Mr. Nick Alston, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, will be attending the meeting of the Committee.
Members of the Committee and representatives of local councils have been invited to submit specific questions that they would like to raise with Mr. Alston at the meeting. In accordance with the usual practice of the District Council, notice of all questions submitted were provided to Mr. Alston in advance of the meeting.
The Chairman welcomed the Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston, to the meeting. Mr. Alston was supported by Chief Inspector Denise Morrissey of Essex Police, who had overall responsibility for the operational policing of the Epping Forest District.
The Committee was advised that the Police and Crime Commissioner had no agenda for presentation to the meeting and was willing to respond to questions or concerns on any local policing matters. Members and local councils had been invited to provide prior notification of any specific questions that they wished to raise with Mr. Alston and, in accordance with the usual practice of the District Council, notice of all such questions submitted had been provided to the Police and Crime Commissioner in advance of the meeting. Members of the Committee and representatives of local councils were also invited to raise specific questions with Mr. Alston and Chief Inspector Morrissey, concerning local policing arrangements across the Epping Forest District.
Halloween Disturbances – North Weald Bassett
Councillor S. Jackman of North Weald Bassett Parish Council sought assurances from the Police and Crime Commissioner in respect of public order disturbances that had occurred in North Weald on the evening of 31 October 2015. Mr. Alston advised the Committee that Halloween night was traditionally a very busy period for Essex Police, but that he was satisfied that the response of the force to the issues experienced in North Weald had been appropriate and that no calls to Essex Police had gone unanswered. Councillor Jackman reported that Chief Inspector Morrissey was to attend a meeting of the Parish Council in the near future to discuss the Police’s local response to the public order disturbances in greater detail.
Remembrance Day Parades – Police Support
Councillor K. Angold-Stephens of Epping Forest District Council sought an indication from the Police and Crime Commissioner of the reasons why the withdrawal of Essex Police support from the recent Remembrance Day parades was apparently made at such short notice. Councillor Angold-Stephens reported that this approach had not allowed the Royal British Legion or local councils sufficient time to secure the necessary permissions to close roads traditionally associated with such parades.
Mr. Alston advised the Committee that of the approximately ninety parades held across Essex on Remembrance Day, only those scheduled for Epping and Loughton in the Epping Forest District (and Hadleigh elsewhere in the county) appeared to have encountered organisational difficulties with regard to road closures, although not all parades required such arrangements to be in place. Mr. Alston reported that the decision to withdraw police support from Remembrance Day parades had not been taken lightly, but was reflective of the financial situation currently faced by Essex Police. The Committee noted that the decision to withdraw support for parades had been taken by Essex Police in the Summer, but had only been communicated to the District Council in early September 2015, which had left the Council with insufficient time to complete statutory procedures for the temporary closure of the necessary roads.
Mr. Alston accepted that the timing of the confirmation of Essex Police to its future approach to the management of Remembrance Day parades had not been ideal, but that he would be facilitating meetings between relevant councils and the British Legion in the new year, to share learning and understanding of the powers available to the District Council to ensure the continued success of the parades going forward. The District Council confirmed that it had already undertaken to routinely waive all fees and charges associated with temporary road closures for Remembrance Day parades from 2016.
Police Stations – Closure
The Police and Crime Commissioner reported that it had been necessary for Essex Police to undertake a thorough review its property estate, to reflect the need for a more modern headquarters complex and the declining customer requirement for traditional ‘front-counter’ police stations, whilst also addressing service needs and the modernisation of arrangements for public contact with the Police. The Committee noted that the current property portfolio of Essex Police was generally in poor condition and required significant maintenance investment.
The Committee noted that the rationalisation of the Police’s property estate meant that the existing police station in Epping was likely to close (although no decision to this effect had yet been taken) and that Loughton Police Station might therefore form the ‘police base’ for the Epping Forest District in future. Mr. Alston confirmed that any closure of current police station facilities in the District would not result in reduced levels of policing services to local residents. Councillor C. Whitbread, the Leader of the District Council, reported that officers were currently working with Essex Police to identify possible options for the co-location of police officers within the Civic Offices complex on a partnership basis, to address any closure of Epping Police Station. The Police and Crime Commissioner indicated that he wholeheartedly welcomed such partnership approaches with the District Council.
Councillor R. Morgan of Matching Parish Council expressed concern with regard to current delays in the renewal of shotgun licences by Essex Police. The Police and Crime Commissioner reported that this matter was currently an issue of concern across the county that he was already aware of. Mr. Alston indicated that it was essential that licences were only issued after the necessary checks on the suitability of applicants had been completed, but that the current delays were clearly unacceptable. The Police and Crime Commissioner also reported that the charges currently applied for shotgun licences did not cover the costs of the police in undertaking the licensing process and that he intended to review the existing charging regime as a matter of urgency.
