Merseyside Police is currently looking at the general enquiry office (GEO) service the force provides to its local communities and how to provide the best service possible based on community needs, customer and resource demands and the changing use of technology.
An extensive review of the current GEO service found that the number of people visiting GEOs across Merseyside has reduced drastically. On average, just 1.2 customers per hour attend GEOs in the force. Some have higher visitor numbers than others and some have very low footfall. Newton-Le-Willows, for example, averages around five people visiting, per day, in a ten hour period.
The review found that because of staff shortages, frontline officers have often had to provide cover at the enquiry counters, preventing them from responding to emergency incidents.
As a result of the review a decision was made to change some GEO opening times, from 21 January 2019, to prevent the force from having to backfill the general enquiry service with police officers who should be out on the streets, responding to emergency incidents and protecting our communities.
Last week concerns were raised about the reduced hours at Newton-le-Willows. The force has listened to the feedback and agreed to change the arrangements put in place in January, whilst we further review our contact offer to communities.
The force is currently looking to employ additional temporary staff to change the GEO opening hours.
While work is ongoing to source additional staffing it has been agreed that:
-Newton-le-Willows general enquiry office will be open between 8am and 4pm on a Monday and 9am and 4pm on a Friday.
-St Helens general enquiry office (which is five miles from Newton-le-Willows) will be open between 8am and 10pm Monday to Saturday and 8am-5pm on Sunday.
Merseyside police will communicate other updated hours when we have recruited the additional staff required to provide a further amended service across the force
Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, said: “I completely understand the concerns. It’s really important to us to get the right offer for our communities and that needs to balance their needs with the demand we see for services, so we can put our resources in the right places. Year on year we have seen attendance at our general enquiry offices falling and often, because of staff shortages, frontline officers have had to provide cover at the enquiry offices, when they should have been out on the streets.
“Quite often there is a misconception when a general enquiry office is closed and people think the station is no longer operational. This is not the case.”
“In the last decade there have been many changes in technology resulting in significant changes to the way people are contacting the police.
“Now with the advent of social media, and the internet, more and more people are using social media as a contact mechanism. At the beginning of 2018 we introduced a dedicated social media desk, allowing the public the ability to contact us online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to report non-emergency incidents online, or to ask for advice. In the last 14 months the desk has dealt with an average of 2500 contacts per month and demand has increased by 170 per cent.
“We do appreciate though that not everyone will want to talk to us on social media, so we are looking at the different ways that our communities contact us in their totality to ensure that we come up with a sustainable solution to enable the public to contact us when they need us. We will listen to feedback from our communities before we make future decisions.
“Any decisions we make will not be made lightly, but it must be remembered that since 2010 the force has lost £103m and more than 1,100 officers due to funding cuts. We have already made a lot of hard decisions, but the impact of these cuts is continuing and the decisions we are having to make are getting harder. But I can assure the public of St Helens and Merseyside that our duty to protect the public remains our primary aim and we will continue to deliver the best possible service we physically can with the budget and the resources we have.”