Police cuts: even worse than expected

Cameron promised no "front-line cuts" but 16,200 police officers are set to go.

Few now remember it but there was a time when David Cameron promised no cuts to front-line services. The weekend before the general election he memorably told Andrew Marr:

Any cabinet minister, if I win the election, who comes to me and says: "Here are my plans," and they involve front-line reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again. After 13 years of Labour, there is a lot of wasteful spending, a lot of money that doesn't reach the front line.

If further evidence were needed of the dishonesty of this pledge, the news that 16,200 police officers will be cut by 2015, including 2,500 front-line officers next year, provides it. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary [HMIC] estimates that a total of 34,100 officers and staff will lose their jobs, considerably higher than the initial figure of 28,000.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May has persistently claimed that the police can cut costs without harming frontline services. On 31 October she told Marr: "[W]e know that it is possible for the police to make significant reductions in their budgets without affecting frontline policing." But the independent report from HMIC makes it clear that many forces, having already cut back on back office staff, have no choice but to reduce office numbers. Here's the key paragraph:

The forces planning to cut the greatest proportion of police officer numbers were not necessarily those facing the largest estimated budget cuts. One reason for this is that some forces with only moderate cuts have been forced to reduce officer numbers because they had already slimmed down non-frontline functions (which predominantly comprise police staff) before the CSR period.

It's worth noting that front-line staff are defined as "... those who are in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law."

Significantly, the HMIC report rejects the government's claim that there is no direct link between falling police numbers and levels of crime. It predicts that a 10 per cent fall in officers will lead to a 3 per cent rise in property crime. In London, for instance, burglaries, robberies and muggings have all increased for the first time in years, even before the full force of the cuts is felt.

Ministers, one expects, will argue that rising crime is inevitable in these austere times. But it's not an argument that they ever accepted from Labour when in opposition. A surge in crime, as David Cameron will be all too aware, could yet provide a focus for public anger.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.