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11 August 2011

Clegg’s risky defence of police cuts

Deputy PM says cuts are being made "across-the-board". But health and foreign aid are protected.

By George Eaton

With Boris Johnson, among others, calling for the government to change course on police cuts, it was left to Nick Clegg to hold the line on the Todayprogramme this morning. As I noted last month, 16,200 police officers will be cut by 2015, including 2,500 front-line officers next year. 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.

Clegg’s defence of the cuts was two-fold. First, he suggested, there are efficiency savings to be made: “We wouldn’t be making the suggestions we are about the savings that the police forces are going to make without being confident that it is manageable.”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, for instance has persistently claimed that the police can cut costs without harming frontline services. On 31 October she told Andew 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 made it clear that many forces, having already cut back on back office staff, have no choice but to reduce office numbers. Clegg wasn’t pressed on this point today but he, along with the rest of the government, will need to prepare a defence.

Second, he argued that the police like “everyone else” have to make cuts in order to reduce the £143.2bn deficit. Savings were being made “across-the-board,” he said. Except, as the Deputy Prime Minister surely knows, that’s not the case. The NHS (at least in theory) and foreign aid (which will receive a 34 per cent real-terms increase) are protected from the cuts.

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It’s a point that we can expect Tory MPs, who have long resented the “special treatment” extended to international development, to make repeatedly in this afternoon’s debate. And David Cameron will need to do a better job than Clegg did this morning.