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Jim Gannon on police cuts

Our regular contributor Jim Gannon writes: Every day now the media is full of austerity measures being forced on our public sector, the latest being on our armed forces, who in the last few days have learned of a dramatic reduction in their numbers and regiments even whilst many are still out in far flung places putting their life on the line as they defend the right to a democratic society.

 

 

Police force morale is also reported as being at an all time low as the forced cutbacks begin to take their toll. While police chiefs try to put a brave face on the whole situation the reality surely must be very difficult to manage. While I do not advocate a blame culture, surely someone somewhere has to be held to account for the financial state this country finds itself in, where everything seems to be going south. The latest bank scandal over the fixing of the Libor rate, which has emerged, has no doubt a long way to run, and is one more thing for the public to take on board adding to the public mistrust over politics and banking.

 

The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary released what could be called quite an upbeat take on the current financial challenges facing our 43 police forces in the UK.

 

Forces have risen to the finance challenge, but HMIC has some concerns regarding sustainability

Police forces have risen to the financial challenge, cutting their spending while largely maintaining the service they provide the public; but HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has some concerns about how long this will last, as there are gaps in one force’s plans, and most need to transform their efficiency in preparation for future spending reviews, a report published today has found.

 

Year One: Reducing spending, maintaining service

Over the last year, forces have reduced their spending while largely maintaining the service to the public. HMIC found that forces are on track to balance their budgets: they planned to reduce their spending by £749m by April 2012, largely through a reduction in the workforce of 17,600 (over half of the total workforce reductions they plan to make by March 2015). Crime is continuing to fall – down by three per cent (between 2010 and 2011). Victim satisfaction is also up from 83.4 per cent to 83.9pc, and the police response to anti-social behaviour has improved. And although HMIC found that many forces have changed the way they deliver some policing locally (for instance, there are now 2,300 more neighbourhood officers, and 5,200 fewer response officers, contributing to a 5,500 fall in the number of officers in roles that are visible and available to the public), the survey of members of the public conducted for this review indicated that the majority of respondents noticed no change in how often they saw the police.

 

Comment

Reported crime down by 3pc, the emphasis of course being on the word reported. Closing police stations and public counters will help to reduce reported crime as will the private sector dealing with their own crime investigation and outcome. Removing 5,500 public facing officers will also help. Making such cuts may have short term financial savings but significant long term problems.

 

Looking forward

Forces need to save £2.4 billion by the end of the current spending review period (March 2015). HMIC found that forces have plans in place to save £2.1bn of this. £233m of the £302m outstanding gap is accounted for by the Metropolitan Police (Met). Forces plan to achieve the majority of these savings by reducing their workforce, However, HMIC found that most forces plan to do this while protecting – although not preserving – the number of officers and staff in front line roles:

Between March 2010 and March 2015, forces plan to cut the front line total workforce (officers and staff) by 6pc (8,100), and non-frontline functions by 33pc (20,300) – although these percentages masks variation between forces, with one cutting by as much as 19pc, and another planning a 9pc increase. 

As a result of these changes, the proportion of total workforce on the front line will increase from two-thirds in March 2010 to nearly three-quarters in March 2015. 

 

Looking specifically at police officer numbers and proportions: forces plan to reduce the number of front line officers by 6pc (5,800) and non-front line officers by 42pc (7,600). As a result, by 2015 between 81pc and 95pc of officers (depending on the force) will be in frontline roles. The figures in the three bullets above are for March 2015 compared with March 2010 and exclude MPS and Cheshire as they are yet to produce their plans for year three and year four. 

 

Comment

This demonstrates how deft a figure man can make bad news look quite good. Reducing officer numbers by 28,400 and still be capable of presenting a positive picture. One cannot ignore the fact that whilst efficiencies must always sought in business the loss of such numbers will in my opinion impact on crime and public order.

