The Tory government breaks many of its promises – and its pledge to protect front-line policing
is no exception, writes DIANE ABBOTT
IN 2011 David Cameron said: “There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line police officers.”
Yet the number of police officers has fallen by almost 21,000 since he became prime minister.
The total number of full-time police staff — which includes other staff with policing powers — has fallen by over 46,000 since 2010.
Central government funding to police forces in England and Wales fell by £2.3 billion — 25 per cent — in real terms from 2010-11 to 2015-16.
Instead of preparing the police for crime in the 21st century, the Tories slashed their budgets by a quarter, with the loss of over 19,000 police officers and 6,000 community support officers. Then, after sustained pressure from the Labour opposition, the former chancellor George Osborne at the 2015 Autumn Statement said he would protect police funding in real terms.
And yet the total police grant for 2017/18 for England and Wales is being cut to £7.325 billion from £7.422bn in the previous year. This is a cut of £96.7m.
This is the second successive year the police grant has been cut. In 2015/16 the total police grant was £7.631bn. This represents a cut in cash terms of £306m, a 4 per cent cut.
We also need to be clear that the Tories’ cuts to other public services including local authorities increase the demands on our police.
Labour is greatly concerned that the government actually has no idea whether or not the cuts are jeopardising public safety.
Policing is an area where it’s clear that real cuts have real consequences and the government fails to understand this.
The National Audit Office, in its 2015 report on the financial sustainability of police forces concluded that the current funding approach does not consider the circumstances of individual forces, that police forces have insufficient understanding of the demand for services or what affects their costs and that this “makes it difficult for them to transform services intelligently, show how much resource they need and demonstrate that they are delivering value for money.”
And in their last two annual reports, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has highlighted the problems that arise from this salami-slicing approach to cutting police budgets when it comes to neighbourhood policing, saying: “Neighbourhood policing is one area where the danger of across-the-board reductions in resources is apparent.
“As chief officers reduce their workforces, they will need to explain to their communities how they plan to provide neighbourhood policing in the future.
“They will need to include assurances that a smaller police workforce will not compromise public safety and explain any effect there might be on neighbourhood policing.”
Of great concern to my constituents in Hackney North and Stoke Newington will be that in London, Bernard Hogan-Howe from the Met Police has issued a stark warning on the effects in the coming years of cuts to the Met’s Home Office grant, commenting that “you can only make so many efficiency savings” before front-line services are affected.
Saying that “the likelihood is by 2020 there will be even less public spending and there’s another £3bn [of savings] to find,” his remarks were widely interpreted as meaning that Scotland Yard will be forced to introduce NHS style “rationing” of its services to the public and cut thousands of police officers unless the threat of further cuts is lifted.
He added that when operating under such restraints: “You can’t ignore things; you can do it slower and worse [as] it gets harder to have flexibility.”
This means that “you haven’t got as many officers in cyber crime, which is going through the roof, or female genital mutilation or all the other things that we do.”
His bottom line is that you need to have the officers as you can’t fill the gap by asking officers who don’t exist to do overtime and this is why the number of officers matters so much.
Labour’s Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned that we could see up to £700 million cut from the Met’s central Home Office grant — the reason being that money given to London could be diverted to regional forces under a new funding formula designed to reduce alleged imbalances in the way that cash is currently allocated.
When the most senior officer in the country warns that the Tories’ cuts to the police budgets are dangerous, we should all take note.
Nationally, the substantial reductions to police budgets since 2010 already pose a threat to public safety, now these further cuts will simply apply more pressure on an already overstretched police service.
In contrast to the Tories’ approach, the solution is to take a more holistic view of how best to deliver policing in the face of modern challenges.
In 2014, a group of senior police officers wrote a report, entitled Reshaping Policing for the Public, that discussed a restructuring of the police force to end the postcode lottery of funding, with greater digitalisation and collaboration.
Yet the government seems to have taken little notice of these suggestions.
Labour will stand up for safer communities and for the victims of crime. We will fight for the government to keep to their promise to protect police funding and to develop the holistic approach we need for the 21st century.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.