North West Wales

North Wales Police: 'Hubs mean smarter working' - chief

The chief constable of North Wales Police says his officers will still get to emergencies quickly after a shake-up aimed at saving £15m.

Changes include senior officers' posts being axed and emergency response police operating out of nine "hub" stations across the region.

Critics fear the hubs, especially in more rural areas, are placed too far apart for quick responses.

But chief constable Mark Polin said it meant "smarter" working practices.

He said officers would not stay in the hub stations but spread around different areas during the course of their working day.

As part of the reorganisation, aimed at saving millions of pounds, five superintendents jobs have gone, as have five district inspector posts.

The changes come into force on Wednesday following a four-month consultation process.

The public and local authorities were asked for their views on the future of policing, and four of the county councils responded formally.

Flintshire council said it was supportive of the majority of the proposals but asked that any changes were "handled sensitively and seamlessly" to reassure the public that frontline services would not be affected.

Both Gwynedd and Conwy councils expressed concerns about the location of the response hubs, whilst Wrexham council also raised questions about response times and "visible neighbourhood policing".

Ahead of the changes the chief constable, Mark Polin, said it was important to put what was being done into context.

It is being done to save money, but also being used as a way to "improve the way we work - working smarter", he said.

Mr Polin said crime in north Wales was down by 7%, serious crime down 5%, while public confidence in the police had risen from 77% to 84%.

It is important to retain and improve on this trend, he added. The changes involved fewer senior officers, and better use of "backroom" organisation.

"I don't anticipate the public will see or feel anything different to what they are seeing now," he said.

The chief constable said the savings being made "balances the budget for 2011/12".

"We also anticipate we will balance the budget for 2012/13 - then we move into unchartered territory in two years," he added.

Around £15m needed to be saved, he said. The changes mean five fewer superintendent rank posts, and a move from 15 district inspector areas to 10.

"What I'm keen to do is to ensure we do our damnedest to protect the services we provide to the public," he said.

'Fewer policemen'

One of the areas where there is concern about the changes to police response times is the Lleyn peninsula, which will be covered by a hub police station at Porthmadog.

Pwllheli town councillor Eric Roberts said despite reassurances he was still unconvinced the changes would work.

"I'm concerned about (response times) when there is heavy traffic in Porthmadog and Pwllheli," he said.

Gwynedd councillor Hywel Wyn Williams, from Abersoch, organised a petition calling on the police to rethink the plans.

"There have been some small changes, such as an assurance that Abersoch and Nefyn police stations will remain open, but I think there will be fewer policemen about," he added.

The police say response times will not be affected because the hubs will only be used by officers at the beginning, and end, of their shifts.

The officers will then be "forward deployed" into the areas they cover.

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