A FORMER Bolton PCSO has backed a union's call that spending a £60m Government fund on enforcing coronavirus restrictions would be better spent on recruiting more PCSOs.

Paul Lally joined Greater Manchester Police as a detention officer in the town centre in 2002, where he worked for around six years.

Keen to spend more time in the community, he became a PCSO in Tonge Moor and Tonge Fold, where he worked for more than 10 years and witnessed a reduction in his ranks during that time.

Indeed, the number of police community support officers in England and Wales has nearly halved in the past decade, going from 16,919 in 2010 to 9,179 this year.

And public service union Unison has called for an increase in PCSO numbers to help deal with lockdown rules as police forces struggle with increasing crime levels and changing regulations.

Earlier this month the Government announced that the 43 police forces in England and Wales would receive an extra £30m, divided up according to the existing funding formula, to deal with covid restrictions.

Local authorities are also being given an extra £30m to set up services including covid marshals.

This followed talks between the Home Office and senior police officers asking for more money to cover covid-19 restrictions as crime levels rose back towards those seen before lockdown.

Paul, who retired last year, said: "I think it would be better to spend money on getting more PCSOs because they would be in the community dealing with issues relating to breaching the guidelines.

"If an opportunity in the current climate in relation to covid-19 becomes available to fund more PCSOs it will most certainly be a good investment.

"They could deal with any issues arising from the covid guidelines and restrictions as it actually occurs.

"They could also offer help and support to the vulnerable members of the community.

"It would most definitely be a good investment to have a uniformed presence in the community.

"The more the better, it's a position that has been proved to work over many years."

Paul has also highlighted the value and reassurance that PCSOs bring to communities.

The Bolton News:

Former Bolton PCSO Paul Lally

The Bolton News:

Paul during his time as a PCSO

Paul said: "In my time I experienced how PCSOs were leaving or becoming police officers and not being replaced due to austerity cuts.

"That area that we were becoming responsible for got bigger too.

"I think the role of a PCSO is invaluable, most times it is the only connection the public have with the police.

"When the cuts first began in 2010 the first wave of cuts affected the front desks and most police stations lost the front desk.

"It was said they were no longer needed as the public had other ways of speaking with the police such as PCSOs on the street.

"Back then they did have PCSOs in every area but as time went on the number of PCSOs dwindled and they were never replaced,

"The value of a PCSO is that they got to know people as they became valuable parts of the community, you had opportunities to speak with people, to reassure and follow up with victims of crime.

"Elderly residents felt reassured by having a police presence, and more than once it was said to me how reassuring it is just to see the PCSO walk by every day.

"It creates a sense of security.

"More often than not a PCSO can be that first point of contact with many members of a community.

"Being that presence in the community deterred crime and on some occasions you could come across a crime being committed.

"A visible PCSO presence clearly deters crime.

"There have been years of evidence to show that PCSOs being in the community works."

Unison's national police and justice officer Ben Priestley is calling for more PCSOs to be put back on the streets too.

He said: "Everyone needs to do their bit to contain the virus.

"That means abiding by the restrictions, whether that's wearing masks in shops, on public transport and in other enclosed spaces, or abiding by the rule of six in town and city centres.

"Many people aren't complying because they're confused by the rules.

"Others don't think the restrictions should apply to them.

"But there aren't enough police officers to ensure the regulations are properly enforced.

"That's why more PCSOs are needed.

"Extra community support officers could prevent the police from being overstretched and help people understand what they should be doing to comply with the restrictions where they live.

"They can also step in to impose fines and stop bad behaviour where necessary.

"Ministers should make upping the number of PCSOs a priority."

The Government says it is continuing to work with police forces to give them "the resources they need".

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have been very clear that the Government is committed to giving the police the resources they need to keep the public safe.

"That is why we have provided an unprecedented package of support to councils through the pandemic, including for covid marshals who are able to engage, explain and encourage best practice and ensure compliance with the rules.

“The employment of police staff and the way in which they are deployed is a local matter for police forces.

"We continue to work closely with police leaders to ensure they have the resources they need, giving policing the biggest funding increase in a decade of up to £1.1bn compared to 2019/20.

"In addition to this we are recruiting 20,000 additional officers over the next three years so people have an increased presence in their communities.”