 

HMIC has found that, while the operating model of British policing is unaltered, the nature of the frontline is changing. Forces are planning to varying degrees to restructure the front line in a number of ways, such as by merging response and neighbourhood teams; increasing spend on investigation and public protection functions; increasing use of Special Constables by 9,000; and implementing more efficient working practices.

 

There are plans for forces to close 264 (22 per cent) front counters, but to open 137 police access points in shared locations such as libraries and supermarkets (an increase of 49pc). HMIC’s survey of the public indicated that their initial reaction was to be against front counter closures but, after being given information about the hard choices faced by forces, they were more accepting of the action.

 

Comment

Why are they faced with the forced closure of front counters and police stations in such numbers. We learn that forces are selling off buildings to balance the books. It is the most vulnerable members of our society who will suffer the most from these closures.

 

The Police Service is changing – but is it transforming, and can this be sustained? 

 

HMIC has concerns about the ability of the Police Service to transform its efficiency and sustain current levels of service in the long-term. The one-third reduction in the non-front line by 2015 can only be replaced by forces transforming their efficiency if they are to avoid essential back office functions simply being transferred to front line staff.

 

The 6pc reduction in front line capacity by 2015 can be replaced by making tactical savings. But, if forces are to prepare effectively for further cuts in a future spending round, they need to start now preparing to transform the efficiency of their front line.

 

Collaboration provides one opportunity to transform and in a report also published (‘Increasing Efficiency in the Police Service’), HMIC found almost half of collaborations involve the back office. The report provides a set of practical questions forces and authorities can ask to test whether they are fully exploiting potential savings from collaboration.

 

HMIC is also concerned that (unlike other forces) the Met does not have a developed plan for the spending review period. They have a gap in their financial plans of £233m and are not yet able to say what the overall shape of their workforce will look like by 2014/15. Both the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, and the Commissioner have declared a firm intention to deal with the issue.

 

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, said: “HMIC is pleased to see that forces have risen to the financial challenge and are generally balancing their books. They are making the difficult decisions that are needed to make savings, while taking steps to protect, although not preserve, front line services. However, the full effects of these choices are in many cases still to be felt. We will continue to monitor the impact of the cuts, both on the service provided to the public, and on the British model of policing itself.”

 

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said: “The need for forces to transform their efficiency remains. We are looking at what might be done to improve the performance of forces crime fighting capability and we are planning a joint project with the NAO to identify learning from a major procurement.”

 

Additional data 

1.The report ‘Policing in austerity: One year on’ along with individual force reports can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk 

2.HMIC’s report ‘Adapting to Austerity’ was published in July 2011 and looked at the preparedness of forces and authorities across England and Wales to make savings over the four years of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) period (2011/12 – 2014/15). This review and accompanying force reports can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk 

3.HMIC’s report ‘Demanding Times’ was published in March 2011 and can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk

4.In October 2010, the government announced that the central funding provided to the police service would reduce by 20 per cent in the four years between March 2011 and March 2015.

5.Figures are rounded (financial figures to the nearest million and workforce figures to the nearest 10) and financial figures are in cash prices.

6.Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies. For more information please see www.hmic.gov.uk.

 

Comment

When one reads the HMIC report it does highlight the real financial driven austerity measures being loaded onto UK police forces over the next three years. The private security industry could in this case say out of austerity comes opportunity and I certainly believe this to be the case for the manned guarding sector. The affluent section of society will turn to the private security business for protection when they feel they have little option but to do so.

 

Sign of things to come

On June 25 Essex Police announced that they were selling off nine police stations and nine other buildings. The bleak picture makes it clear that other forces will be faced with similar decisions.

 

Sale of police buildings

A combination of cuts in grant and other unavoidable financial pressures means that Essex Police has to make recurring revenue savings of more than £42 million a year by 2014/15. To achieve this level of cuts requires considerable restructuring of the force and part of this process includes the rationalisation of the police estate: in short, the sale of police buildings.

