Bedfordshire police force could become unviable says Commissioner

ollymartins09:51 Thursday 5th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: We’re also talking about policing, particularly in Cambridgeshire this morning, Olly Martins the Police and Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire warning that his force could soon become unviable, and that we here in Cambridgeshire Police may have to merge or take over. Mr Martin is also threatening to switch on every speed camera and raise the council tax charge. So we’re asking this morning, merger a good idea? Ed Murphy who stood to be Police and Crime Commissioner in the last election in this county for Labour says it might have to happen. We may have to pay a bit more. And certainly Government should be paying a bit more. I’m pleased to say we can speak to the man who’s making waves this morning, Olly Martins from Bedfordshire, the Police and Crime Commissioner. Olly morning.
OLLY MARTINS: Hello there.
PAUL STAINTON: Easier to get you on than Sir Graham Bright. Thank you for coming on . Big ideas. A lot of talking. A lot of scaremongering?
OLLY MARTINS: Well the problem we have in Bedfordshire is that we receive one of the lowest levels of funding per head of population, which only allows us to fund 169 police officers per 100,000 population, as against a national average of 232. And in the Met. thay have 388. But on the flip side of that coin we have the 4th highest level of gun crime per head of population, the 5th highest level of burglary, robbery and vehicle crime, and the 7th highest level of knife crime, together with the terror threat and the serious organised crime challenge. So we look, certainly in the south of the county, we look very much like a London borough. And as I said, the Met. has 388 police officers per 100,000 to police those sort of challenges, and we’ve only got 169. And the Government has just reviewed the police funding formula, which is the calculation they use to divide their police funding up between the 43 forces of England and Wales. And they’ve come back and said that Bedfordshire is going to get exactly the same level of funding that it always got, at the same time as saying that they[re going to give the other five forces in the region, so yourselves in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and Hertfordshire, they’re going to be receiving £33 million extra, when they don’t have the sort of challenges that I’ve just described Bedfordshire has. So that means that when the Chancellor unveils his spending review, and reduces police funding by between 25% and 40%, I’m faced with the prospect of having to reduce our police numbers in Bedfordshire. And that’s why I’m warning that I’m going to have to look at things like switching the speed cameras on. And I’m also warning MPs who represent all the neighbouring forces that this is a problem for them as much as it’s a problem for Bedfordshire, because we could end up in the position where as I’ve said Bedfordshire has to merge or be taken over by another force. And that will effectively mean that people living in those forces will be losing police and paying more, potentially paying higher police precepts, in oder to fill the shortfall that we’re experiencing in Bedfordshire.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you seriously suggesting then that Cambridgeshire Police could be running the policing in Bedfordshire? Because we hear all the time that we haven’t got enough money here.
OLLY MARTINS: Well your financial plight is not dissimilar from ours in Bedfordshire, although your crime challenges.. I mean you’re not at the top of the league table like we are for gun crime and burglary and so on. But yes, the financial situation in Cambridgeshire Police is not dissimilar from that in Bedfordshire. That’s one reason why the three forces, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire are already doing a lot of close working, a lot of tri-force collaboration.
PAUL STAINTON: Are we safe?
OLLY MARTINS: I think that’s a very good question.
PAUL STAINTON: Is our police force fit for purpose in this present day and age?
OLLY MARTINS: Well I can’t comment on policing in Cambridgeshire. I’m the Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire. But I do go out with our officers in Bedfordshire. I do see how hard-pressed they are, how they are relentlessly going from ..
PAUL STAINTON: Are we safe Olly is what I’m asking. Are we being kept safe? Are we being looked after? Are we getting what we pay for?
OLLY MARTINS: Well this is what I’m describing. Our police are very busy. In Bedfordshire, if you divide the number of burglaries, robberies and vehicle crimes by the number of police officers we’ve got, you get the highest number of any force in the country. And I have sat in our control room. And frankly I have watched us run out of units to deploy to the calls that are coming in from the public .
PAUL STAINTON : Is it a matter of time before that happens everywhere in your opinion?
OLLY MARTINS: I think that Bedfordshire is pretty far down the road, and I would say because of those challenges is the worst funded force in the country. But there’s no doubt that there are other forces that are not far behind us.
PAUL STAINTON: Do we all have to pay a bit more? Is that the upshot of it? because you’re talking about sponsorship on uniforms and all sorts, aren’t you, which surely is not going to happen.
OLLY MARTINS: Well these are the options I’m having to look at, because the alternative is reducing the size of my police force, and I just don’t think that’s tenable.
PAUL STAINTON: Should we all pay a bit more?
OLLY MARTINS: Well I think if the Government could come up with a formula that supports the smaller forces. As I’ve described, the formula that they’re consulting on at the moment keeps our funding exactly where it is, even though we’re already one of the lowest forces, and distributes £33 million around the other five forces of the Eastern Region that don’t have anywhere near the pressures that we have in Bedfordshire. So if they could get that bit right, perhaps we wouldn’t have the position of crisis that I’m describing.
PAUL STAINTON : Let me read you what Sir Graham Bright has just sent us. They’ve sent us a statement. He said: “Cambridgeshire constituents shouldn’t worry. We won’t be subsidising Bedfordshire Police. There are no plans to merge the two forces. I do not support the use of advertising on police cars or uniforms either.” So he’s sort of blown you out of the water now, hasn’t he?
OLLY MARTINS: Well this is the difficulty of the current position, that the Government is sticking doggedly to the position that they are only going to allow forces to merge where all parties agree. And quite frankly, if I were Sir Graham, I would be saying I’m not interested in merging with Bedfordshire, because why should he be using his resources and his police officers to bridge the shortfall that we’ve got in Bedfordshire? That’s why the onus really is on the Government. But I think it is an issue for Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament. They should be lobbying the Government about the Bedfordshire issue as hard as Bedfordshire MPs are, because otherwise we are going to be in the position where Bedfordshire is not viable. And then what happens?
PAUL STAINTON : Are you just going to close the doors?
OLLY MARTINS: Well I can’t do that. But I can hand the keys to Bedfordshire Police back to Theresa May and say, here you are, you need to sort it out.
PAUL STAINTON: And that might mean that Sir Graham Bright has got to pick up those keys. And we might have to pick up the slack. Olly, thank you very much for that. Olly Martins, who’s the Police and Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire, claiming that his force could soon become unviable, due to all these cutbacks, and Cambridgeshire police force getting more money than his, saying that he might have to hand the keys back at some point. And it might be inevitable that our forces have to merge whatever Sir Graham Bright has to say.