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'Closures will not affect local policing'

Force and the ?unlucky 13? loss of public face
Published - 01/02/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

A move to close 13 police station front counters has been described as “beyond comprehension”.

Staffordshire Police remains adamant it will “continue to evolve” to meet modern-day policing demands with just three public desks providing “good levels of accessibility” in serving a regional and city population of more than a million.

The force cites the combination of footfall halving in two years plus a huge investment in mobile technology and online access development for making it “easier and more convenient” in future to “get in touch”.

Some 38 frontline staff and managers, who were informed before Christmas their jobs hang in the balance, have reportedly penned a letter deriding the justification for the closures as “beyond comprehension”.

No date has been given for when the front desks will close and it is hoped to redeploy as many of the affected staff as possible to avoid redundancies, the force says.

In an ‘upbeat’ message for the public, Assistant Chief Constable Jenny Sims told Police Oracle: “The reduction in the number of front office counters will not affect local policing and officers will continue to have visibility and work as part of the increased community policing teams across the county.

“As part of this the public will be able to get access to their local officers via drop-in surgeries, police posts and other locations such as partners’ offices, not just via traditional stations which are often not convenient for people.

“Staffordshire Police will be there when you need us and we are transforming the way we work to better serve communities in an ever changing digital age.”

The force says much of the demand for front office counters’ staff is administrative or transactional – with the vast majority allied to property-related issues. Most can be done more efficiently and conveniently online or by phone, it maintains.

Registered sex offenders will continue to report to the front office locations that remain open to the public a, as required by legislation.

Staffordshire says it had a “full consultation” with its staff and Unison before deciding to keep front counters open – at Burton, Cannock and Longton – which provide “good levels of accessibility” to people across the county.

The stations and offices which will no longer be open to the public are Burslem, Cheadle, Hanley, Kidsgrove, Leek, Lichfield, Newcastle, Rugeley, Stafford, Stone, Tamworth, Uttoxter and Watling Street .

The changes mean Stafford and South Staffordshire will be without a police station residents can visit, with the nearest being based in Cannock.

Cannock Chase District Council leader George Adamson branded the closures “unacceptable”, decrying the lack of a “public face for policing” in a town as large as Rugeley.

Crimes in Staffordshire went up eight per cent from 2016-17 to 2017-18, according to latest figures.

Meanwhile, Britain’s biggest regional force has confirmed it intends to close a police station despite the town’s MP “welcoming” the news it had been saved.

MP James Morris has fought a three-year campaign over a 2015 decision by West Midlands Police to axe 24 stations, including the one in Laurel Lane, Halesowen, as part of an estate programme to free-up £5 million a year to invest in improving police buildings and protect 100 officer posts.

The force promised that no police building currently open to the public would close without first being replaced by a more efficient one nearby.

But the Halesowen one did not fall into this category as it was already closed to the public.

And the Halesowen and Rowley Regis MP admitted the future of the station had caused “more than three years of worry and confusion for local residents, and placed doubt on the base for local police teams” but claimed this week he had been led to believe it had been saved, stating: “Following a meeting with local police I am pleased that Halesowen station will remain open, and new teams will be using the site, including the West Midlands police driving school. This is good news for Halesowen, and will reassure local residents.”

But the West Midlands force was quick to respond, explaining the station will close in 2021, at the end of the force’s six-year upgrade.

A force spokesman told Police Oracle: "Halesowen police base – which is not open to the public – will remain in place until the end of the estates programme at which point it will close as originally announced.

"Like many historic police buildings, Halesowen is large, under-utilised and expensive to run.

“The proposal to close the base does not mean residents lose a police presence in their area and teams will continue to work and patrol in the community as they do now.

"While disposing of police buildings is never an easy decision to make, the plan will improve efficiency and ensure more officers are able to remain in post in the West Midlands force area."

The nearest police station which has a front desk which is open to the public is five miles away in Bank Street, Brierley Hill. 

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