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Covid, new officers and efficiency top of budget considerations

There are very few positives to take from 2020. But for me one thing to note is that the challenges presented by Covid-19 showed once again the remarkable resilience and professionalism of our police service.

As soon as we were plunged into the first national lockdown back in March, our incredible officers and staff adapted to the new situation and got on with doing what they do best – keeping people safe.

They have been placed on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, enforcing ever changing regulations, often in difficult circumstances and while having to simultaneously deal with regular day to day police work.

This is very much at the front of my mind as I prepare to launch what will be the final budget consultation of my time as Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

Police officer walking down a beach

Like all PCCs, I am required by law to ask the public for their views on raising the precept – the element of a council tax bill that funds local policing.

I have always received great support from Dorset residents. Last year, more than 5,000 people responded to my survey, with 74% saying they were prepared to pay a small extra amount to fund the police.

Consutation launched next week

But I know this support is not something I can take for granted. I will be launching the consultation next week, after receiving the details of the Government’s funding settlement, and I hope you can look closely at what I’m proposing and give me your views.

Many of you shared your opinions last year, telling me you wanted to see more officers and that the police need to make more savings.

What I can tell you is, as part of the Government’s ‘uplift’ programme, the Force is on track to recruit more than their target of 50 new officers. Recruitment went ahead despite national restrictions, and new officers are now playing their part in making our county a safer place.

With planned new intakes early in the new year, Dorset Police is now predicting to have a total of 64 new officers by the end of March – an incredible achievement, made possible by the small increase Dorset residents agreed to pay in their precept. There are also plans to recruit further groups of new officers in the 2021/22 financial year.

Becoming more efficient

In terms of becoming more efficient, the Force has developed a good track record in doing this and has delivered £42m in savings since 2010. They are investing in new technology, including software providing the ability to search thousands of records and speech in seconds, drastically reducing the amount of time officers need to spend doing this work and freeing them up for other duties.

Meanwhile, the Force’s new innovation fund has brought some incredible improvements this year, including the replacement of the old command and control system which logs incoming calls and other pieces of public contact, making sure frontline officers have access to the information they need when responding to calls.

And they have invested in an online system allowing witnesses to provide statements remotely. Not only is this far more convenient for victims of crime, but it saves around two hours of officer time whenever it is used.

But I can also say that Covid-19 has had a cost on the Force. Additional overtime payments, required to enable officers to enforce the new regulations, led to an overspend, while the restrictions meant the loss of income normally received from driver awareness courses.

Training new officers is not a cheap business, and has added to the many other additional costs the Force faces every year.

Need to increase funding 

All of this means that there will be a need to increase funding, and although I am still waiting to see the details, it looks likely I will have to raise some of this locally.

I am well aware that people across our county are struggling. We are an area that relies heavily on the tourist trade, heavily damaged by this year’s restrictions, and the pandemic continues to create economic uncertainty, with many worrying about whether they will have a job in the new year.

This leaves me very frustrated that I will have go out and ask cash strapped local people for their money once again, and I will ensure any increase will only be made if it is absolutely necessary.

Another important piece of feedback I received in last year’s survey was from people saying this money should come from central Government. I couldn’t agree more, and although this is something I am unable to directly affect, I have made this point to Whitehall throughout my time as PCC and will continue to do so.

Please look out for details of my consultation over the next week, in the local press and on social media.

Normally, I would be going out across the county with my team to talk to people directly. Sadly, the pandemic has prevented me from doing this, but I will be holding a series of virtual events early in the new year to answer people’s questions. Again, more details of this will be available soon.

It’s more important than ever that I hear your views, so please keep an eye out and spare a couple of minutes to let me know what you think.

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