It's time for the Lib Dems to shout a lot more

Clegg is right to say that our priorities are not the Conservatives'.

I suspect George Eaton was right when he described the tax transparency proposals outlined in the Budget as a political masterstroke. But credit where it's due - and that credit isn't the Chancellor's. Nor, funnily enough, is it all the good work of Tory MP Ben Gummer, who Osborne credited in his Budget speech. For this policy was part of the 1997 General Election manifesto - of the Lib Dems. So excuse me while I reclaim it for our good selves.

Why am I bothering? Because from now on, we're going to be a lot more territorial about policy.

As I blogged earlier this week, something of a Rubicon has been crossed in the last few days. Who can guess what the last straw was (though I'd lay odds it's the ongoing grassroots fury over the Health Bill). But anyway, Nick inserted an important line in his letter to members, post Budget. It said:

Of course, this is a Coalition Budget and we did not get our own way on everything. Conservative priorities are not ours.

And talking to people in the centre, going forward it seems that finally, finally, finally we're going to start telling people which policies are Lib Dem policies - and just as importantly, which are Conservative ones. Taking two million people out of income tax - the Lib Dems. Cutting the 50p rate - Tories.

The grassroots have been doing it on their own for some time - this infographic, now updated post-Budget, of Lib Dem wins in government is proving a popular crib sheet for Lib Dem activists all over the country.

And now it looks like the party in government are doing the same thing.

Restoring the link between pensions and earnings? Lib Dem policy. The biggest rise in the weekly state pension in a generation? Lib Dem win. Freezing of Age Allowance - all your own work, George.

I've been here before. And been wrong. We've hinted at this approach - and then screwed it up royally. Telling people that '"It is not a Liberal Democrat health bill but it is a better bill because of the Liberal Democrats" is a sound bite in which the words that stick are "Liberal Democrat Health Bill". With that and tuition fees we've got a lot of rowing back to do.

But this time, talking to people at the heart of government, they really seem to mean it. We're drawing a line in the sand, marking our own policies, and letting the electorate decide whether we're right or wrong.

Let's see if we pull it off.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty Images
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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