Thursday, 23 September 2021

PCSOs face chop in council cuts

Henley Town Centre

Politicians say police should pay for service

UP to six police community support officers in South Oxfordshire are facing the axe.

The district council, which part-funds the roles, is expected to cut £100,000 from its contribution, saying Thames Valley Police should meet the full cost.

The move has already been agreed by the council’s cabinet and a final decision is due to be made when the full council votes on its budget for the forthcoming year at a meeting on Thursday.

There are currently 11 PCSOs covering the Henley and Watlington police sectors. There are two in Henley and others covering surrounding villages including Sonning Common.

One of the Henley officers is part-funded by the town council to the tune of £16,200, which is match-funded by the police. The cost of the other officer is divided between the police and the district council.

Some members of the ruling Conservative group on the district council admit the issue is difficult for them. Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents Woodcote and Rotherfield and is also a Henley town councillor, said he had “misgivings” about cutting funding for PCSOs.

He said: “I understand what my district is saying about it being a role for the police but, actually, it’s a bit wider than that, it’s a role for society. Society should work in partnership with the police.

“When it comes down to it I’m going to be supporting the budget, although I have difficulty supporting the cutting of the PCSO funding because I think they do a valuable job around town. I would like to see the level of PCSOs kept as it is.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier, who represents Henley on the district council and is also a town councillor, said PCSOs did a valuable job and the number should be kept at the current level.

She said: “The police should provide the funding but I do believe where there’s a shortfall we do what we can to help.

“The town council is happy to pick up the shortfall because we do appreciate the need for them.”

Joan Bland, another Conservative district councillor for Henley, said: “The PCSOs are very valuable and do a good job in town but I think the police should be funding them and we really are subsidising the police quite a lot.

“We pick up quite a lot of the bills for CCTV and that’s doing their job for them. I think they should do a bit of homework themselves.”

Richard Pullen, who represents Benson and Crowmarsh, said the PCSOs should be funded by the police.

“We also provide video surveillance at our own expense, which is for the benefit of the police so I think we do quite a lot for them already. They have their own budgets, they should work with them.”

District council chairman Paul Harrison, who represents Sonning Common, said: “Are the police going to pick up the tab or are we going to suddenly lose officers?”

Councillor Robert Simister, who represents Kidmore End and Whitchurch, said the cost of the PCSOs had to be considered as part of the overall budget.

“We have to make sure we spend the public’s money appropriately,” he said.

But Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who represents Henley Residents’ Group on the district council and is also a town councillor, said: “PCSOs perform a vital role in lots of communities in South Oxfordshire.

“I think that for the amount of money involved the district council should put something into the pot. There should be joint funding from the district, the police and local parishes if they want to pay into it too.

“The PCSOs in Henley do a fantastic job. They actually go and knock on people’s houses when incidents have happened.

“They also do a brilliant job in making sure traffic flows around Henley and moving cars that are parked badly. They get it sorted by asking the drivers to move on or giving them a ticket.

“If we going down from two to one, that service is going to be greatly affected.

“Fortunately, there’s fairly low crime rate around Henley but that could be because we have got the PCSOs.”

The district council’s budget report say: “The PCSOs are currently tasked to deal with risk, harm and vulnerability.

“If Thames Valley Police are unable to bridge the gap in funding there could be a reduction of PCSO presence.

“This could contribute towards a decline in feelings of safety for elderly and vulnerable people.

“As PCSOs form a key part of their community safety policing, Thames Valley Police will need to consider any potential impact.”

PCSOs are the face of the police within communities and provide reassurance to residents. 

They target crime hot spots, analyse situations and gather evidence.

They cannot make arrests but their powers include issuing fixed penalty notices, confiscating alcohol and seizing drugs.

They also have the power to stop and search people in authorised areas, to seize vehicles used to cause alarm and to enter and search premises for the purposes of saving life or preventing serious damage to property.

A Thames Valley Police spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment before the council’s decision.

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