Tri-service Safety Officers: Devon and Cornwall

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:39 pm on 5 February 2024.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 7:39, 5 February 2024

Before I begin, if I may, I will place on the record a few comments following the announcement from the palace regarding the health of King Charles. I am sure that I speak for everyone in sending my best wishes to him for successful treatment and a speedy recovery. Of course, His Majesty, as our longest ever serving Duke of Cornwall, has a special place in the hearts of those of us from Cornwall. I know he still takes a keen interest and has a lot of affection for the Duchy, so on behalf of the people of Cornwall, I say that our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this time.

I am delighted once again to be able to speak in an Adjournment debate about something that Cornwall is leading the way on: our excellent tri-service safety officers. As far as I am aware, Devon and Cornwall is the only police force area that has these officers in place, funded and commissioned in the particular way we do it. Let me begin by quickly explaining what a tri-service officer is. These officers, as the name suggests, work across the three services of the police, fire and NHS. They are police community support officers, on-call firemen attached to a local fire station and NHS first-responders. They are jointly funded by Devon and Cornwall police, Cornwall Council’s fire service and the local NHS, with some funding coming from the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and some through the integrated care system.

Tri-service safety officers are embedded in local rural and coastal communities and can be a presence on the ground for all three services, not only providing quick emergency responses when needed but carrying out preventive, wellbeing and information gathering visits. A TSSO’s main duties are wide-ranging and complex. They include responding to 999 calls for fire and rescue and ambulance services, dealing with non-immediate police logs and community safety matters, completing multi-agency home and welfare visits, resolving complex neighbourhood policing issues, working with the local antisocial behaviour team, supporting the neighbourhood policing team, and assisting with neighbourhood inquiries such as non-emergency 101 calls made to the police.

Cornwall first piloted tri-service officers in the west of the duchy 10 years ago and has since been growing and rolling them out across the area. We now have 13 TSSOs in Cornwall, including in Fowey and St Dennis in my constituency, and I am pleased that another one will shortly be in place in Mevagissey, but we are not keeping this to ourselves. Being the generous people we are in Cornwall, we are sharing the service with our neighbours in Devon. I am pleased to say that in April a two-year pilot will commence in Holsworthy in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Cox.

The value of TSSOs cannot be overstated. They are hugely welcomed by the communities they serve. A key theme from this extensive list of duties is the focus on prevention, early intervention and reducing vulnerability. Emergency response work takes up less than 10% of their time. Their real value is in providing the three emergency services with a presence in otherwise hard-to-reach communities. When tasked through any of the three services, they look to problem-solve from a multi-agency perspective. That ability to deal with issues is further enhanced by having access to data across all services, with information sharing agreements in place.

To give a basic example of a TSSO’s holistic approach, while attending a police neighbourhood dispute, they may fit a smoke alarm, make a mental health referral, signpost a family to a third sector organisation or explore suitable pathways to Cornwall Council services or other available support services. All the while, tri-service officers ensure the highest levels of safeguarding are in place for the vulnerable members of our communities they lead on. All TSSOs are highly skilled, motivated professionals. A bespoke training package has been developed for them in Cornwall.

The outcomes are clear and very positive indeed. First, having TSSOs reduces the demand and impact on the three emergency services. In a part of the world where, as a result of our geography and ever-growing demand, our emergency services are spread out thinly, tri-service officers have been widely praised for their proactive approach as well as their level of dedication shown to the task at hand while maintaining a people-focused approach. They also reduce the demand on key partners within the public, private and voluntary sectors in their local communities.

Where TSSOs help with emergency response work, they do so with excellence. Figures from 2022-23 show that TSSOs in Cornwall responded to 3,000 incidents. In close to 50 incidents, they administered urgent first aid, including through the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation or defibrillators. Put simply, they save lives. That year, one officer, TSSO Hart, received a chief superintendent’s commendation for outstanding work dealing with a collapsed male who was having a heart attack.

TSSOs’ performance figures from the past year speak for themselves: there were over 600 police logs attended; nearly 500 ambulance calls attended; nearly 500 domestic premise risk reduction visits conducted; nearly 40 antisocial behaviour incidents addressed; more than 1,200 hours spent providing fire cover; and more than 3,500 hours logged providing safeguarding, community engagement and training for other officers, as well as much else. On top of that, they have been credited with building stronger links between the three services and local communities in Cornwall.

