SANDWELL: Anger over closure of police stations
Cllr David Fisher. Copyright Sandwell counci
Three police stations will close in Sandwell in a decision slammed as ‘unprecedented and hostile’ and which will make people’s lives worse.
It comes after a review which will see seven Black Country police stations disappear over the next four years.
Now the leader of the opposition Cllr David Fisher (Cons, Charlemont with Grove Vale) and Cllr Archer Williams (Cons, Princes End) have voiced their disapproval – and said the closure of stations in the borough would lose confidence in their respective wards.
The seven named police stations include Aldridge – which is first to close in winter 2022 – and Wednesbury, which will go the following summer.
Oldbury, Smethwick, Tipton and Wednesfield stations will close in 2024 and 2025. West Bromwich Police Station, meanwhile, will be refurbished and house a number of neighbourhood teams.
Brierley Hill is scheduled to close in autumn 2024 and be replaced by a new ‘super station’ based on Hall Street, Dudley.
West Midlands Police aims to shore up its finances in the face of a multi-million pound budget black hole.
The review has been commissioned by the policing minister Kit Malthouse, who is looking for £120m of efficiency savings from across the law enforcement sector.
In the government’s own provisional police funding settlement for 2021/22, overall funding for the policing system will total up to £15.8 billion, a £636 million increase on the 2020/21 funding settlement.
But in a scathing letter to the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster (Labs), Cllr Williams said the decision was “a step way too far”.
It stated: “Mr Foster, closing the police station is an unprecedented and hostile act toward my people, and I cannot express the level of anger and disappointment I will witness because of your decision.
“You are leaving them behind as Sandwell Labour has done consistently for the past 40 years.
“Mr Foster let’s not play politics with the lives of my constituents, they are good people, they are hard working people that just want their homes and their local community to be safe.
“Why is it so difficult for politicians to do right by people? I will tell you why; it is because many of them take people for granted, making decisions, such as this, that will make their lives worse.”
Cllr Williams claimed police officers travel from as far as Birmingham to respond to crime in his local area, adding the decision was “not about saving money” but about “carelessness, indifference and negligence”.
Cllr Fisher said the logistics behind the move was “totally wrong”.
“At the last Safer Neighbourhoods and Active Communities Scrutiny Board, I asked the chair to write to the Labour PCC, to raise our concerns about the threatened closures of three police stations in Sandwell.
“It raises questions of what is going to happen to our police forces in Sandwell. I understand a lot of staff, such as police community support officers, will be moved to West Bromwich.
“My residents want to know that they will be safe at night. The closure of these police stations will bring unnecessary worry and an increase in crime.”
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Foster (Labs), said the changes will save the force £5m a year, modernise the police estate and protect police officer jobs.
They were put forward by Chief Constable Sir David Thompson and agreed by the region’s PCC last week.
Speaking at a meeting of the PCC’s strategic board on Wednesday, West Midlands Police Chief Constable Sir David Thompson said: “This is £5 million a year that is diverted into policing and not into maintaining buildings. I think everybody would recognise that’s a good thing.”
He said the force was “absolutely committed to keeping teams locally based”.
He added: “These days increasingly, people are getting in touch with their local teams through social media, through Facebook and contact through the force’s website rather than popping into the station – so there are still plenty of ways to meet the team and we do plenty of work to engage locally.”
According to the PCC, no building will be sold without a local base for neighbourhood officers being found, that saves money and keeps the local policing presence. This will mainly be delivered through co-locating in partnership buildings like fire stations. Without this, officer numbers would fall further.
Mr Foster said: “Since 2010 West Midlands Police has lost £175 million, and even after recent and planned increases in officer numbers, we will still be missing 1,000 officers compared to a decade ago.
“I will protect police officer numbers, whilst calling on the government to return our 1,000 missing officers and provide a fair funding deal for the West Midlands.
“These plans will also save money, which will be re-invested in protecting essential police officer numbers to keep people and their families safe and secure. One hundred officer posts a year rely on the £5 million savings from the estates programme. Without those savings officer numbers will fall further.”
Words: Rhi Storer, Local Democracy Reporter
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