Norfolk police cars to be down-graded

Ben KendallPolice cars in Norfolk are to be downgraded to lower spec models as the cash strapped force looks to trim its budget.Ben Kendall

Police cars in Norfolk are to be downgraded to lower spec models as the cash strapped force looks to trim its budget.

The move will see 999 response officers' hi-powered cars replaced with smaller engined models. There will also be fewer vehicles on the emergency fleet.

Meanwhile CID officers will be told to drive Fiestas - a far cry from the impressive vehicles driven by television detectives like Spender and Gene Hunt.

But bosses - criticised in recent months for spending too much on hire cars - promised to closely monitor the change to ensure it does not have a negative impact on frontline service.

The decision would save more than �700,000 over three years plus an instant saving of �70,000 from the annual budget as rental vehicles are cut. The force's 312-strong fleet will be reduced by about 10pc.

The proposals will go before Norfolk Police Authority next week. Authority chief executive Chris Harding said: 'We are facing a tough economic climate and the force has to look at how it can save money in all areas.

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'But good response times are a key part of what we do and, as an authority, we would not allow such a move if we were not convinced that those times could be maintained at a similar level.

'When we look at this proposal, one of the things we will be asking is what assurances are there that performance won't suffer.'

Norfolk police promise to arrive at all top-grade emergency call-outs within 10 minutes in urban areas and 20 minutes in rural parts - a target officers currently meet on most occasions.

One response officer told the EDP: 'We're under constant pressure to meet response targets; it is something that is expected of us by the public and by senior officers.

'I wouldn't want to see anything done that affects our ability to do that but we'll have to wait and see if this has any impact.'

Changes proposed include equipped response officers, who currently drive 2-litre Ford Mondeos, with 1.8-litre Ford Focuses. There are currently 101 response cars in Norfolk; this will be reduced by 19 with the excess vehicles being redeployed to safer neighbourhood teams. This will save �45,000 each year.

Traffic officers, often considered a force's elite drivers, and armed response officers will also have fewer cars of lower specification at their disposal.

It is hope the cuts will bring capital savings - the cost of buying replacement vehicles - and year-on-year savings from the revenue budget.

Months of research have been carried out to work out precisely how many police cars are needed in the county. This has included analysing data collected using the Automatic Vehicle Location System which tracks vehicles' every movement.

Mr Harding said: 'In recent years we have overhauled the way we work, including restructuring our response teams. Now that has been firmly established it is only right that we look at our vehicle requirements.

'Police cars aren't like ordinary vehicles in that they are often driven in demanding circumstances and therefore need to be serviced and replaced more frequently. But one aspect we're looking at as part of this is whether vehicles can be serviced more efficiently so that they spend more time on the road, meaning we need fewer vehicles in reserve.'

Norfolk police was among forces nationally to come under fire for its spending on hire vehicles which are often fitted with blues and twos. Last year it spent �430,000 on rental cars and �493,000 the year before. Its bill dwarfed that of neighbouring forces.

However, spokesman Harry Mitchell pointed out that it was often more cost efficient to hire vehicles instead of buying them.