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Surrey Police Cuts Back on PCSOs as PCC Increases Her Staff Budget by 30%

Published on: 14 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 17 Apr, 2022

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey’s police and crime commissioner is hiring a new communications officer at the same time as the cash-strapped Surrey Police is losing 22 PCSOs, because “residents don’t know what the police and crime commissioner does”.

Surrey’s Conservative PCC Lisa Townsend, who was elected last May and sets the budget for Surrey Police as well as her own office, is increasing her office’s operational budget this year by 30 per cent, from £1.12 million to £1.45 million.

This is just to fund running costs, not to commission services to prevent crime or support victims and witnesses. That is a separate budget of £3.19 million, a rise of just 3.7 per cent on last year.

The PCC panel, made up of councillors from across Surrey whose role is to hold the PCC to account, recommended when the budget and council tax was set back in February that the PCC “should not increase the budget of her office using funds which could instead be provided to Surrey Police, as the panel is of the view that such funds would be better used to support the force’s operations”.

Ms Townsend told the panel: “I think with regard in particular to communications it is probably true that residents don’t really know what the police and crime commissioner does.

“Whilst I accept that these are challenging times for the force financially, I am only putting back in place resources that have been run down over many years.

“I firmly believe that will then enable my office and I to have greater engagement with residents and therefore be more responsive to their needs and concerns.”

Cllr Paul Kennedy

Panel member Paul Kennedy, a Mole Valley district councillor, said: “The panel supported a higher precept on the basis that the force wouldn’t have to make these cuts.

“We were told if we didn’t agree to the £10 council tax increase they would have to cut PCSOs – now it turns out they’re cutting them anyway.

“If the PCC wasn’t adding £450,000 to her own budget, there’d be more to pay for PCSOs who are at the frontline in targeting antisocial behaviour.”

An email to all Woking councillors from the borough commander this month revealed that Surrey Police is required to cut their 118 police community support officers (PCSOs) down to 96 over the coming financial year as part of budget savings, a loss of 22.

Inspector Kit Moc said this was because “Surrey Police need to make a substantial amount of savings”. The force needs to save nearly £17 million over the next four years.

Up to 22 PCSOs are expected to either leave or go on to become police officers over the next year and the Surrey Police has now confirmed it will not be recruiting to replace them.

The Government’s Operation Uplift programme, commonly known as Boris’s Bobbies, does not allow the force to freeze recruitment of police officers or make any redundant.

The PCSO positions will be replaced by some of the 98 police officers which must be recruited through this programme this year anyway, in order to qualify for the Government’s ringfenced £1.7 million which is only paid upon successful delivery of the new officers.

Cllr Kennedy (Liberal Democrats, Fetcham West) added: “The government’s priority is recruiting police officers, but you don’t want a hospital just run by doctors, you need nurses and cleaners too.

“The police’s share of council tax bills increased by 3.5 per cent but part of this and future tax rises will be used to radically expand the size of the commissioner’s office and hire more communications staff to promote its own role. Surrey Police meanwhile are being asked to deliver increased savings.

“Residents keep telling me they want to see more visible and responsive policing and a much better performance in solving crime. An expansion of the commissioner’s office coupled with a well-paid deputy does none of that.”

He also had concerns there may be more cuts to come: “Surrey Police has been told to target an eight per cent vacancy rate, that’s 160 posts so who else is being cut?”

Deputy PCC Ellie Vesey-Thompson.

The PCC takes a salary of £71,400 and her deputy, Ellie Vesey-Thompson is paid £54,620.  Together, including such things as National Insurance and pensions, they cost the public just over £175,000.

Ms Townsend appointed the 26-year-old back in July in spite of the police and crime panel voting against her appointment. The deputy role was reinstated by the commissioner after her predecessor decided not to have one.

Her budget for other staff is rising 30 per cent to about £818,500. The Surrey PCC office currently employs 13.7 full-time equivalents, which Ms Townsend says is the fourth smallest in England and Wales.

The new budget will allow recruitment of a contact and correspondence officer, partnership and criminal justice officers and a head of communications and engagement.

The amount spent on communications and engagement is more than doubling, to just shy of £56,000.

The reduction in the county’s PCSOs, whose purpose is partly to reassure and engage the public, comes at a time when 23 per cent of the 5,871 anti-social behaviour incidents reported to Surrey Police in 2021 were not attended by police.

This has been confirmed by a Surrey Police spokesperson who said: “To contribute to savings that need to be made across the force, we will be slowing down recruitment of police community support officers in order to reduce the number to 96, 22 posts fewer than currently.

“This will be done over the course of the next financial year, April 2022 to March 2023 and will not involve redundancies.

“We know how important a visible police team with local knowledge is to residents and our partners in each of our boroughs.

“We are allocating additional police officers so there will be no reduction in numbers in our borough Safer Neighbourhood Teams and we will keep a strong blended mix of police officers and PCSOs in these key frontline posts.”

Ms Townsend told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “My proposed precept increase which went before the police and crime panel in February was firmly based on ensuring policing levels were maintained over the coming year in a tough financial climate.

“How Surrey Police resources are distributed and used is an operational decision for the force. However I have spoken to the senior team and they have assured me that those PCSO posts that will be reduced are being replaced with new warranted officers.

“I am extremely conscious that any decision to increase the budget of my office cannot be taken lightly but equally, I need to make sure it is properly equipped to ensure that all the responsibilities and functions of the PCC role can be discharged effectively and efficiently.

“These additions will mean in practice that people who contact the office or want to submit a complaint have their cases properly managed in a timely way and we can do more work with partners across the criminal justice system to drive much-needed improvements and with community safety partners to tackle issues such as anti-social behaviour in Surrey’s communities.

“It is important to set this increase in the context of the wider police budget for which I am responsible – my office accounts for just 0.5 per cent of the total budget for which I am responsible.”

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test 2 Responses to Surrey Police Cuts Back on PCSOs as PCC Increases Her Staff Budget by 30%

  1. Joe Taylor Reply

    April 14, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    In the year since Lisa Townsend was elected, what tangible benefit has she had? For the price of the PCC and their deputy, we could afford 7 PCSOs based on a starting salary of £24,229. Taking into account her whole staff budget we could hire 33 PCSOs.

    For someone who claims to have a background in community campaigning and communications, it’s quite hard to ascertain what impact she has made. A good starting point would be some statistics or initiatives she has worked on, you don’t need a communications officer to do that.

    Her Police and Crime Plan page on her website is simply a link to a survey. What vision does she have? Does she have any ideas of her own? Are we meant to pay her wages and come up with ideas for her too?

    A quick scan of her Twitter feed shows she seems to be more preoccupied with making it harder for trans people to go about their lives than she is with helping to reduce crime in Surrey.

    With all the cuts made to policing by central government, how can we really justify this superfluous office?

  2. Barry Jutsum Reply

    April 15, 2022 at 10:23 am

    What a waste of money yet again by the PCC. How come the previous PCC member worked on his own?

    It is an indication that the incumbents are not suitable for the post.

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