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What's the DUP's price in a hung parliament?

The DUP's manifesto reveals what the party will ask for in exchange for its votes.

The DUP launched their manifesto on Tuesday and it reads like a party that has its eye on the possibilities that could come from this election. Polling figures suggest neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party are likely to come out of the election with a majority. This leaves a space for a smaller party to step into the breach, giving them an unusual opportunity to influence government policy. The DUP ruled out taking part in a formal coalition deal, however they can still take part in a deal with an incoming government. Nigel Dodds has predicted that the most likely deal would involve supporting a minority government on a vote by vote basis. The DUP are choosing to keep their options open, willing to support either Labour or the Conservatives. This manifesto shows they are willing and may yet prove vital to an incoming government, particularly if a minority government emerges from the election.

It’s with this possibility in mind that the manifesto sets out what the DUP want to see in the budget. This includes decreasing the deficit with the aim of eliminating it, but also protecting front line services such as schools and health services. They have already avoided introducing the bedroom tax and have committed to supporting the abolition of the charge for the rest of the UK. They will also support more aggressive pursuit of tax evaders. They will refuse to support increasing VAT. All of this suggests that the DUP really is every bit as willing to strike a deal with Labour as with the Tories, despite being seen as a more natural companion to the Conservative party. Further economic proposals also fall within areas that could come to fruition under a Labour government such as an increased minimum wage and increasing government provision for childcare, although the DUP go further than Labour and recommend linking it to household income as a percentage. The DUP have also laid out what they would like in economic terms for Northern Ireland. These include the British government assisting in encouraging FDI in Northern Ireland and increased infrastructure investment.

However the DUP also have a number of policies that would suit a deal with the Conservative Party. They intend to support a referendum on EU membership which they have already worked extensively on. Both major parties will need the offered support for increased immigration controls including limiting benefits to those who have not been in the UK for long.  Courting both major parties is something that has been avoided by other parties, the SNP have made overtures to the Labour party, UKIP have tied their fortune to the Conservatives and the Green Party claim they feel they can do better in opposition than coalition. The only other party to appeal to both major parties are the Liberal Democrats and they are in the entirely different situation of seeking to maintain power while most likely incurring a large loss of MPs.

They have included a number of measures to strengthen the Union, many of which seek to further integrate Northern Ireland in the UK brand. This is particularly interesting timing, Northern Ireland is often the most remote part of the UK, not just geographically but also in terms of attention and political interest. For example during the recent tv debates, no Northern Ireland party was invited despite the DUP having more MPs than UKIP, Plaid Cymru or the SNP. The DUP argued for their place but were ultimately ignored. Now the DUP are asking for a number of measures that would reinforce Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. These include a guarantee that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is a cabinet level position, renaming the Olympic team ‘Team UK’ in recognition of Northern Ireland’s contribution and the replacement of GB on driving licences with UK. While these may seem like unusually small demands, Northern Ireland has been on the periphery of the UK for a long time and as a unionist party it is logical that in a position of power the DUP would want to reinforce Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.  

The DUP have found themselves in an interesting situation and they appeared primed to take advantage of it. Their manifesto offers not just a list of policies that they might implement in the impossible situation of them taking government but rather a clear offer to the next party of government. It is a clear series of things that they are willing to support and what they would like for Northern Ireland and the UK in return. However they are not just offering a deal to support votes in exchange for funding or power. If the DUP manage to work out a deal with the incoming government, the manifesto shows they want to strengthen the union and emphasise Northern Ireland’s place within it. This is a unique election for Northern Ireland, never before has the DUP found itself in a position where they can have a serious effect on the next Westminster government. This manifesto shows that they have fully recognised this and are ready to deal with whichever party will give them what they want.

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