Villages angry at £30,000 police bill

PUBLISHED: 14:32 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 May 2010

POLICE have threatened to leave the district with one less Community Support Officer (PCSO) unless a demand for £30,000 of funding is met by two parish councils. Redbourn PCSO Allison Dewar is transferring to the Yorkshire police this month and councillo

POLICE have threatened to leave the district with one less Community Support Officer (PCSO) unless a demand for £30,000 of funding is met by two parish councils.

Redbourn PCSO Allison Dewar is transferring to the Yorkshire police this month and councillors have been told that she is "highly unlikely" to be replaced due to a lack of funds.

Herts Police has asked Redbourn and Wheathampstead Parish Councils to come up with match funding amounting to £15,000 each or else they will have to share the Wheathampstead PCSO, Jo Merritt, who will be forced to split her time between the two villages. This has caused outrage among local councillors who are angry with the police for holding them to ransom over the matter and fear the consequences if the resources are cut.

Redbourn district councillor Tony Swendell said the way police had approached the matter was "virtually blackmail".

He explained that it was unrealistic and disgraceful to expect a parish council of Redbourn or Wheathampstead's size to come up with the money when their budgets were calculated a year ahead with extremely tight precepts.

Cllr Swendell, who is also a former Detective Chief Superintendent, said the village was "devastated" to see PCSO Dewar leave and even more upset that she might not be replaced Together with Wheathampstead district councillors Chris Oxley and Paul Edelston, he maintained that it was wrong to force local residents to fund PCSOs through their parish council precept when they already paid increasing amounts towards the police force through other taxes.

Cllr Oxley, who is the district council's portfolio holder for resources and efficiencies, also said that expecting PCSO Merritt to cover two patches would put an "impossible burden" on her and it would be very hard for her to even begin to form an association with the Redbourn community within the shorter time frame.

PCSOs are uniformed civilian support staff who help tackle anti-social behaviour, nuisance and quality-of-life problems but they have no powers of arrest. They were originally funded by Central Government grants but their cost has gradually been handed down to the local police authority and other bodies.

In the last year Herts County Council paid out £1.5 million towards the cost of the 250 PCSOs in the county even though a separate precept in the council tax bill is for police funding.

St Albans chief inspector Sue Wheatley confirmed that PCSO Merritt would cover both villages when PCSO Dewar left Redbourn. She added: "Redbourn will now be like all other wards in St Albans District and will not have its own dedicated PCSO. There is currently no funding provided by the local council to enable the police to increase PCSO numbers within the Harpenden, Redbourn and Wheathampstead area."

She said that allocation and deployment of PCSOs throughout Herts was determined by a system which included an assessment of the degree of deprivation in an area and whether councils provided match funding for the posts. "Unfortunately St Albans district does not score highly on these factors."

Inspector Wheatley said that both Redbourn and Wheathampstead Parish Councils were being asked to consider match funding to ensure a dedicated PCSO for the foreseeable future.

She added: "In the meantime we feel our provisions will provide an adequate police presence in Redbourn and Wheathampstead while we try to find a more long-term solution to this issue.

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