 

Over the past year, Essex Police has undertaken a review to identify buildings that are no longer needed under the new operational policing model. Essex has a relatively large estate consisting of over 110 buildings. In December 2011, the review identified a number of buildings across the county which were going to be under-used following the force restructure, due to factors related to size, location and suitability, and which could be released for sale to generate capital receipts. Essex Police was open and transparent about these proposals, and sought and listened to feedback from members of our communities throughout the spring of 2012.

 

On June 25, 2012, the Essex Police Authority Finance and Audit Committee decided to approve the release of 18 buildings for disposal from financial year 2012-13: This included nine police stations and nine other buildings including five houses

It is anticipated that the sale of these buildings will generate capital receipts in the region of £4-5 million. This is essential because Essex Police must remain able to make investments in infrastructure and technology in the future. In addition, during 2010-11, the total running costs for these buildings amounted to over £300,000, including maintenance.

 

Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle said: “These decisions are driven by the commitment to provide the most efficient and professional policing operation possible for the people of Essex. Faced with highly challenging budget cuts, the Essex Police Authority and the force have had to make some very tough decisions. Ultimately, we do not believe that lighting, heating and maintaining a building that is under utilised is the best use of Essex taxpayers’ money.

 

“We are faced with a balancing act between managing a reducing budget and spreading our resources across a range of necessary activities. Essex Police remains committed and focused on keeping all our communities safe and secure”.

 

Viewpoint

I asked a colleague ex Thames Valley police Detective Superintendent Derek Bird for a comment on the current situation and I quote: 

 

“Despite assurances given by the Prime Minister and his Home Office Ministers, it is not possible to reduce police spend by 20 per cent without impacting directly on front-line policing.  Equally, by closing police stations, the ability of the public to interact directly with their local officers again is reduced.  Police forces are asset stripping at a pace and this must have a tangible impact on policing and on public comfort and confidence. If this country is in a parlous state, as it appears to be, why won’t the Government tell us the truth?  We have broad enough shoulders to take the news, but we are affronted by the disingenuous statements being made daily.  Equally, if there is a consequent rise in crime and in disorder no amount of figures-fuddling will hide this fact – we will feel it, and statistics will be irrelevant.

 

“Some members of ACPO are being political in making statements that appear to support the Government view and we can surmise why individuals might do this.  However, the huge blindfold being pulled over the eyes of the public already is translucent and, I believe, soon will prove to be transparent.  The truth will out and the Government will be forced to face reality.  Sadly, by then it may be too late to reverse the trend and long-lasting damage may have been caused to police morale, to public confidence in policing and, eventually to trust in the ConLib coalition. The first act of a new, incoming Government will be to restore policing and public confidence in it.  The pendulum has swung before and it will again.

 

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, responding to the publication of the HMIC report ‘Policing in Austerity: One year on’, said:

“This report shows front line policing is being badly hit – breaking the promises the Prime Minister made and taking unfair risks with community safety. Thousands of officers being lost from emergency response and neighbourhood teams. And HMIC are clear it is likely to get even worse. The Metropolitan Police have a funding gap of £233m, meaning more officers are set to be lost.

“This Government has been trying to spin its way out of the damning evidence on police cuts for far too long. It is clear the Tory-led Government is cutting too far and too fast into policing – cutting the very police officers that people want to see out on the streets protecting the public. 

 

“They need to change course and accept Labour’s argument and the expert evidence that a 12 per cent reduction in police spending would be manageable, but 20pc is hitting front line services. The Tory-led Government has no strategy to cut crime, only to cut police officers. Chaotic changes to national policing, undermining police morale and reductions in police powers alongside the scale of cuts are doing serious damage to policing. 

 

“The report into last year’s riots shows the number of police on the streets really mattered. Yet instead of working with the police to prevent any repetition of last year’s riots, the Government has made it harder by cutting the officers they need.”

 

So there you have it. As they say every picture tells a story and this is not a pretty one. Introduce uncertainty into any work force and the seeds of doubt begin to emerge no matter what they are told about the future. Once they turn inwards it is difficult to move the mindset on. These are very challenging times for UK police forces who now have other things on their mind apart from fighting crime and protecting the public.


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