Leader questions 'cheap' PCSO plan

A CALL for help with funding police community support officers across North Somerset has been labelled outrageous by the council leader.

A CALL for help with funding police community support officers across North Somerset has been labelled 'outrageous' by the council leader.

Councillor Nigel Ashton described the PCSOs as 'a cheap way of getting uniforms on the streets' and told senior police officers North Somerset Council could not afford to plug a £211,000 black hole.

The request came at a meeting of the authority's community services and scrutiny panel.

District commander Kay Wozniak and chief inspector Nick Walker explained Avon and Somerset

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Police Authority will pay for 81.25 per cent of the costs of PCSOs when Government funding stops in March 2008, but asked the council to pick up the balance of £211,000.

At the meeting on September 5, Cllr Nigel Ashton said: "We do not have the funding either. I think it is outrageous for the Government to announce recruiting 16,000 more PCSOs when it is only funding 12,000 of them and to hit the council taxpayer for the service."

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The two police officers were asked to justify the existence of PCSOs in terms of their remit and targets.

Chief Insp Nick Walker defended their role and also discussed the force's stronger safer neighbourhoods policing strategy to be officially unveiled in March next year, which involves teams of PCSOs, PCs and a sergeant being dedicated to specific areas around the district.

Cllr Ashton added after meeting: "We are totally supportive but it seems to me this is a cheap way of getting uniforms on the streets when people want police officers on the streets.

"Their power does seem to be restricted and I question whether PCSOs are the answer."

Police authority chairman Dr Moira Hamlin has denied the funding gap will have an impact on PCSOs in North Somerset and the force's neighbourhood policing plans.

She said: "Late last year the Government announced a change to the Neighbourhood Policing Fund.

"The police authority made up some of the shortfall and, in line with Government recommendations, has asked the councils to make up the difference, with the option of funding extra PCSOs if they wish.

"Talks have been ongoing with all our local authorities in recent months and the police authority has generally been making positive progress.

"Sadly, it seems that due to its own budgetary challenges, North Somerset Council has been unable to commit to us on this initiative.

"Despite this, the police authority has listened to the public and is fully committed to neighbourhood policing and the important role that PCSOs play.

"That is why we are taking our time to explore all the options thoroughly before our next full police authority meeting, when we hope to come to an appropriate solution.

"Funding is in place for all the PCSOs currently working within the Avon and Somerset force area, and will be for the future.

"PCSOs provide an extremely valuable and appreciated high-profile uniform presence in our communities.

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