Dorset Police locked into PFI contracts for empty buildings

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Dorset Police is paying millions of pounds each year for private finance initiative (PFI) contracts on empty buildings, its commissioner says.

PFI is a way of funding public projects with private money.

The sum includes payments for a new purpose-built 24-hour custody suite at Poole, and Weymouth East police station, both of which are not in use.

Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said the PFI contracts had become "white elephants".

He said: "We are locked into PFI contracts that were signed at a time of growing police forces and growing police numbers, and now we are in a shrinking environment and a shrinking estate.

"There are two buildings in Dorset which I am locked into to retaining for over a decade which are lying empty."

Dorset's Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said the force was "in the process of trying to re-negotiate the contract".

Mr Underhill said he and the chief constable were exploring the possibility of opening the custody suite at Poole on a part-time basis when demand was high, as officers were "queuing" to get through the custody block at Bournemouth and were also wasting time due to congestion.

"It can take officers up to an hour to drive to the cell block because they are stuck in traffic," he said.

Dorset Police has two PFI deals in place for buildings in Weymouth and Poole.

Its 30-year deal in Weymouth has 26 years left to run, while there are 14 years left on the 25-year contract in Poole.

Dorset was selected as one of the first counties to use PFI schemes to improve its police facilities.

It took part in a pilot scheme launched by the Home Office in 1996 to upgrade the Dorchester Division Headquarters site and its associated specialist services.

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