Essex Police Precept
Councillor G. Chambers of Epping Forest District Council asked the Police and Crime Commissioner whether the Essex Police precept was likely to be increased above 1% for 2016/17. Mr. Alston reported that only one-third of the funding of the force was met from the precept and that residents of Essex currently paid less for police services than most other areas in the country. Whilst Mr. Alston felt that the precept should therefore ideally be increased by approximately 17.5% to address this deficit, the Commissioner reminded the Committee that precept increases above 2% would be required to be subject a local referendum that would be likely to cost in the region of £2m. Mr. Alston indicated that the experience of other police forces suggested that it would be an inappropriate use of resources to pursue such a referendum.
Police Community Support Officers
Councillor A. Patel of Buckhurst Hill Parish Council indicated that his council remained supportive of the local employment of Police Community Support Officers (PSCO) and wished to pursue this approach, notwithstanding an unsuccessful recruitment exercise earlier in the year that was considered to be due to the uncertainty of future funding for PCSO provision.
The Police and Crime Commissioner confirmed that Essex Police remained committed to the provision of PCSOs, even though their number was likely to reduce significantly in future. Mr. Alston welcomed the interest of local councils in supporting PSCO provision financially, although the Committee was disappointed to note that it was not possible for PCSOs to be appointed to specifically serve particular areas and that the allocation of PSCO responsibilities would remain with Essex Police and might need to be directed towards priorities in other geographic areas, when required by policing circumstances.
The Committee expressed reservations at the possible future reduction in the number of PCSOs in Essex and the likely consequent loss of information and intelligence at ‘street-level’.
Savings and Efficiencies
Councillor S. Neville of Epping Forest District Council sought an indication of the likely level of savings to be generated by the rationalisation of Essex Police’s property estate, the reduction in the current number of Police Community Support Officers and other ongoing efficiency measures.
Mr. Alston advised that savings and efficiencies were likely to be in the order of £11m and that a significant amount of the capital receipts that would accrue from the reduction in the number of Essex Police’s operational properties would be used to fund the construction of a modern headquarters building for the force, at a site still to be identified. As a result, it was not possible to ringfence savings from specific areas, such as from the possible sale of the Epping Police Station site, for reinvestment in police services for particular areas. Mr. Alston confirmed however that operational running cost savings arising from savings and efficiency measures would be reinvested in the provision of front-line police services for Essex.
Councillor J. Knapman of Chigwell Parish Council questioned why the savings and efficiencies proposals of the Police and Crime Commissioner had not been included within his initial manifesto and suggested that a more open-minded approach was needed to local policing arrangements. Mr. Alston indicated that Essex Police would continue to manage an operational base on the Limes Farm Estate at Chigwell where appropriate, notwithstanding that Chigwell Parish Council had engaged the services of a private security company to ‘police’ the estate.
In response to a question from Councillor S. Watson of Buckhurst Hill Parish Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner confirmed that his savings and efficiency proposals would have no negative effect on the safety and security of the Epping Forest District, particularly given its proximity to both London and Stansted Airport. Mr. Alston reported that, in the wake of the recent atrocities in Paris, the Prime Minister had announced additional funding for high-level counter-terrorism activity.
Councillor C. C. Pond of Essex County Council suggested that there was a need for increased police ‘volunteering’, through existing arrangements for the engagement of Special Constables. The Police and Crime Commissioner reported that there were currently 370 appointed Special Constables across Essex, including twelve rural area officers. Whilst Mr. Alston expressed his full support for the Special Constables and increased funding was available for their provision, he felt that it would be more desirable and effective to have greater flexibility over their deployment on general policing matters and allocation to specialist teams. The Committee was advised that over one-hundred volunteer Police Cadets had also been appointed throughout Essex.
The Police and Crime Commissioner confirmed that Essex Police also remained committed to the provision of casualty reduction measures across the county and, although the number of specialist officers that were part of the force’s Road Traffic Unit had been maintained to date, these were likely to reduce in future. Mr. Alston confirmed that the operational base of the Road Traffic Unit at Chigwell was likely to be retained as part of the exercise being undertaken to rationalise Essex Police’s property estate.
Essex Community Messaging
S. De Luca of North Weald Bassett Parish Council reported that the Essex Community Messaging service that provided for people to receive information, crime prevention advice and notifications from Essex Police and key partners such as Neighbourhood Watch, was not always up-to-date. The Police and Crime Commissioner undertook to raise specific matters concerning inaccurate information with the relevant officers of Essex Police.
On behalf of the Committee, the Chairman thanked Mr. Alston and Chief Inspector Morrissey of Essex Police for their attendance at the meeting.