Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Britain's new working-class pride could be a bonus for Labour (Guardian)

That 60 per cent of Britons claim to be proletarian reflects a fear that the Tories have broken a promise on rewarding hard work, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

2. It does not really matter if Britain leaves (Financial Times)

The idea of the UK at the heart of the EU is bizarre, writes Wolfgang Münchau.

3. Obama's new team shows the Iraq lessons are forgotten (Guardian)

His key appointments contributed to the worst foreign blunder in at least a decade, says Gary Younge. Can we trust them in another war?

4. The war in Libya was seen as a success, now here we are engaging with the blowback in Mali (Independent)

Our government and media may often ignore the price of Western interventions, but in future conflicts and fuel for radical Islamist groups, it is still paid nonetheless, writes Owen Jones.

5. Tories, wear your hearts on your sleeves (Times) (£)

On social justice and poverty, the best ideas come from Conservatives, says Tim Montgomerie. The party needs to spell out its moral vision.

6. A straightforward pension scheme for all (Daily Telegraph)

The system we launch today will give workers the help they need in planning for retirement, writes Steve Webb.

7. We need a bloodbath to tame these arrogant officials (Daily Mail)

It requires a determined minister to make the civil service once more the servants of democracy, rather than its wreckers, says Simon Heffer.

8. Ignore ghosts of Eurolovers tough with Brussels (Sun)

The greatest threat to an acceptable British outcome is half-hearted and indecisive leadership, says Trevor Kavanagh.

9. It’s transport that will carry us down the road to recovery (Daily Telegraph)

Upgrading the rail system is crucial if we are to be economically competitive again, writes Boris Johnson.

10. The battle against cybercrime is too important to be undone by Eurosceptics (Guardian)

If they come under attack from hackers, Eurosceptics will come to regret their opposition to Europol's Cybercrime Centre, says Misha Glenny.

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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