Plans to spend millions of pounds on 48 new PCSOs have been scrapped in favour of a social worker led early intervention scheme.
Lancashire County Council’s previous Tory administration had set aside £3.7m for four additional Police Community Support Officers, working in each of its 12 district council areas.
But the ruling Labour group has instead decided to spend the cash on a new ‘Early Action Response’ service, creating the equivalent of 27 full-time posts, most of whom will be social workers.
The council agreed to invest £3m, matched by £3m from Lancashire Police, on the project, which aims to work with vulnerable people before situations reach ‘crisis point’.
Council leader Jennifer Mein said tackling problems at an early stage would “produce better results for people and reduce the demand on public services”.
But Conservative group leader Geoff Driver said taxpayers wanted “more frontline policing, not more social workers”.
The service will see two teams work alongside police peers and the authority’s existing Emergency Duty Team in two of the areas of highest demand - Preston and Burnley.
County Coun Driver said: “The Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw is asking people to pay a substantial increase in council tax while LCC and Lancashire Police squander £6m on a social experiment.
“We left £3.7m to be used for funding 48 PCSOs or 30 police constables because the police and the public said they wanted more police on the beat.
“It may surprise people who in September saw the PCC and Chief Constable wringing their hands and telling us that the cuts were ‘frightening’ to suddenly hear the police have £3m to spend – and not on front-line policing.
“We hear all the time from the public they want to see more bobbies on the streets. We have not heard anyone call for more social workers to fight crime.
“When the public call for help, they want a police officer to help them, not a social worker to work with the offender.”
Lancashire Police has recorded 49,000 ‘early action’ incidents over the last year.
There has also been a sharp rise in referrals to children’s social care, with 1,760 per month – a near 50 per cent increase on 2012/13.
Coun Driver said he supported early intervention but the pilot scheme would run in just two areas, and it would be two years before its effectiveness could be judged.
However, Labour councillors argued it could free up resources across the county and enable officers to spend more time on the beat.
Coun Mein said: “While £3m was identified by the previous administration for PCSOs, neither Lancashire Police nor the Police and Crime Commissioner thought funding additional PCSOs was the most effective way to spend the money.
“We have worked very hard to develop this integrated approach and there is a clear consensus that investing the money in an early action response service is a better use of public funds.
“Focusing on those areas of greatest need will prove to be a much more effective use of limited public resources, with significant and measurable benefits.
“By working with the police at an early stage this innovative service will deal with causes rather than symptoms and will nip problems in the bud before they escalate into crises.
“This will transform the lives of individuals and families and potentially make huge savings for the public purse.”
She added the scheme would be “rigorously evaluated” to ensure it made a “measurable difference”.
Mr Grunshaw said neither Lancashire Police or his office were aware of the PCSO proposals before the Tories set the council’s budget in February 2013.
He said: “At this time, the constabulary raised concerns over whether additional PCSOs was the best use of resources.
“These issues continue to be discussed with Coun Mein’s administration and we have continued to work together to develop a proposal that will deliver better value for money and outcomes for the residents of Lancashire.
“Therefore it is complete nonsense for Coun Driver to claim the police have rejected the chance to bolster PCSO numbers in the county.
“I know communities value their PCSOs and I have made it clear maintaining PCSO is a priority for me.
“That is why I have ring-fenced my budget for PCSOs in Lancashire and committed to match-funding where local authorities continue to do so.
“The scheme will reduce future demand on both our services, gives good value for money through match-funding and has also allowed us to submit a bid into the Government’s new Police Innovation Fund which, if successful, will bring even more resources to Lancashire.”
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, from Lancashire Police, said it was “an exciting opportunity to work completely differently” in areas where demands on services were causing “real problems” for vulnerable people.
He said: “By responding together and sharing information at the point of crisis, we will achieve far better outcomes at far less cost.
“Given the pressures on all our services, this is critical for us all if we are to protect vulnerable children and adults across Lancashire.”
The Early Action Response teams will be made up of social workers from fields including child and parenting support, mental health, youth work and youth offending, plus police staff.
Their work will consist of activities like:
- Interviewing missing people upon their return
- Performing welfare checks for vulnerable people and making child protection plans
- Joint visits to vulnerable locations such as children’s homes, hostels, youth clubs etc
- Joint working with police Public Protection Units
- Liaising with hospitals about vulnerable patient admissions, for example children with unexplained injuries or adults at crisis point
- Bridging the gap between working hours and out-of-hours emergency response
The teams will operate alongside existing initiatives like Edge of Care, which supports families where children are at risk of being taken into care, Connect 4 Life, which works with GPs to help vulnerable patients with complex needs in order to reduce A&E admissions and allow them to continue to live independently, and the Domestic Abuse Commission, bringing them together under a single service.