THE closure of seven police station front counters to the public and reduction of hours at five others could be the ‘thin end of the wedge’, councillors have warned.
Changes came into effect at 12 stations yesterday (May 1) as front counters including Appleby and Dalton were closed, and half-day openings at Windermere and Ulverston began.
Kendal is one of five stations in the county to remain open full time, as the force attempts to find savings of £20 million by 2015.
Former police officer and Ulverston town councillor Norman Bishop-Rowe hit out at the reduction in hours there, where the station will open from 9am to 1pm Monday to Saturday.
“It does concern me that there is nowhere for people to go to produce documents and the like,” he said. “I have to wonder if this is the thin end of the wedge.
“They might have to make all these savings but they’ve put money into setting up committees and appointing officers and shadow officers.
“Not everybody can contact the police through Facebook and the only tweeting I know is from the birds outside my window. I worry what it means for the future.”
Appleby town councillor Dennis Noble, also a former police officer, accused the police of losing touch.
“It is 22 years since I served in the police so I was an old-fashioned bobby,” he said. “I don’t agree with the way the police is being run now and there doesn’t seem to be any consideration of the locality they are in.
“In my day you had contacts all over the place in various parts of society. I can’t see how they can these days, especially closing the station off to the public. I know that the economics have changed but I think in a rural area you still need more personal contact to find out what is going on.”
Cumbria police made the changes following a review into how front counter services are used by the public.
Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Michelle Skeer said they will save the force around £190,000 a year.
“The development of technology has reduced the need for the public to use police front counters,” she said. “They cost £1 million each year to keep open, which equates to the cost of employing around 30 police officers.”
A public questionnaire with around 1,500 respondents found that almost 60 per cent had not visited a police station in Cumbria within the last year; 17.5 per cent had visited once and 14.1 per cent had visited two or three times.
“Some stations are currently visited by around seven people a day compared to other stations that have 70 to 80 daily visitors,” DCC Skeer said. “This tells us that it is not financially viable or necessary to keep front counters open in some areas, but also shows that we need to look at shift patterns and opening times in busier stations so that we continue to meet public demand and support our staff.”
Windermere town councillor Joan Stocker said: “We always regret any reductions in hours but some definite open hours is better than none at all. As long as people know when they can go in and there is absolute clarity over which telephone contacts to use, this is the most important thing.”
• Appleby, Maryport, Wigton, Keswick, Egremont, Millom and Dalton front counters are now closed. Windermere, Ulverston, Cockermouth, Brampton and Penrith are open 9am to 1pm Monday to Saturday. Kendal station is open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 12pm on Saturday.