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Police stations to face the axe
POLICE and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill is set to announce the closure of police stations across Dorset, the Echo can reveal.
Mr Underhill, revealed the news to a group of teenagers but is yet to make the announcement to the wider public. He made the comments at the regional forum of the UK Youth Parliament.
He refused to comment on what he had said when questioned by the Echo after the session.
He revealed the plans at a meeting attended by about 30 people including members of the youth parliament, youth workers and West Dorset District Councillor Alastair Chisholm.
The Echo had been invited to cover the meeting by the organisers of the youth forum.
During the forum with the group of teens, he also said some police station front desk opening times would be halved.
He did not stipulate how many or which police stations would be closed or give any more details on the front desk times.
The Echo reported earlier this week that underused and empty buildings are costing Dorset Police £2.1 million a year – enough to hire 60 extra police officers.
Mr 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.
Reacting to the news of the proposed closures, Dorset Police Federation chairman Clive Chamberlain said: “It’s a sign that the police service is struggling to deliver because of the dire financial position that has been imposed on us by the government. The losers in all of this are the people of Dorset.
“If they close stations it means officers will have to travel further to get to incidents. This might add on to response times.
“We pay more here for our police service than anywhere else in the country. We are the worse funded force in the country.
“We are continuing to pay more for the loss of our service and these are difficult decisions that have to be made by the PCC and the chief constable.”
He added that anyone with concerns should write to their MP because they may have ‘voted in favour of the cuts that have been imposed on Dorset Police.’ Fears over the future of some of the county’s police stations re-surfaced in July when Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said further cuts meant closures and collaboration with other forces could be needed.
Alistair Chisholm, who was at the conference, confirmed Mr Underhill had made the comment.
He said: “I did hear him say it.
“He has something like a 25 percent cut in his budget and in the course of his talk, like anybody with common sense, he said there is no way he can please all of the people all the time.
“If you have a huge cut in your budget, you have to prioritise.”
Speaking of the front office closures, Coun Chisholm added: “You could say ‘what’s the point of a police station if it’s not open?’ “On the other hand, what’s the point of a manned police station if it means you have got a couple of bobbies stuck in there, not on the streets?
“I don’t think he has any choice and I think that’s part of what he knew he was taking on.”
He added: “He would rather have officers on the ground. And the phrase that was used by one young person he picked up on was someone who is stuck ‘between a rock and a hard place.'"
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