Following an extensive review of Dorset Police’s estates and contact management strategy, it has been confirmed that Ferndown divisional HQ will be sold and there will be changes to counter service provision in the area.
The estates review was set up in 2010 aiming to examine and reshape the Force to achieve savings, and to ensure that Dorset Police continue to deliver the best service to communities by creating efficiencies and streamlining functions where possible.
The Force needs to find further savings of £9.5 million by 2015 – the result of continued reductions in central government funding, alongside inflationary cost increases.
The changes to counter services, and the decision to sell Ferndown HQ were ratified after a 12 month consultation process at the Force Strategic Change Board on Wednesday 17 September 2014. The changes will collectively save the Force an estimated £700,000.
Counter service provision is being reduced from 15 to nine locations, with four full time enquiry offices remaining in Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth and Bridport.
Blandford, Gillingham and Sherborne will alternate opening two days each per week, with Swanage and Winfrith operating a ‘sign posting’ facility whereby staff help members of the public with their enquiries by directing them to relevant services.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “This decision has been one of the most challenging faced by Dorset Police in recent memory and, needless to say, it is not one that has been taken lightly.
“I think it is really important to remember that this time last year the Force announced the proposal to close 12 out of the 15 front office counters, and as a result of my intervention and the public intervention, the year long consultation took place which leads us to closing six.
“I know that six front office counters are six too many, but we have to meet our cuts somewhere when we are losing 20% of our budget.”
The initial review of station desk enquiry offices identified that they were an expensive and under-utilised resource, with only a small proportion of visits related to policing matters. Findings showed that in the five year period, 2009 to 2013, some offices received on average less than seven visits a day from members of the public.
Boscombe has been closed since 2012. Verwood and Wimborne have been temporarily closed since May and June 2014 respectively and will not re-open. Shaftesbury, Ferndown, Christchurch, Winton, Dorchester and Wareham will also close as a result of Wednesday’s decision.
Recent surveys indicate that three-quarters of the public prefer to contact Dorset Police by telephone and improvements have already been made to the 101 non-emergency service.
In response to public feedback last year, the Force and PCC announced that work was underway to improve Dorset Police’s online services and that joint agency initiatives would be explored to give members of the public more choice in the ways in which they can make contact and access up to date information.
The decision to sell Ferndown divisional headquarters and transferring 220 members of staff to other areas of the Force will save almost £400,000 a year in running costs – the equivalent of 10 front line officers or 17 Community Support Officers. The estimated value of the site is approximately between £6 and £8 million.
It is expected that the sale of the building and re-location of staff could take up to two years.
The Ferndown Safer Neighbourhood Team will continue to operate in the heart of the town from their local Community Office at the Barrington Centre.
Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said: “Dorset Police is the fourth lowest spending Force in England and Wales and is faced with a very challenging budgetary situation, so difficult choices have had to be made.
“We know that changes of this nature are emotive, however the Force cannot continue to provide the same style of service as in the past while operating with a significantly reduced budget.
“We are committed to providing the best possible service while reflecting true demand and value for money and an organisational change programme continues to improve efficiency and identify savings across the Force.
“The initial proposal to keep just two front counters was changed following extensive consultation with the communities and partner agencies. We have listened carefully to our stakeholders and retained services where they are most needed.
“The Force continues to ensure that there is a policing footprint in every town in Dorset and that we continue to deliver local policing from these locations.”
Dorset Police is already relocating some of its patrolling officers to response policing hubs in east and north Dorset. These locations have been identified to best meet the current and future operational needs of the county.
The Force estate continues to be reviewed in order to meet the financial challenges and operational demands that the police face.
PCC Underhill added: “The public have had a say in this. Police and Crime Commissioners are here to listen to the public, and we have shaped what the police have decided.
“That is the power of the people, and that is the power of the Police and Crime Commissioner.”