Solicitor General confirms annual savings to CPS and North Yorkshire Police from joint office at Athena House
The Solicitor Secretary, Edward Garnier QC, has responded to two Parliamentary Questions that I tabled in the House of Commons about the annual savings achieved by the Crime Prosecution Service through co-locating CPS and police staff at Athena House in York.
I tabled the questions following the proposal by the Crime Prosecution Service to move staff out of Athena House in York and transfer them to an office in Leeds as part of a cost cutting exercise.
My questions and the answers I received are below:
Hugh Bayley: To ask the Attorney-General what the annual cost is of the lease for Athena House, York; how the annual cost is apportioned between the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and North Yorkshire police; when the lease is due to end; and what the cost to the CPS would be of (a) terminating the lease and (b) paying for underused office space if the CPS were to move its staff to other premises.
The Solicitor-General: The Athena House building contains offices for both the Crown Prosecution Service and North Yorkshire police. There is no joint lease, each organisation leases separate parts of the building. The lease for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) accommodation ends in February 2020, with a lease break in February 2015.
CPS currently pays rent of £186,158 per annum, inclusive of VAT for its share of Athena House. There is a cost sharing agreement with North Yorkshire police for running costs.
CPS will be liable to pay rent for Athena House until the exercise of the break clause option in February 2015. It is not anticipated that there will be any financial penalty attached to the exercise of the break clause.
Hugh Bayley: To ask the Attorney-General what estimate he made of the annual savings which would be achieved by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) co-locating CPS and police staff prior to the opening of Athena House in York; and what estimate he has made of such savings made by the CPS in each year since Athena House was opened.
The Solicitor-General: In 2005, the North Yorkshire Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) moved from Ryedale House in central York to Athena House, based on the outskirts of York, co-locating CPS and police staff at Athena House. Co-location enabled the communication links between the police and CPS to be shortened, reducing delay and improving efficiency.
The business case for the move cited the national Glidewell review as the basis for savings. The Glidewell review pilots estimated an average saving to all criminal justice agencies of £17.40 per criminal case. Based on a caseload of 14,000 cases per year in North Yorkshire, the projected savings across all CJS agencies was £243,600. It is not possible to apportion any part of these projected savings to any individual criminal justice agency nor is it possible to identify whether any savings were made in reality as a result of the co-location, as no subsequent analysis has been carried out.
The year on year cost of estate for North Yorkshire CPS is as follows:
In 2004-05: £314,757 (covering offices in Northallerton, Scarborough, Harrogate and York Ryedale House).
In 2005-06: £476,530 (covering offices in Scarborough, Harrogate and Ryedale House/Athena house for parts of the year).
In 2006-07: £452,803 (covering offices in Scarborough, Harrogate and Athena House).
In 2007-08: £396,550 (covering offices in Athena House and Harrogate). No changes to estates in 2008-09, 2009-10 or 2010-11.
In 2011-12: £362,646 (covering offices in Athena House and Harrogate for part of the year).
Athena House was opened seven years ago as a cost saving measure to get police and prosecutors working side by side to prepare cases for courts in York and Selby. I believe that withdrawing CPS staff from joint working could cause delays, incur additional costs on the courts and result in a worse service for the victims of crime. I want to establish whether the additional costs likely to be incurred by the police and the courts will outweigh the CPS savings.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice on 22 May to raise my concerns about the withdrawal of CPS staff from Athena House and the effect this would have on the courts system. I received a response dated 12 June, in which the Minister confirmed that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service believes that closer co-operation between the CPS and the police does add value to the criminal justice system and that this has resulted in savings since 2005. This letter can be read here.
I now plan to visit York Magistrates Court to discuss the requirements of the courts in York and to learn about the new digitalisation process which is being introduced.
The Crown Prosecution Service is cutting costs but it will be a false economy if it ends up costing the police and the courts more money. I am also worried that the public will get slower and poorer justice if the number of prosecutors is cut and if they move the remaining staff away from York. The government needs to think again.