MORE than 100 police officers are to be axed across Avon and Somerset as part of cost-cutting measures.
Nine custody suites are also to close this year, including Taunton and Bridgwater, but there are no immediate plans to close the county town’s station, the constabulary announced today (January 29).
The cuts come as the force looks to save £8million in 2014/15 and critics fear some towns could be hit hard.
Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne said it is important Taunton does not lose out to bigger places like Bristol and Bath.
He said: “There has been a significant fall in crime in Avon and Somerset over the last decade.
“The police have made a significant contribution, particularly at the neighbourhood level, and I do not want to see this community activity disrupted.
“At the same time, the police do need to strive to achieve good value-for-money. The ideal balance is an efficient police force which continues to effectively protect the public.”
Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: “I welcome the new HQ in Bridgwater but there must be a clear understanding where the police station is going – it needs to be in the town centre as we don’t want cuts to frontline officers.
“As for West Somerset, I’m delighted no PCSO posts are to be cut as they are vital to the area.”
Some 134 police officers will lose their jobs over the next 12 months – 61 of them police constables – and more could go next year after Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said it will have to save £12-15million in 2015/16.
It is not yet known which towns will be hit the worst but Ms Mounstevens said the job losses are significantly lower than she first feared.
Kevin Philips, chairman of the Avon and Somerset branch of the Police Federation, said: “I understand why people may be concerned about crime fears because cuts are invariably going to affect services. Whichever way you look at it the numbers are shrinking.”
Our chief officer team will, between us, hold 29 briefings with staff today across the force: talking to staff about our change programme.
— Nick Gargan (@ngargan_police) January 29, 2014
In total, the force has to save £42million over the next four years to keep in line with the latest Government spending review.
It is also looking at making savings by closing “middle-sized, under-used” stations, said Chief Constable Nick Gargan.
He added Taunton station at Shuttern could move into County Hall or Deane House and talks were ongoing.
Mr Gargan said: “We are cutting down but we are cutting down in a different way because our workforce has told us there’s a different way to do it. We know there will be further cuts ahead.”
Custody suites will be closed as a new multi-million pound operations base opens in Bridgwater this year.
It means people arrested in Taunton will be taken up the M5 to be held – but the Chief Constable maintains there will still be a police presence in the county town.
He added: “There are some difficult decisions ahead but we’ve built an Operating Model solution so we’re better placed to find savings now and in the future.
“So, if it’s a question of closing some police stations, or sharing a base with a council and keeping more officers on the streets then difficult choices will have to be made.”
2763 - Police officers across the force.
134 - Number of police officer posts axed (61 PCs).
9 - Increase in number of police staff.
9 - Custody suites to close.
0 - PCSO posts to go.
1.99% - proposed council tax precept rise.