The Government speak of reform of the police force: of front-line services and of back-office management. However, “reform” is a euphemism that the Government use for the most drastic cuts to one of our most vital public services.
Actions speak louder than words, and the public will judge the Government on their actions and their decision to cut the police budget by 20%. The Government speak of reform, but the reality is deep and damaging cuts, which will drastically affect the front line of our police force.
We should not underestimate the scale of the cuts. Almost a quarter of a million people are employed by 43 police forces in England and Wales. The Association of Chief Police Officers has put a figure on how the Government’s 20% cut is likely to translate into the number of officers on the street. It estimates that 28,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts. Of those, 12,000 will be police officers and 16,000 will be so-called civilian staff. That represents a fall of around 12% in overall staff numbers, with 8% of officers losing their jobs.
The Government’s Winsor review states that the taxpayer will save £485 million over three years as a result of those cuts, but at what cost? Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has said that more than two thirds of all police force staff in England and Wales are employed in front-line roles, but that not all are necessarily visible. It stated that the front line is
“not just what you notice, but it’s also what you rely on.”
We must not make a clinical distinction between front-line and back-office policing. That is too crude. We must not confuse visibility with deployment.
HMIC found that 95% of police officers are either on the front line or working in important middle-office roles in—for example, intelligence gathering or operation planning. Even if the Government’s claim that cuts of 20% would affect only back-office roles were true, those middle and back-office roles are not simply disposable assets. Cuts to middle and back-office roles will inevitably have an effect on the ability of those on the front line to do their jobs.
The Prime Minister said:
“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line officers.”—[Hansard, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 335.]
I would like to echo the words of Steve Finnigan, our chief constable. He said that preventing cuts from hitting the front line would prove challenging. He went further, saying that it would be impossible to protect the front line. He was asked this week whether the Government’s cuts mean that he will have to reduce front-line policing and he replied, “I absolutely am.” Chief Constable Finnigan is ACPO’s lead officer on performance management. Does the Home Secretary think that he is wrong? Does she think that Chief Constable Finnigan of ACPO and Lancashire police is not managing his force correctly?
The point is simple, and we are hearing it from forces throughout the country. We simply cannot make cuts of 20% without hitting front-line services. Our police force is one of our most vital public services. Those officers do some of the hardest jobs in the most demanding circumstances and the Government have wholly underestimated their commitment and dedication.
The Government’s so-called reforms will inevitably have an impact on the police service for years to come. The Government promised that there would be no centrally determined job losses—I suppose that that is technically true. Instead, the Government are responsible for the heavy front-loaded cuts, leaving the inevitable job losses in the hands of local authorities and the police.
The priority must be to protect the visibility and availability of police forces in our local communities. However, my constituents are far from optimistic about the so-called reforms. Lancashire Police Federation has said that, in the light of cuts, the force will be hit doubly with job losses and pay cuts, about which we have already heard.