Special constables plan ‘may not come to fruition’ says Southend councillor

A plan to hire 34 special constables in Southend welcomed by senior police officers “may not come to fruition”, a senior councillor has confirmed.

The idea for the council to pay to bring two community special constables to every ward in Southend was initially suggested by the Tories with support from the coalition administration.

It was agreed at a meeting in July councillors agreed they would begin discussions about the recruitment process with Essex Police but now the cabinet member responsible for public safety says the plan may not happen.

Councillor Martin Terry said: “We are looking at how we can deliver this. Our priority is to improve community safety and we know there are great difficulties in recruiting special constables at this time.

“We know that Leigh Town Council has virtually given up after agreeing to do something similar three years ago and not recruiting a single officer.

“We have a good number of existing specials, but we would like more and it has proven difficult to do that. I’d love to deliver the specials but in reality, I am not sure it will come to fruition.”

Mr Terry was pressed on why the slow recruitment process was not used as a reason to fast-track the scheme after it was approved in July. He said: “Fast track or no fast track, if no one wants to volunteer then it’s a problem.

“Southend Council officers have been in discussion with the police and about what would be best in good time, but it is no good us coming out and saying we will bring in a scheme to recruit 34 officers and no one steps forward.”

Carl Robinson, director of public protection, said: “We have good established relationships with Essex Police and have met with the senior officer who oversees the special constable team to talk through options.

“We are committed to supporting community safety across the borough so members are considering the options, alongside others, because as the June cabinet report highlighted, there are several challenges around the recruitment of special constables.”

The Tory plan was to use council money to pay the expenses for community special constables and they expected it would cost just £34,000 per year. The police would pay the rest of the training costs.

Conservative Councillor Dan Nelson put forward the plan and said he feels the only reason it has stalled is “party politics”.

He said: “Instead of learning lessons from Leigh about what they did wrong to ensure they make a success of this, the administration is using it as an excuse to lay on their backs and do nothing.

“There is a bit of personal bit of angst for me as I cared deeply for this policy to bring actually bring officers to streets but this administration clearly had no intention of supporting it and it is because it was an idea that came from Conservatives.”

The leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Tony Cox, added: “We have had it from the portfolio holder that this is not a priority of the administration. But if that is the case then why did they pass the paper?

“It had full support from the public, it had the support of the police and it had the support of the business community. Unfortunately, the only one who doesn’t support it is the portfolio holder.”

The uncertainty over the recruitment comes after Neil Pudney, Essex Police’s district commander for Southend, said in May that the plan would allow the force to “continue to keep our visibility high in all areas of the district”.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter