New chief faces challenge of cuts against need to maintain service

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STARTING any new job can be a daunting time, but imagine taking charge of an entire police force when budgets are being cut and crime statistics are in the public spotlight.

Four months ago Lincolnshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Neil Rhodes did exactly that, after Chief Constable Richard Crompton stood down from his post.

Lincolnshire Police

Lincolnshire Police

This week reporter Leanne Fender has been to the Lincolnshire Police headquarters in Nettleham for a lengthy sit-down interview with the force’s top man, to find out first-hand what it takes to step into the top job in these challenging times – and why he thinks our rural county deserves more money for policing.

POLICING one of the largest and most rural areas of the country is never going to be an easy job.

Being the man in charge of that police force during a period of major change and unheaval is not for the faint hearted.

But despite the challenges, Chief Con Neil Rhodes has not looked back.

“It’s been an incredibly busy time but I’m supported by a really strong team,” he said.

“They know our communities and are very active in terms of meeting people and getting out there.”

Chief Con Rhodes’ family home has always been in this county even though he has worked elsewhere. He is married to a Spalding girl and before joining the police worked in retail in Market Rasen.

He thinks it is important to have officers who “understand our communities” and says most of his team are “Lincolnshire people”.

But even with a top team of officers to tackle crime, there is no getting away from the fact that Government funding cuts mean Lincolnshire Police has to save £21m over the next three years.

“The biggest challenge for anyone in the police service is continuing to deliver a good service following financial cuts,” said Chief Con Rhodes.

With 26 years experience under his belt – including four years as Deputy Chief Constable – there was no better person to take on this challenge.

He is aware there are fewer officers on the beat and those that remain have to cover large rural areas – but says neighbourhood policing is changing for the better.

“Members of the public will find they get a clearly identified local inspector, that’s responsible for their area.

“And so if you live in Market Rasen, Louth or Horncastle, you will have a team of people that should be seen regularly on patrol, they should be known to you by name and always approachable. These are the real pillars of the neighbourhood policing approach.”

Chief Con Rhodes added: “We’re absolutely committed to keeping as many officers on the front line of the force.”

He said only 23 of about 1,100 officers do not have ‘crime fighting’ roles – that includes himself, union officials and police officer trainers. This, Chief Con Rhodes says, is “very low” in comparison with other forces.

So why has an HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) report named Lincolnshire Police as one three forces that may not be able to provide an effective service in wake of the funding cuts?

Chief Con Rhodes said Lincolnshire Police was “the leanest and most efficient force” and therefore it did not come as “any surprise” that when cuts have been made an efficient force has been hit the hardest. “That’s why it’s particularly challenging,” he said.

But the top cop is not taking the cuts lying down – he has just met police minister Nick Herbert to talk about the challenges his force faces and the need for a “fairer” sharer of the national funding pot.

“We’re building a strong and compelling case for a fairer share of the pot. Lincolnshire deserves better. People out there deserve a properly funded force.

“Lincolnshire’s never had a reasonable share of the funding pot. It doesn’t recognise the rurality of the county.”

But Chief Con Rhodes said he could not be sure what there government’s plans were. “No-one knows what the government’s comprehensive spending review plans are. Suggestions are that the national policing pot will shrink further.”

He added: “In the meantime, we will work hard to sustain and improve the quality of policing in this county and make further efficiencies to close the budget gap. Crime in this county is still reducing and we continue to arrest and bring more criminals before the courts.”