As of December 2011 Wandsworth Council has voted to disband the Parks Police Service.

The Friends oppose Wandsworth Councils proposal to close the Parks Police service, and have issued the following statment.

Future of the Parks Police Service

The Friends of Battersea Park very strongly oppose the proposals to replace the Parks Police Service with Metropolitan Police Officers on a ‘buy one get one free’ basis, keeping only a small core of five Parks Police as an Events Support Service. These proposals are short sighted and create unnecessary upheaval. There is no certainty of savings after the three year matched funding offer from the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) ends. The proposals are not properly costed. It is appalling that the paper for Council Committee meetings does not include an assessment of how the Parks Police Service itself could be restructured to produce significant savings. The Council is destroying a dedicated service which it can manage directly and cost effectively to police Battersea Park and other Wandsworth open spaces as a result of a short term ‘buy one get one free’ offer. We all in Wandsworth deserve something better than this.

The Friends are grateful for the chance to comment on the Council’s proposals. We feel strongly that the Parks Police Service should be given a chance to come up with proposals of its own that would deliver significant savings, maintain a service operated from within Battersea Park and capitalise on the fact that a Parks Police Officer funded by the Council will always be cheaper than a Met Police Officer.

It is right that the Council should consider the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offer made by Mayor Boris Johnson. However, it should not sacrifice a praise-worthy service (and one that the Council has itself has highly commended) for the sake of a short term offer designed to address a short term MPA problem with staff it no longer wants but cannot make redundant. The Council has no certainty whatsoever about the costs of the MPA service after April 2015 and can only guarantee savings in 2013/14 and 2014/15. All savings in 2012/13 could easily be offset by redundancy and other costs.

The paper provided for the Council Committees does not consider how the Parks Police Service could be retained, but operated more efficiently. It does not quantify the savings that could be achieved by measures such as reducing the current locking and unlocking regime, routing all calls through a central exchange, and combining the Parks Office and Parks Police Service public counters. It appears that transport costs would essentially be the same. The total cost of redundancy payments for 17.8 staff and dealing with any necessary re-housing for Parks Police Service staff is unclear. The estimates of up to £400,000 for redundancy payments and £29,300 lost rental income do not cover the total cost of dealing with redundancies and potential rehousing issues.

The value of a Parks Police Service that operates from directly within the Park has been largely ignored. A service operated from Lavender Hill or Battersea Police Station is a far less satisfactory alternative.

We do not believe that policing by the Metropolitan Police Officers offers anything over and above the service provided by the Parks Police. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Parks Police Service have found their powers to be inadequate in terms of policing the Parks and open spaces.

We do not believe that anyone designing a service would, from choice, suggest an organisation with three separate component parts: Metropolitan Police Officers covered by a Service Level Agreement with the Council, an Events Support Service reporting directly to the Council and a contractor to provide an as yet unquantified locking and unlocking service. The Council is in this position because of a short term BOGOF offer.

We would like to see how the cost of the Parks Police Service could be reduced by operating with a different staffing structure and incorporating proposed changes identified in the paper, such as using a central Wandsworth switchboard for calls between 6 am and 12 midnight and enabling the Borough Valuer and Solicitor to make their own arrangements for monitoring property and serving documents. An alternative may be to make cuts in those latter services and to retain Parks Police Service officers to achieve economies of scale. It is not clear what savings could be achieved in the Parks Police Service by the proposed new locking and unlocking regime, and the considerable cost of running a tender compliant with EU rules for a new service to be provided by a contractor has been ignored. A contractor would not have the same powers to deal with miscreants in Battersea Park and in the three cemeteries as the Parks Police Service. It would seem far preferable and potentially more cost effective to increase the size of the proposed Events Support Service to deal with locking and unlocking.

The proposal to retain five members of the Parks Police Service as an Events Support Service is of course better than retaining nobody from the Parks Police Service, with its experience and knowledge of policing Battersea Park and the other Wandsworth open spaces. However, we do not see how it would be possible to police the current number and range of events – including Chelsea Flower Show and Christmas parties – with only five staff and with no administrative officer to deal with paperwork and charges. We believe that effective events policing would require more than 5 officers and in-house administrative support, given holidays, sick leave etc. The team should be described as ‘Events Police, ‘Wandsworth Police’ or something similar, and not an ‘Events Support Service’.

Battersea Park, through its size, complexity and the range of events held in the Park, is in a league of its own. It deserves to keep its experienced and effective police force which can be redirected simply and efficiently to serve other Council purposes as the Council may determine. There are economies of scale that would be lost by splitting the Service into three parts and the Council would lose some of the flexibility that it found so useful in the August disturbances. The Council should focus on the longer term and should not disrupt the safety and security of the Park for the sake of an MPA offer which may only produce real savings in two financial years. We question the proposed timing of any change when 2012 will be the year of the London Olympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

Both the Council’s press release of 27 October and the article in the June edition of Brightside showing mounted police were thoroughly misleading. There is an unfounded suggestion that the Met Police would be more effective than the Council’s Parks Police Service; it is not made clear that the ‘buy one get one free’ offer is for three years only; the option of using the Parks Police Service differently has not been explored; and the full costs of bringing in Metropolitan Police and making all but five of the Parks Police Service redundant have not been identified. A long term, dedicated, Wandsworth Parks Police Service is a far better option.

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