SUSSEX Police officers are driving dozens of luxury cars worth up to £80,000 while the force needs to find savings of £50m over the next two years the Observer can reveal.
A Freedom of Information request revealed the force has 30 BMW X5 cars each worth between £50,000 and £80,000 which are used for a variety of roles from patrolling highways to armed response.
Ford Focus and Mondeos are regularly seen around the streets of Hastings and St Leonards and the odd Land Rover Discovery.
But elsewhere in the country some forces are using even cheaper vehicles.
Two years ago it was reported Merseyside Police swapped its ageing Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus fleet for Korean built Hyundais making significant savings.
It has been reported the Met police and Tayside Police in Scotland use two-seater Smart cars to scoot about the streets.
The FOI request also revealed how the force has 44 Mercedes Sprinter riot vans and four unmarked Audi A3 cars used for road patrols and pursuits. The Mercedes riot vans can cost more than £30,000 each and are used in town centres mostly at weekends and to police crowds at football matches and demonstrations. Audi A3 pursuit cars can cost up to £30,000 each.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has pledged to investigate any possible savings that can be made with buying procedures including working more closely with Surrey Police. Mrs Bourne said: “Procurement is an area I am already looking at particularly as Sussex Police develops closer collaboration with Surrey Police, and this includes our fleet. I am working with Sussex Police to ensure that we establish efficient, effective and innovative ways of procuring all assets to get better value for money. My aim is to reinvest savings into frontline policing because that is what local residents tell me they want.
“I will be discussing effective fleet procurement with the Chief Constable at a future Performance & Accountability meeting.”
Sussex Police fleet manager Dennis Ord said: “The vast majority of Sussex Police vehicles are purchased under a National Framework Agreement, overseen by the Home Office Fleet Procurement Section. This enables significant savings to be made on the prices that might be seen on the garage forecourt. The only exceptions are for those required for specialist duties and training where specific used vehicles are required.
“Vehicles used in police service, including the five marked X5’s we operate, have to meet nationally agreed minimum criteria for performance, load carrying, road holding and emissions for the roles they undertake. At the high performance end of the car market, there are very few makes and models that meet this exhaustive criteria. Thereafter, each model is also strenuously assessed and tested for their suitability for sustained use in the role they are selected for.”
“Locally, Surrey and Sussex police forces are looking to build on the benefits of mutual purchasing, by collaborating on a Joint Transport Service to provide an efficient, cost effective and sustainable transport service for both forces.”
Detective sergeant Paul Sellings, chairman of Sussex Police Federation, said: “I’m confident my members are being given the best protection. “We should be paying for these vehicles if they are the best on the market to protect our officers.
“I would not want our officers turning up at highly dangerous situations without the right protected vehicle.”
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “It’s vital the police have the right kit to fight crime and protect taxpayers but spending on police vehicles must also represent value for taxpayers’ money. Officers need to be able to keep up with fleeing lawbreakers but a top of the line BMW or range rover to patrol urban areas seems excessive. “Greater co-operation with other forces and more sensible deployment of resources to the front line will help forces balance the books while keeping the streets safe.”