UNDERUSED and empty buildings are costing Dorset Police £2.1 million a year – enough to hire 60 extra police officers.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill says he is frustrated by private finance initiative (PFI) contracts which were set up in the 1990s.
Weymouth East police station in Dorchester Road is only used by a handful of officers.
Under a PFI contact, which includes Weymouth West police station in Radipole Lane as well as the Dorchester Road complex, the costs amount to £1 million a year.
There are still 26 years left to run on the 30-year deal Dorset Police has for Weymouth East police station.
Poole Police Station, which has a new purpose-built 24-hour custody suite no longer in use, has 14 years left on its 25-year contract.
Mr Underhill said the PFI contracts had become ‘white elephants’.
He said: “I’m so frustrated by this. I’ve tried twice to renegotiate the contract but it’s a cast iron contract.
“That money could put 60 police officers on the streets. It’s happening in every police force in the country. Hundreds of millions are being spent.”
PFI uses private sector money to provide public sector infrastructure, such as new schools and hospitals.
But since the banking crisis, it is seen as an increasingly expensive way of borrowing money, in some cases placing a heavy burden on taxpayers for decades.
Mr Underhill said he and the force’s chief constable Debbie Simpson are in negotiation with other ‘blue light services’ to see if they can make use of the building.
He said that Weymouth East police station has room for 40 police officers but is only used at 25 per cent of its capacity.
“The option is to go and fill the space with our partners such as Dorset Fire and Rescue and approach Weymouth and Portland Borough Council,” he said.
“I’m not having a swipe at Dorset Police Authority on this. Nobody had a crystal ball, PFIs were started when we had a boom, but the economic bust came and we were left picking up the costs.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
'UNACCEPTABLE' COST OF PFI CONTRACTS
CLIVE Chamberlain, chairman of the Dorset Police Federation, echoed Mr Underhill’s concern at the cost of PFI contracts.
He said: “My concern is that the people of Dorset will be paying millions of pounds for buildings which are not being utilised.
“At the time we are losing nearly 500 police officers because they cannot afford to keep them and we are cutting costs everywhere, it seems ludicrous that we are tied in to pay for something which is not being used. It’s totally unacceptable and needs to be sorted as soon as possible.”