Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
21 July 2011

Police cuts: even worse than expected

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

By George Eaton

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:

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.