Every crumb counts as PCs boosted

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The Independent Online

The email from the force accountant to senior management at Essex Police arrived in inboxes last week. “Dear colleague,” it began. “Whilst the cost of biscuits and lunches may seem small, the overall force costs totalled more than £135k last year.”

It went on to explain how “with immediate effect”, the bill for tea, coffee and biscuits at meetings would no longer be footed by the force, unless “external delegates” were attending.

The biscuit ban is just one of many cost-cutting measure Essex Police have introduced in an attempt to save money that could be better spent on frontline officers.

And in the one year that Operation Apex, as the initiative is known, has been running, nearly £8 million has been saved, allowing the force to hire 239 extra police constables.

But while management at Essex are extolling the virtues of their frugality, not everyone is happy. Many chief constables in forces around the country are angry at what they perceive to be an insinuation that they are being wasteful with their resources.

Apex, which stands for Ambition For Policing in Essex, started in September last year, aims to make savings of £27m in three to five years, money which will be spent on increasing officer numbers by 600, to more than 4,000.

It was the brainchild of former chief constable Roger Baker, who was well known for his drive to get officers out of offices and on to the beat. He also pioneered other headline-grabbing initiatives such as banning his staff from using email, encouraging them instead to talk to each other.

Many of the Apex savings have been made by applying to bodies for large funding. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), for example, gave the force £1.3m to help recruit more counter-terrorism officers. And the bulk of the savings have come from renegotiating contracts with suppliers.

But many have been made by taking seemingly simple measures to make small savings which, when added up, can equate to the cost of hiring extra officers.

As well as the biscuit ban, other money saving measures include telling all officers to fill up the fleet of 900 police vehicles with the cheapest petrol they can find – this has saved the force £50,000 in a year, the equivalent of the salary for two new recruits.

And they have ordered officers to order the cheapest stationary they can find, an audit even identified how many paperclips the force was using and whether it was necessary. The curb on excess stationary apparently saved £111,000 last year.

The 1,700 printers owned by the force have also been identified as wasteful. By restricting offices to one printer per office the force hopes to save up to £400,000 a year on the cost of paper and maintenance.

The Apex team have also identified a number of police staff positions which have been lying vacant and, should the position not be deemed completely necessary, it has been abolished to create funds to pay a new police officer recruit.

Officers in specialist teams have also been banned from spending money on expensive kit including Oakley sunglasses. And, in possibly the most frugal move, the force have ordered a review on the upkeep of plastic plants that decorate offices. The cost of cleaning and changing the design of displays costs £1,200 a year.

Superintendent Alison Newcomb said: “The really significant thing about Apex is that we are trying to change the culture of policing and eradicate waste from the grassroots upwards.”

She cites the ban on tea and coffee and meetings as an example. Research by the Apex team found that only 15 per cent of catered meetings were attended by external delegates. The other 85 per cent were attended by Essex Police employees alone.

Supt Newcomb explained: “We are saying that if you work for the force you can’t expect to turn up at a meeting and be given free food and drink at our expense. If they want a sandwich or a tea during the meeting, we have a canteen and people can use that to buy their own.”

Roger Baker claims that an extra 20,000 police officers could be placed on the beat nationwide if other forces adopted the same ideas.

Yet the announcement of the savings has not gone down well with other chief officers. A source at Acpo told The Independent that other forces feel that the insinuation from Essex is that other forces are being wasteful.

The source said: “A lot of people are angry about this because Essex are making it sound like there is a one-size fit all solution here when there isn’t. Each force is different and just because Essex have found resources being wasted doesn’t mean all forces are doing the same or able to make the same savings.”

But Simon Reed, the vice chair of the Police Federation, countered: “This model absolutely should be adopted by other forces. The Acpo argument is hard to accept. We all do the same business – policing – and Essex has shown that, by making certain cuts, you can make substantial savings.

“The criticism is that this is unique to Essex, but the public are entitled to ask, why is that? And why should that be?”

Dr Tim Brain, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary and ACPO lead on finances and resources said: "The police service has consistently met its efficiency targets set by the Home Office.

"Its a challenging job. Policing is resource intensive in terms of people, with 81% of most police chiefs’ budgets being spent on our people.

"However, there still may be efficiencies to be found in some forces. Whilst Essex have clearly been able to review its budget, and make some efficiencies, it does not follow that all forces will have the same scope.  It is necessary to avoid making simplistic assessments and judgements".