Sunday, 31 October 2010

The 'Shock Doctrine' in action? Tory plan to use cuts as fig leaf to hand control of Sussex police stations to Tesco

Like most public sector organisations, Sussex Police is in the throes of a cash crisis. Latest estimates, based on last week's Government Comprehensive Spending Review, suggest that it faces a shortfall of over £50million pounds over the next four years (that's on top of the millions lopped of its budget by the previous Labour Government), and the Chief Constable has warned that over 1,000 jobs (around a qauarter of the workfiorce) could be lost as a result.

Of course this is hardly a surprise : for months now senior officers and members of Sussex Police Authority have been working out how on earth they'll manage to keep crime (and, crucially, the fear of crime) falling, and keep safe neighbourhoods, in the face of all this.

And last Thursday, a meeting of Sussex Police Authority considered a round-up of their efforts.

Dubbed 'Serving Sussex 2015', the force has proposed a veritable smorgasbord of measures to cut costs. Some of them are just common sesnse - and perhaps should have been done years ago: making better use of technology, for example, and using police cars a little more efficiently.

Some of the ideas sound good in principle, but raise as many questions as they answer: offering officers more unpaid leave, for example. Sounds great in theory, but I really can't see how senior officers will be able to manage their staff rotas without recourse to paying officers overtime, something else that bosses hope to cut to save cash.

But some of them really fill me with dread: top of the list a review of the way police stations are run. Obviously there's little point in maintaining a front desk at a police station hardly anyone uses, and as long as there is proper public consultation on what's going on, it may well make sense to close some police stations and offer shared front desk facilities with, say, councils. Perhaps Hove Police station could close, for example, and the police could make themselves available at Hove Town Hall a few minutes walk away. It certainly can't hurt to ask people what they think, anyway.

But East Sussex Council leader Peter Jones suggested during Thursday's meeting that police stations could in future be offered at supermarket check-outs: looking out over the Tesco superstore that dominates the Lewes retail scene, the front-runner to be Tory candidate to run Sussex Police after the introduction of US-style sheriffs in 2012 said he hoped the chain could play host to Sussex Police front desk services soon in the future.

In the Argus, a spokesman for the firm seemed to positively salivate at the idea: after all, they offer pharmacy services, post office counters, opticians - so why not the police stations that would mean another public service would be offered under their roof rather than on the high street - after all, every little helps when it comes to a plan for retail domination.

To be honest, I can hardly think of a worse idea. Tesco has shown itself, time and time again, to have little or no regard for either the law of the land (especially when it comes to serving alcohol to children) - or the commnuities it supposedly serves.

Hardly attributes likely to help Sussex Police deliver effective neighbourhood policing.

But I don't see much evidence that delivering effective policing has got anything to do with this one: it's about achieving two things, as far as I can tell: cutting costs and shifting control of the public sector into private hands, regardless of whether doing so will actually work.

And this latest round of Government cuts is providing the perfect opportunity for proposing the idea: it's the classic 'shock doctrine' approach: enact controversial policy after the naysayers have been metaphorically kicked in the nuts.

No wonder people are so angry that almost 1,000 of them marched through the streets of Brighton in protest yesterday (pictured). If Sussex Police wants to avoid that anger being directed towards its review of police stations it had better drop this scheme. People might be able to cope with Hove or Hollingbury Police Stations moving, but not if they re-open in Tesco supermarkets.

2 comments:

  1. At least the public would see the police in action and maybe, just maybe, they would act
    within the law. See 'Brighton Scandal' for details of how our family suffered.

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  2. I am actually speechless at this proposal! Seeing as there have been very regular protests in the Lewes Road area about the opening of a Tesco Metro on the community garden site, I think it very unlikely that Brighton's constiuents would stand for this. I for one would fight that every step of the way.

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