TWO St Helens councillors have voted against plans to increase the police precept in the wake of a decision to drastically cut the opening hours of Newton-le-Willows Police station.

The Merseyside Police and Crime Panel supported a request by Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy to raise the precept by £24 per year per household across Merseyside.

This was aimed at saving 100 police constables, and recruiting another 40.

However, Councillor Paul Lynch, who is the vice chair of the panel, and Councillor Michelle Sweeney voted against this proposal due to the significant concerns they hold about the "lower service vs the higher burden that St Helens will receive".

In a statement Cllr Lynch said: "We wholly accept the general rationale of the commissioner. Yet again, Merseyside and St Helens have been shafted by the Government, and left with increased struggles to support public protection.

"However, St Helens has been seeing less and less return for its money over the last few years.

"The day before the panel met, the police dramatically reduced the opening hours of Newton Police station, cutting the chances of St Helens residents being able to meet a police office face to face.

"We and our residents were blind sided by the lack of consultation. How we can support more taxes when people cannot see the results of this money ?"

Cllr Sweeney said: "This wasn’t an easy call.

"We are right behind the police, but we have to be honest with our residents and cannot justify higher and higher taxes with the argument that we’re getting more police, when all residents can see is shuttered police stations.

"The disproportionate disadvantage of St Helens is not something we can allow to continue."

Cllrs Lynch and Sweeney say they have secured regular reviews of the impact of the reduced hours, with a commitment of updates on how Newton Police Station has fared with the reduced hours by the next panel meeting on March 21, 2019.

On Monday, the St Helens Police Facebook page announced opening hours at Newton-le-Willows station had "changed" and would now only be open to the public "between 8am and 4pm on Fridays" for those who "want to speak to someone face to face".

Newton Councillor Seve-Gomez Aspron swiftly rounded on the plans and this was followed by strong words from St Helens Council leader Derek Long said the "effective closure"of the station of six days a week is a decision which "undermines public confidence in the police".

In a letter to Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy, Cllr Long said: "We understand that government cutbacks are undermining police resources.

"However, it is not clear why this decision should suddenly be necessary and especially in a location where the nearest station is much further away than for many other stations.

"GEO's constitute an important element in the public's perception of the police.

"Closing the doors sends entirely the wrong message about the service and its accessibility to the whole community - many of whom may be digitally excluded due to age or income.

"As Labour councillors, we regard this as a retrograde step.

"We are opposed to the shutting of General Enquiry Offices wherever they are without thorough public consultation.

Explaining the decision, Superintendent Mark Stanton said "current resource levels mean we are unable to maintain the current opening hours across all 12 stations without taking a police officer from the front line to cover any shortages" and added "Newton-le-Willows is one of our lowest demand station across the force".

Supt Stanton added: "We need to make efficient use of all of our resources. We are working hard as a force to balance the needs and expectations of all the communities we serve.

"The force is recognising and responding to the shift in community expectation and exploring ways to provide the best service possible with the resources and technology available to us.

“We have also introduced more interactive services on the force website which allows the public to report non-emergency crime and traffic collisions online.

"This is the highest public demand for our enquiry office services.

"Together with the launch of the social media desk the public can now get timely advice without coming in to the station.

“Newton-le-Willows is a fully operational police station with a sergeant led community team working from there.

"The community team is supported by our emergency patrol and investigation teams operating from St Helens."