CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Bloody Sunday: Saville missed the chance of deeper healing -- seeing killers admit the truth (Guardian)

Northern Ireland's justice system now must try to balance priorities of peace and justice. But, says Jonathan Freedland, that dilemma would have been avoided if the inquiry had been less more like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

2. For many, Saville has fallen short (Independent)

The report addresses some of the demands of the victims' families, says Henry Patterson. But there will be disappointment that the terms "murder" and "unlawful killing" don't appear.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. The truth. And anything but the whole truth (Times)

Yes, says Daniel Finkelstein, soldiers were guilty on Bloody Sunday. But the price of peace is that they must get the same leniency as the IRA.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. A programme to horrify politicians, but save Britain (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer makes the case for extreme measures on the economy, endorsing a specimen Budget by the think tank Reform that calls for VAT on food and severe NHS cuts.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

5. We need new means to control deficits (Independent)

What is happening here is an attempt to recast government decision-making on fiscal policy, Hamish McRae explains. We're moving towards an extra-democratic body taking a long view of fiscal responsibility.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

6. Oil addiction is suicidal. It's also pointless (Times)

BP's real crime is wasting billions on risky exploration when new technologies are obviously the future, says Anatole Kaletsky.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

7. We should all have a say in how banks are reformed (Financial Times)

John Kay maintains that the value of banks lies in what they do for the rest of the economy, not for themselves. The separation of retail from investment banking would be a prelude to addressing the conflicts within investment banking itself.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

8. Football: a dear friend to capitalism (Guardian)

Terry Eagleton argues that if the Cameron government is bad news for those seeking radical change, the World Cup is even worse. The opium of the people is now football.

9. Too many forms to fill in? Welcome to our world, MPs (Times)

MPs are complaining about the hassle inflicted on them buy the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Alice Thomson points out that we've put up with bureaucracy and incompetence for years.

10. Merkel's paralysis (Guardian)

Sabine Rennefanz describes how Germans are awaiting the fate of their hopeless coalition -- similar to Britain's, though it never had a honeymoon period. The obituaries are in.

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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation