more detailed plans, will be made public?

Policing in Elmbridge

As you know, Elmbridge is not a high crime area, but there is no cause for complacency. Domestic burglary has been a concern during the economic downturn, and reported incidents of anti-social behaviour and vehicle crime have risen. According to local crime statistics (police-recorded), violence against the person, non-fatal woundings, harassment and criminal damage have all risen since 2002/3.

On top of these general trends, there are further particular policing challenges for Elmbridge. It is an affluent area, and consequently a natural target for professional criminals from outside the borough. We have a rising population, given the demographic spill-over from London and the South East. There is specific concern about criminal activity from individuals based in Greater London, or linked to our proximity to Heathrow and the M25. These considerations affect Elmbridge disproportionately because of its location. Plans for a service station at Downside may exacerbate the risk that Elmbridge is increasingly regarded by the criminal fraternity as a convenient place to do business.

Local Police Stations

With these considerations in mind, I will seek to assess the impact of the OPR in Elmbridge according to whether the overall police presence, visibility and responsiveness in the borough is likely to improve or decline.

When the OPR was announced, I welcomed the Authority’s pledge that ‘no police station will be closed unless better alternatives to serve the public can be provided’. I appreciate that the OPR intends to look at the opportunity of finding more suitable local premises for the police, with visibility and accessibility as key criteria. I would be grateful for an update on which local stations will be subject to review, the range of replacement options under consideration, and whether you have considered partial sale, leaseback or other models that have been adopted in other local contexts? If you look at local public buildings used for other purposes, will any current services or operational capacity be lost, or hours of opening reduced?

You will also appreciate the sensitivities in Cobham and Molesey, where our dedicated volunteers man the police stations – with substantial local support. I would urge you to consult closely with the volunteers to ensure their support for local changes. Equally, there will be acute concern over any suggestion that Esher station be closed, as the only fully-functional station serving the constituency.

Police on Frontline

The stated aim of the OPR is to create the savings to provide up to 200 more frontline officers across the county. With this in mind, residents in Elmbridge will need to be re-assured that local assets are not being sold off to fund policing outside of the borough. Given the revenue likely to be derived from existing real estate in the borough, it would be useful to know in due course how many of the 200 extra officers would serve in Elmbridge. Taking into account the 11 boroughs in Surrey, and the need to bolster cross-county operations (dealing with serious crime), it would seem reasonable to expect that Elmbridge receive 10 to 15 additional police officers for local policing. What estimate have you made in this regard?

Finally, I would like to place on record my sincere doubts that any of the reported considerations of mergers with Sussex or the Metropolitan police could benefit the residents of Elmbridge, or indeed Surrey, given the higher rates of crime in those areas. I would greatly appreciate your keeping me informed of further developments. Given the widespread interest, I am copying this letter to the Chief Constable and Ian Taylor MP, and making it publicly available.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Raab

Conservative Candidate for Esher & Walton


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