Wednesday April 30, 2014, was a momentous day for me. I made the biggest decision of my professional life and decided that merging the Suffolk Constabulary’s command and control room with Norfolk’s was far too risky and definitely not in the best interests of our county.
The significance of the decision was brought home to me that afternoon when after the public debate and all the media interviews I travelled back to west Suffolk and had the delight of seeing a two-day old Suffolk Punch foal with his mother. This iconic and wonderful animal typifies to me the culture of our ancient and historic county – no nonsense, strong, proud, hard-working and humble. I mention this because I feel very strongly about keeping matters in perspective during these challenging times when it would be very easy to disregard public opinion and enter a brave new world that might be efficient, but could also be remote and devoid of a proper sense of community.
The Chief Constables’ proposals did make sense financially, but this decision is not just about money. The nett benefit to Suffolk from losing the Control Room was £632,000 out of a total projected savings requirement of £16.4 million or for the mathematicians amongst you 3.85 per cent. This was not a make or break decision for Suffolk and I am sure there are other better ways to make up the shortfall.
My role as your PCC is to ensure an efficient and effective police force for Suffolk and a huge part of this is public confidence. Without confidence no matter how efficient, our police force will cease to be effective.
During the debate, the chief financial officers of both Norfolk and Suffolk expressed great concern that the proposals were a step too far, bearing in mind all the other major projects that are currently being managed by the constabularies and it was these concerns plus the overwhelming concern of people throughout the whole county who were against the proposals that made my mind up.
I am absolutely sure that keeping the control room at Martlesham is the right decision for Suffolk.
We obviously need to look at ways to bridge the funding gap and I need to be very clear about this . I want a cast iron assurance that every penny we can save in Suffolk Constabulary has been saved. This is why I am insisting that the Constabulary reviews every areas of its work which will include a full reviews of estates, ICT, public access and community safety and conduct a rigorous zero based budgeting exercise.
I am under no illusion. There are difficult times ahead if we are to meet the savings challenges head on. There is in my opinion huge potential for us in Suffolk to join up areas of common interest across the public and voluntary sectors. This can include sharing buildings, procurement, back office functions, training and blue light collaboration to name but a few. Discussions have already started with local government and the health service and there is considerable enthusiasm for working collectively in Suffolk. This journey will be difficult and time consuming and require flexibility and mutual support but I do believe it can and must be done. The overall level of public expenditure in our county is around £5 billion – a huge amount of yours and my money. Are we really saying we cannot make the savings by working together? So let’s roll up our shirtsleeves and get on with it.
Which brings me back to that Suffolk Punch... This superb breed has endured through times of enormous change – not least the mechanisation of agriculture – but it still endures proud and strong despite all the turmoil and bustle of 21st century life in our county.