The battle to save the police from the cuts isn't over

Don't be fooled by the Tory slight of hand, warns Jack Dromey. 

NS

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Just three weeks ago, Labour, the police and the public forced the Home Secretary into a major last minute U-turn which saw the Tories give in to pressure to abandon dangerous police cuts of over 22 per cent literally the night before the Spending Review.

The battle to win such a climb-down by the Government was not an easy one, and even now we are seeing Osborne’s claim to protect the police start to unravel.

As I often joke with colleagues in the police, my trade union background means that we weren’t always natural allies. However, I am constantly moved by the hard working men and women in the modern police force, proud and dedicated, but dismayed to serve under a Tory government seemingly intent on hollowing out the service.

Equally, I have seen how destructive the impact of decreasing police numbers has been on the safety and cohesion of communities, the protection of the most vulnerable, and crucial counterterrorism work.

The impact of further extreme reductions was unthinkable and so Andy Burnham, shadow home secretary, and I vowed to fight to protect the police and launched the final stage of our campaign in early November. We mobilised the police and the public, from those on the front line, to victims of crime, to police leaders around the country.

We used every parliamentary lever at our disposal, giving Tory and Labour MPs alike the opportunity to speak out. We rallied Police and Crime Commissioners from every party. Good journalists from across the spectrum did invaluable work to expose the dangers of Tory plans.

Out on the ground, Labour PCCs, MPs and Councillors ran fantastic campaigns, demonstrating the important work done by their local police and standing up for the service.

Our message became even more important in light of the tragic attacks in Paris. The horrific acts of terror brought in to sharp focus how important police were in preventing terrorism and in responding when attacks tragically happen.

On 25 November, Andy and I readied ourselves for Osborne’s spending review knowing that we had fought a good campaign and had the support of the public. An opinion poll the weekend before the CSR showed that 70 per cent of Brits were against the Government’s proposed police reductions.

Then came George Osborne’s u-turn as he promised to ‘protect police spending’.

The government’s reversal on the planned 22 per cent cuts means the police service has escaped catastrophe, but still faces a difficult future. Unfortunately, despite the initial jubilation, it has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks that things are not as rosy as Osborne would like to pretend.

With considerably less fanfare, the government will later this week publish the police grant settlement which shows how much money forces can expect to receive. The detail of these announcements, far more than the Chancellor’s headline claims in November, will reveal how protected the police really are.

Police forces are still contending with the consequences of 5 years of severe budget reductions, as well as the realisation that their force budgets will not be protected after all and that Osborne’s pledges rely on the politically difficult expectation on PCCs to raise local tax significantly.

Most deceptively, the headline pledges to increase specific counterterrorism funding, and channel money into other protected areas rely on money being sucked away from individual forces. These funds pay for the frontline and neighbourhood police that communities value. Not quite the full protection for our police service that Osborne implied!

This is not to mention the government’s recent confession that three crucial forces, defence, nuclear and the British Transport Police, are not even covered by his pledge.

Additionally, forces fear the extra pressure that they will face as a result of deep cuts to local authorities, the Ministry of Justice and health budgets. The police continue to be the service of last resort for the vulnerable – the elderly, victims of crime and those with mental health problems.

The Tories’ track record for understanding the demands that the police have to face is not good. They have taken the police on what one Chief Constable called a “financial rollercoaster” over the past 5 years.

In May, Theresa May used her first public speech since being reappointed Home Secretary to tell the police to stop “scaremongering” about the consequences of spending reductions, telling them that they would have to face further major cuts in this Parliament, on top of the 25 per cent cuts they had already endured over the past 5 years.

Just days before the Spending Review, Osborne refused to rule out cuts to frontline officers, and Cameron was using spurious figures on frontline policing to justify future cuts. 

The Chancellor reportedly changed his mind on police cuts at 11pm on the evening of Tuesday 24 November, the night before the Spending Review.

Decisions as grave as this one, on matters relating to national security and the safety of our citizens should be taken on the basis of extensive consultation with the public, police and security leaders, and a solid evidence base, impossible on such a chaotic timetable.

Chief Constables and Police can only hope that their funding settlement this week is not being decided in such a haphazard way, for it will determine whether they can keep officers on the frontline and keep people safe.

As a result, we are not revelling in the outcome of what was a hard-fought campaign, but instead we are keeping the spotlight on the Government to ensure that the police have the resources they need to protect the public.

Let’s hold the Tories to account on what is in danger of becoming one more broken promise.

The battle is not yet won to stop the Conservatives sacrificing the safety and security of British people at home on the altar of austerity, but it is one that we in the Labour Party will not stop fighting. 

Jack Dromey is shadow labour minister.