Row over volunteer army of ‘street guardians’ who will be keeping revellers safe on the streets of Cheltenham, Glos., this New Year’s Eve
Cash-strapped police have expressed “significant” concern about a community group which is trying to help them cope with budget cuts – by looking after late-night revellers.
The ‘guardian‘ volunteers say they are fulfilling a role the police are unable to cover due to drastic budget cuts.
Volunteers spend weekends patrolling the centre of Cheltenham, Glos., and make the town a “safer place”.
They say they are protecting people enjoying a night out and claim to offer “robust care and compassion throughout the night time economy in the town”.
The Cheltenham Guardians have few legal powers and their work mainly consists of assisting the drunk and diffusing tension.
Guardians operation manager Terry Howard, 41, said they are the “sober minds in an interesting environment”.
“We are working closely with the police and the office of the police and crime commissioner is formalising our position in the night time economy,” he said.
“At 4 o clock on a Saturday night we are a sober element that can intervene and diffuse situations.”
“We are driven by compassion and common sense,” he added.
But despite police admitting they no longer have the resources to “go out on patrol”, Gloucestershire Constabulary says the group is not an adequate substitute.
Inspector Tim Waterhouse said the force could not endorse their activities due to “significant concern” about how they operate.
He said that fears were primarily based around the lack of proper training and safety measures that had been put in place.
“We do not have any objections to the work of Operation Guardian in principle,” he said.
“However, we have significant concerns about how the scheme operates.
“Until we’re satisfied those measures are in place we cannot endorse their activity.”
Mr Howard said he was “surprised” by the force’s remarks, and claimed his group was working to tick the boxes needed for proper backing.
He said: “The Guardians concept was initially to show that people can actually take a stand themselves and do positive things for the community without necessarily holding the hand of the police or the local authority.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we are an independent community initiative.
“Cheltenham is safer because we are there doing what we do.”
There are currently 21 members of the Cheltenham Guardians – with 10 who patrol the street.
The rest are involved in training those who go on the street wearing high visibility jackets.
Most of the Guardians are women in their twenties – some with backgrounds in security.
Police cuts mean the force was unable to patrol towns and cities in Gloucestershire to the same level they once did.
Forces across the country have had to slash budgets over the last few years with Gloucestershire Constabulary losing around £20m since 2011.
The force has a budget of £105m for 2015/16, and expects further cuts over the next few years.
Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl said the cuts have had a major impact on the ability of the force to patrol towns and cities during Friday and Saturday night.
He added that he was working with the borough council to provide support so the Guardians can “safeguard themselves and the public”.
Despite the criticism the guardians are determined to continue performing their duty, and are hoping to get support from council.
Louis Krog, council licensing team leader, said: “We have made substantial progress in addressing some concerns we had about their operational approach and set-up.
“There are a few outstanding issues that still need to be ironed out.”