In 2015, the then home secretary and now Prime Minister told an astonished police service reeling from £2.3bn worth of budget cuts that “this crying wolf has got to stop”. Now amidst an unprecedented terror threat, record emergency calls, an ongoing punishingreal terms pay cut and with the police at their lowest strength on record we are seeing the reality; for our police service the wolf is at door.
Forces from across the country, representing very different communities, are now all saying the same thing: that the situation cannot go on any longer. The government’s claim that funding is being protected is being exposed by the very people who are charged with keeping us safe.
Last week, the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council issued an extraordinary intervention. Sara Thornton is a woman of vast experience who weighs her words carefully. On this occasion she did not mince her words, warning the police are now under “unsustainable pressure” and that the current budget is “not enough” Even more concerning, she confirmed forces faced a 7.2 per cent cut in their counter-terror policing budget directly contradicting remarks made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.
In different times, a Prime Minister misleading the House over public safety might be a surprise but this is a government whose relationship and credibility with the police is already at rock bottom. We have been saying for some time that you cannot protect the public on the cheap, now it seems everyone but the government agrees.
Despite the challenges, this year we have seen the very best of our emergency services and in particular the unmatchable bravery of our police officers. At London Bridge, a lone officer from the British Transport Police looked evil square in the eye and refused to be cowed as he attempted to fight off three terrorists with nothing more than a truncheon. The speed and professionalism of the police response to three heinous attacks on our way of life has been nothing short of astounding.
But the truth is, though the government may be quick to praise our heroic police officers, they have left them at breaking point.
Since 2010, our analysis has shown officers have suffered the equivalent of a £6,000 pay cut. Meanwhile the cancellation of vital rest days and the surge in overtime is increasing the strain on overstretched officers. Forces have been left by the Government with only one choice: to meet the unprecedented demand by putting intolerable pressure on the overworked front line.
It is little wonder we are seeing disillusioned officers flooding out of the service with voluntary resignations nearly doubling in four years.
Even worse, the squeeze on pay and resources comes as demand is soaring.
“Calls to service” – 999 and 101 calls to police requiring a response – are at a new high our research has shown, rising by more than 15 per cent in major forces over the last three years. Britain’s largest force, London’s Metropolitan Police, saw demand surge more than 20 per cent and and they now deal with two million emergency calls a year.
It is no wonder a survey of 30,000 police officers by the Police Federation found that two-thirds had low morale and 86 per cent felt they are not paid fairly considering the stress of the job.
We have a police service at its lowest strength on record while unprecedented strain and a government abdicating their primary responsibility: to protect the public. In this climate, it is Labour’s duty to fight for our police to be given the resources they need and fight for the public to be given the protection they deserve. That’s why we pledged to fund 10,000 extra police officers and rebuild neighbourhood policing in communities across the country.
Law and order is a Labour tradition and a Labour issue. Under the last Labour government we increased police numbers to the highest-levels on record and put the police back into communities. When we get into Government again, we will reset the relationship with the police and draw a line under years of Tory neglect. We will build a partnership between the government, the police and the public based on respect.
The police have protected the public, it’s time the government protected the police.