I REALLY hate bean counters. Those faceless accountants who sit in the background out of the firing line in so many organisations and who, with a stroke of a pen, decide that services must be cut to balance the books without any real thought about how the decision could impact on people’s lives.
Take the recently-announced decision by Surrey Police to withdraw the single officer who patrols our stretch of the river.
It is a decision which has sent shockwaves through the boating fraternity and among those who live beside the river or who simply enjoy walking beside it on a beautiful summer’s afternoon.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when there were three police launches based close to Shepperton Lock. Launches manned by police officers who knew the river well, understood the concerns of river users and cared enough to form relationships with the people they were protecting and serving.
They vanished in an earlier round of cost-cutting and the river community battled hard to persuade Surrey’s constabulary to re-introduce a police presence onto the river – something which they finally did back in 2004 when PC Jim Halstead was unveiled as a neighbourhood specialist officer covering the river from Kingston to Egham. He shares a launch with the Environment Agency which has become a familiar and welcome sight on our stretch of the Thames.
Jim has earned the respect of all who know him and has re-established close links with boat owners and riverside businesses. A single police officer patrolling the river isn’t much but it’s a damn sight better than nothing.
And now Surrey has decided that he is no longer ‘viable’ and his role will cease as of July 12.
What message does that send to the river community who pay their council taxes, a proportion of which goes to Surrey Police? We don’t care about you, that’s what.
It also sends a message to the criminals and vandals who prey on boat owners and those living beside the Thames. It says – don’t worry about being caught, there’s very little likelihood that you’ll be seen by the boys in blue. I shall be extremely surprised if the number of thefts and acts of vandalism committed on and around the river doesn’t start to rise sharply.
Don’t get me wrong – I understand the need to balance the books in any organisation. I ran my own business for nearly 20 years and sometimes you do have to take tough decisions when economies are required.
But given the hundreds of officers and administrative staff employed by Surrey Police, the millions of pounds’ worth of equipment, the huge number of buildings and services it takes to run our county police force I cannot seriously believe that the savings achieved by the removal of our solitary river policeman could not have been made elsewhere.
If you agree with me that this is a wholly retrograde step, please write to the Chief Constable of Surrey Police, Mark Rowley, at Mount Browne, Sandy Lane, Guildford, GU8 1HG and urge him to reconsider.