'MP HIGHLIGHTS POLICE CONCERN OVER REFORMS'

Lymington Times – 13 April 2002

Government proposed changes to police pay and conditions have caused morale in the Hampshire force to fall to its lowest for 25 years, New Forest East MP Julian Lewis told the House of Commons. He was quoting from letters he had received from local police officers who warned that if the changes were approved more officers would leave, meaning manpower resources would be stretched even further.

One officer wrote:

"There was a time when the five operational stations within the New Forest Division were staffed with five detective ser­geants and up to 20 detective constables. Now it is two detective sergeants and 11 constables. The pressures on the officers within the New Forest and Hampshire as a whole are immense ... we are reaching breaking point and offering a sub-standard service to the public".

"If these proposals were to be implemented in their current state I have no doubt that we would suffer the biggest reduction in numbers ever known ... In fact I wouldn't be surprised to see as many as a quarter of the strength up and leave",

declared another officer.

A third, who said that the reforms were strongly opposed by virtually every officer he had spoken to, warned:

"Morale is at its lowest that I ever recall in almost 25 years' service; it will fall lower".

Dr Lewis said that even Chief Constable Paul Kernaghan had joined the debate by pointing out that the reforms would also give the Home Secretary the power to effectively sack chief constables "at will". He feared that would result in chiefs becoming "obsessed with pleasing the Home Office, regardless of their own professional judgement".

"I hope that the Government will not lock themselves into a corner on police reform, but realise they have made an honest mistake, backtrack and recognise the debt that we owe to those people who maintain law and order on our behalf and on behalf of our families",

stated the MP.

Praise for Superintendent Paul Colley

Earlier in the debate, Dr Lewis recalled that last November he had criticised the centralisation of policing and the "invisibility" of officers in Totton and other parts of the Waterside.

"I am pleased that since then, there have been very clear steps in the right direction. The new head of the police force for the New Forest, Supt. Paul Colley, is a proponent of the proactive policing that I referred to [in November]. That means going out, looking for trouble and nipping it in the bud before it can develop.

"It contrasts with the centralised and reactive way in which so much policing is carried out today. Supt. Colley has set up a proactive unit that will operate precisely as I have described, and I look forward to seeing how it works in the not too distant future",

added Dr Lewis.