As I speak to local residents and read comments online, it is very clear there are two issues that concern people more than anything: policing and health.
When I talk about Town Council and CBC projects – playgrounds, leisure centres, the town centre for example – almost without fail I will receive comments to the effect that the money should be spent on providing a police station or more police officers, or to build a health hub, hospital or fund more GPs.
Believe me when I say that if the provision of improved healthcare or policing was something that was within the gift of either Council, I would be fighting hard to see money being spent in these areas as an immediate priority.
Unfortunately, the role of CBC and LLTC in healthcare and policing is limited and does not extend to operational matters, and nothing that either Council does will bring about a new police station or a functional health hub.
Through various committees and schemes we can attempt to influence strategy or provide some targeted help, but these are no substitute for the NHS providing us with proper healthcare facilities or for Beds Police providing the town with a fairer share of policing resources.
It is often pointed out that the town has seen massive expansion without any significant increase in the provision of healthcare facilities, and we are often criticised for allowing these developments without addressing the need for more GPs and a health-hub more fitting for a town the size of Leighton Buzzard.
Any large-scale development comes with money to provide additional facilities and infrastructure, which will normally include an contribution towards enhancing healthcare provision. Part of the S106 agreement for the new development to the east of Leighton Buzzard was to provide a new surgery for 4 GPs. However, the NHS has so far declined to take on a new surgery, and without the NHS there is no GP surgery.
Both CBC and LLTC have forums where they meet with local Police to discuss local concerns, and sometimes joint initiatives will be run. However, in terms of day to day policing, neither Council has any control over priorities, how officers are deployed or the provision of Police Stations.
LLTC does fund Operation Dodford to pay for extra officers to provide an increased presence at local events, and to run short-term targeted additional patrols in areas with specific problems. Through this scheme, I will ask what can be done to address the nuisance motorbikes that seem to plague some parts of the town.
However, Operation Dodford does depend on the availability of officers to work overtime as this is provided outside of their normal duties, and there are no guarantees that officers will be available even if LLTC are willing to pay for them.
So what about the elected Police and Crime Commissioner?
According to the website of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners:
“The role of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing.
PCCs aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their police force area. They are elected by the public to hold Chief Constables and the force to account, making the police answerable to the communities they serve.
PCCs ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible, and are improving local relationships through building confidence and restoring trust. They work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime.”
They are not responsible for, and cannot dictate, day to day policing – which I know sounds like a complete copout, but their hands are tied. And while the PCC sets the budget and sets strategic objectives, these are county-wide and do not address specific local concerns.
However, the PCC is responsible for holding the Chief Constable and his officers to account, and if residents do not believe their concerns are being listened to, and that anti-social behaviour is being allowed to continue unchecked, then they should raise these with the PCC who will in turn ask the Chief Constable what is being done to address these concerns.
For my part, I will continue to speak to the various stakeholders on residents’ behalf – the PCC, Chief Constable, our local MPs and healthcare leaders – to ask that improvements to policing and healthcare are forthcoming.
But unfortunately, neither CBC or LLTC can step in and force Beds Police or the NHS to enhance services, nor provide additional resources (other than as outlined above) to improve healthcare or policing.
If Policing and Healthcare were provided by CBC and LLTC where the elected representatives really can influence operational decisions on a local level, then I am confident we would have far better healthcare facilities in the town, and a fairer share of policing resources.