In recent years, TSSOs have linked up with the Cornwall based charity FLEET—the Front Line Emergency Equipment Trust—to deliver 200 Raizer mobile lifting chairs to people who have had a fall, so that those people can be safer at home. All TSSOs now carry a Raizer chair in their vehicle because of the £35,000 funding gained in support of the project. TSSOs have also partnered with schools on junior life skills; across Cornwall, more than 1,500 children have had the chance to engage directly with officers at police and fire stations and learn about their work.

In the long term, that emphasis on prevention of vulnerability and early intervention aims to reduce calls to our 999 service. The communities served by TSSOs have a broad overlap with areas of deprivation, as five tri-service officers are based in the community network areas of the 10 most deprived areas in Cornwall. Those areas have higher health inequalities, higher crime rates and higher vulnerability risk factors. A whole-system, multi-agency approach is key to addressing the challenges that areas of high deprivation face, building safer communities and reducing frontline demand.

The TSSO is uniquely placed not just to bridge the three-pronged gap, but to do so in a cost-effective way, delivering excellent value for the taxpayer. As TSSOs expand into Devon, will the Minister look at the success we have had, and how the model might benefit other parts of the country, and other rural and coastal areas in particular? I understand that Devon and Cornwall police have begun discussions with the Home Office on that; it led to an opportunity to present the TSSO model to officials at a recent event. The response was apparently warm, and a delegation has arranged to visit later this month. I ask the Minister to take an interest in that visit. I invite him to Cornwall to see for himself the invaluable work of our tri-service officers in our communities. We also plan to hold an event in Parliament in the coming months to give colleagues an opportunity to meet those involved in the scheme, and to discuss how it could benefit their area. I will extend an invitation to the event to the Minister.

This role, which crosses over the three emergency services, has become more understood and used over the last 12 months. That is largely down to the proactive work of TSSOs in making sure that their role and duties are well understood. There is now greater understanding across all the local partners, which has led to TSSOs being better used to support and complement services.

I recently had the pleasure of going on patrol with one of our excellent TSSOs, Lewis Rosewell, who is based in the village of St Dennis and serves many of the clay mining villages in the middle of my constituency. Spending time with Lewis was both informative and inspiring, and gave me a real insight into the valuable work and service provided by TSSOs; we did fire safety visits, visited vulnerable residents, did welfare checks, and followed up on a recent antisocial behaviour incident. It was the nearest thing that I have seen to the old-school “bobby on the beat” style of policing, but there is the additional benefit of TSSOs working closely with a whole range of services.

I want to bring funding concerns to the Minister’s attention; they represent the biggest challenge to our fantastic TSSO programme. The TSSO model is based on each of the three services contributing a third. A tri-service officer costs around £48,000 each year, and each of the three services contributes £16,000, which represents excellent value for money given the positive feedback and outcomes in reducing demand and response times. There is a real desire to expand the service across Cornwall, including to some towns, rather than just villages. There is a commitment from the police and the fire service to make this contribution, but the NHS integrated care board has not yet confirmed that it will match the funding for the coming year.

It would be disappointing if the NHS—the highest funded service in Cornwall—was not able to fund its share of the cost of expanding the service. I would not be doing my job representing my constituents if I did not urge the integrated care system to make the funding commitment. Will the Minister use his offices to promote the scheme to the NHS, and encourage it to confirm the funding as soon as possible, so that our TSSOs can work alongside our GP surgeries and community health hubs in providing support? I believe that the scheme will become a key part of the prevention agenda in the coming years. It would be frustrating if it were held back by the NHS’s lack of willingness to play its part.

This project should be encouraged, especially in rural areas of the country. What plans does the Minister have to make sure that other parts of the country are aware of its success in Cornwall, and to assist them in developing similar projects? Finally, let me place on record my great thanks to Inspector Miles Topham and all those who have enabled this project to happen, and our excellent TSSOs. I wish them every success for the year ahead and in future.