Village to stop paying for PCSO despite community vote to keep officer

Kessingland Parish Council at Marram Green. Photo: Nick Butcher.

Kessingland Parish Council at Marram Green. Photo: Nick Butcher. - Credit: Nick Butcher

One of Suffolk's largest villages will no longer pay for a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) despite residents voting in favour of keeping the role.

Kesssingland Parish Council chairman Liam and clerk Donna Lee. Pictures: Mick Howes

Kesssingland Parish Council chairman Liam and clerk Donna Lee. Pictures: Mick Howes - Credit: Archant

Back in October, Kessingland Parish Council held an informal referendum asking residents whether they would like the council to continue paying to have a PCSO patrolling the village.

However, despite 56.6pc of the 549 people who took part voting in favour of keeping the role, the council has now said it can no longer afford to fund the position due the costs incurred from 'unprecedented levels' of vandalism occurring outside PCSO working hours.

Donna Lee, parish clerk, said: 'If we did not have budgetary issues we would have implemented the post but it has forced our hand.'

Following the vote, an extraordinary meeting of the parish council was held on October 25 to discuss the results.

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The cost of funding a full-time PCSO is £31,712, and councillors expressed significant dissatisfaction at having to pay that out of the 2017/18 budget.

It was considered the working hours of the PCSO, eight to six during weekdays and one in three weekends, did not meet the needs of the local community as the majority of anti-social behaviour occurs in the evening and at weekends.

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In legal terms the vote acts a village survey as parish councils do not have the power to hold formal referendums.

Therefore a decision was reached by the council not to fund the post.

Chairman Liam Martin said: 'This decision has not been taken lightly.

'The council has experienced a significant increase in unbudgeted expenditure due to vandalism and necessary health and safety works to the buildings on Francis Road Community Playing Field – to the tune of approximately £26,000.

'This has had to be funded by parish council reserves.'

The Francis Road property has seen its toilets flooded, windows smashed and has even been rammed by a car as the level of anti-social behaviour in the area escalated last year.

The council said it is aware the decision may proved unpopular given the outcome of the vote, but wish to be open with the public regarding how the decision was reached.

Mr Martin said: 'The accounts are open for inspection should anyone wish to examine them.

'This can be done by appointment with the parish clerk who in her role as responsible finance officer can explain the council's financial position and the reasons why this decision has been reached.'

PCSO role in Kessingland

In 2016 Kessingland residents voted in favour of paying extra council tax so their village could retain its own dedicated PCSO.

At the time Kessingland Parish Council paid £15,000 a year for a PCSO, with the rest of their salary coming from Suffolk Constabulary.

Funding cutbacks meant the force could no longer match the parish council's contribution to the posts so the full salary would fall solely on the council.

Voting slips were delivered to every household in Kessingland and around 10pc were returned.

Of those returned 189 voted in favour and 98 were against the proposal.

However, when the victory was announced at a council meeting in September 2016, concerns were raised about the lack of a PCSO in Kessingland after 6pm.

According to the council newsletter from October 2016 'residents felt that it was in the evening and late evening that there were problems which required a police presence.'

Police and Crime Commissioner

Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore admitted he was aware of Kessingland Parish Council's reservations about the effectiveness of Police Community Support Officers.

He said: 'I know the local Safer Neighbourhood Team has worked very closely with the parish council to resolve the concerns over their PCSO so I'm sorry that it has chosen not to continue with their PCSO but I understand that the financial challenges the parish council faces make this unworkable.

'I have been kept aware of the concerns in the area and am reassured that the constabulary has dealt positively and proactively with the issues in the area.'

Mr Passmore added: 'I am totally committed to the idea that organisations can fund a PCSO to support their local Safer Neighbourhood Team.

'This initiative provides additional support to communities and continues to work really well across the county.'

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