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New commissioner's decisions will shape the future of policing in Devon and Cornwall

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 19, 2012

The new police and crime commissioner will take charge half way through a four-year, £50 million cuts programme in Devon and Cornwall which will result in officer numbers falling from 3,500 to 2,810 by 2015

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Devon and Cornwall's new police and crime commissioner faces a hectic first few months in office, with key decisions which will shape the future of policing in the region for years to come.

The Government created the position to replace unelected police authorities in a landmark move to bring an unprecedented level of accountability into local policing.

However, they take charge halfway through a four-year, £50 million cuts programme in Devon and Cornwall which will result in officer numbers falling from 3,500 to 2,810 by 2015. Hundreds of police staff posts are also being axed.

The existing budget cuts put even more pressure on setting the level of council tax precept for policing next year with warnings that accepting the Government's deal to freeze current charges – £159.66 for a Band D property – could leave another major shortfall.

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The force's medium-term financial strategy is based on an increase in council tax precept of 2.6% a year. One percentage point increase roughly equates to £1 million in revenue.

Chancellor George Osborne, however, has only offered 1% in grant money in exchange for keeping bills frozen – leaving a potential additional shortfall of £1.6 million.

Even if the Government's offer is rejected, any increase is likely to be capped at 2%, which would leave the force with £600,000 of savings to be made compared to its financial model.

With some 80% of the force's budget spent on personnel, it could mean the loss of a further 50 officers or more civilian staff.

The Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall, a staff association which represents constables, sergeants and inspectors, said the "repercussions" of another cut in the budget were "unthinkable".

The commissioner also faces further important personnel issues, not least regarding a pensions clause which has been used to forcibly retire police officers after completing their standard 30-year term.

Known as Regulation A19, the police authority invoked the clause as part of its budget measures. However, it was lifted this autumn after the force made greater savings than expected.

On the civilian side, the commissioner will also have to oversee the thorny issue of job evaluation and equal pay claims which have yet to be settled with unions.

Then there's the task of recruiting a permanent chief constable.

Shaun Sawyer has been filling the role on a temporary basis since March following the departure of Chief Constable Stephen Otter to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

A new strategic vision has to be written for the force which will almost certainly require public meetings and consultation with communities across the two counties.

If that wasn't enough, the governance of the new office, which includes a "police and crime panel" who are supposed to hold the commissioner to account, also has to be resolved.

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