Hundreds of civilian ‘beat bobbies’ across West Yorkshire could be axed entirely as cash-strapped police bosses bid to save millions of pounds.
West Yorkshire Police currently employs 612 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who provide frontline assistance to uniformed officers, with 248 pounding the streets in Leeds alone.
Wakefield employs 70 PCSOs; Kirklees 95; Calderdale 38 and Bradford 161.
The PCSOs cost the taxpayer about £5m a year to run, with the police paying 80 per cent of the bill and local authorities 20 per cent.
In Leeds, the council currently co-funds 165 PCSO posts in the city - five for every one of the 33 wards - with West Yorkshire Police paying fully for 130 additional roles in the city centre.
But the force now has to find savings of £13.4m in staff costs over the next three years to help plug an overall £163m shortfall in Government funding. A recruitment freeze is already in place and the YEP understands around 50 roles are currently unfilled.
The current funding - already supported by local level bailouts - runs out in March, and the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is not expected to bring any good news.
There is also a lack of consensus among individual authorities – who contribute to an £85m precept pot for West Yorkshire Police – about the perceived effectiveness of the civilian teams.
Now one senior police officer has revealed that a “problematic conversation” is being had at force level about the question of “Should we have PCSOs at all?”,
Supt Sam Millar was speaking before an internal watchdog committee of Leeds City Council, which contributes £30m to the West Yorkshire Police precept, an additional levy paid by council tax payers.
She said: “Leeds is by far and away the most vocal supporter of PCSOs. So we are not having an easy conversation.
“The problematic conversation at force level is ‘should we have PCSOs at all?’
“The biggest threat to us is that we don’t have a consensus across the five districts.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “PCSOs play a very important role in helping to keep people safe and feeling safe and I remain as committed as ever to ensuring they remain a key part of the neighbourhood policing model.”
However he admitted that funding cuts and a lack of protection for Home Office departments including policing made it “virtually impossible” to maintain numbers.
The comments come just a day after another police chief said bobbies on the beat were “outdated”.
Nick Alston, the outgoing police and crime commissioner for Essex, said: “We need experienced detectives and investigations with better evidence. Bobbies on the beat don’t cut it and I don’t know if they ever did.”
West Yorkshire Police is facing cuts of £152million by 2016/17 and lost more than five per cent of it Government funding this year.
There had been hints of further cuts for PCSOs in the commissioner’s budget for 2015/16, which said “redundancies are likely to be required for both police staff and PCSOs as reductions will be needed over and above natural leavers in order to deliver the savings faster”.
It added that “given the scale of the deficit and the short time frame in which to deliver, the only options available are to reduce police recruitment, increase police staff leavers and PCSOs over the short and medium term”.
However councillor John Procter, of the main Conservative group on Leeds City Council, said it was “pretty much a revelation that there may be no PCSOs moving forward”.
The force is likely to lose 250 non-uniform staff and PCSOs by 2016 and 250 a year later. Numbers could be shaved further by 50 a year after that from 2018 until the books are balanced.
Mr Burns-Williamson added: “Despite severe cuts imposed by government which mean West Yorkshire Police’s budget will have reduced by 30 per cent by 2016/17, I have always done everything I can to protect neighbourhood policing, of which Police Community Support Officers play a key part.
“I am working closely with council leaders to secure matched funding. However, as we heard yesterday from the Chancellor, the Home Office as an ‘unprotected’ department, which includes policing, will potentially have to find up to another 40 per cent of cuts over the next four years.”
Councillor Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive board member with responsibility for Safer Leeds - a partnership with the police - also promised to “do our best to support PCSOs in Leeds as far as we can” but stressed this had to be considered in the context of “the constraints of our budgets”.
“We are very much committed to PCSOs and the invaluable contribution they make to communities, in particular how they help with keeping down anti-social behaviour,” he added.
“I expect Leeds to keep PCSOs although we will inevitably have to have discussions about the number and their role.
“Currently they are protected, thanks to a package of funding put together between us and West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, until the end of March 2016.”