23 October 2018
Three of Britain’s most senior chief constables have warned of a fresh crisis in policing after the government squeezed budgets even further, which they say will leave no alternative but to cut the number of officers.
In an unprecedented public warning, the chief constables of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside forces told the Guardian the fresh cuts would leave them with officer numbers last seen in the 1970s.
Since 2010 the government has cut police funding by 19%. Police in England and Wales have now been told that a £420m pensions shortfall must be met from their already reduced budgets.
After recalculating officers’ pension liabilities, the Treasury decided forces needed to contribute more. Forces are now coming to terms with the impact of the further budget squeeze and anger is mounting.
Ian Hopkins, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, the third biggest force, said he had hoped to have 6,300 officers by the end of March 2021; instead he is likely to have 5,709 – fewer than the force’s 1975 total.
Hopkins told the Guardian: “Clearly we would always look to save money without job cuts, but the reality is 83% of our budget is people and after eight years of efficiencies across all parts of the organisation – which has seen us make reductions of £183m – there would be little alternative but to cut posts, both officers and staff.”
He said he feared the new funding squeeze would reduce his force. “This would just get worse as we would have to further prioritise against threat, harm and risk, screen out more and more crime. Essentially we would just have to focus on providing a response function, a serious and organised crime capability and a custody function as the core capabilities of policing.”
“There is no question there will be more obvious rationing of services. The public can already see it is going on,” he said. “We are already not pursuing crimes where we could find a suspect. We are doing things now that surprise me.
“We are struggling to deliver a service to the public. I think criminals are well aware now how stretched we are.”
Thompson added: “These further cuts will leave us smaller than we have ever been. There is unquestionably more demand than there was in 1974.”
West Yorkshire, the fourth biggest force, created in 1984, estimates it will lose 400 officers from its current strength of 4,800. Merseyside, the sixth biggest force, says it fears losing 300 officers, taking it to 3,172, a 31% reduction since 2010 when there were 4,616.
The Merseyside chief constable, Andy Cooke, told the Guardian the squeeze would make a dire situation even worse. “The impact of the proposed changes on police officer pensions cannot, and should not, be underestimated,” he said. “It is incumbent on me to ensure that those who will make the final decisions in relation to the pension changes understand the crippling impact these changes will have on policing.”
The police chiefs fear the crisis will get worse, despite the home secretary, Sajid Javid, vowing to secure extra money for policing.
Forces could try to use their cash reserves, meant for emergencies, to soften the blow on officer numbers, or lay off staff who are not officers.
One force in which officers are particularly vulnerable is Norfolk, which has already got rid of all its community support officers and has small financial reserves.
Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk, said he was facing the prospect of having the smallest force since its creation in 1968.
“It would mean a reduction of 110 officers; it would take my numbers to a historic low of 1,400,” he said. “Community policing will be under threat. We will end up attending and investigating less, detecting less crime, and providing a service I don’t believe any chief constable would be happy with.”
The Metropolitan police, Britain’s largest force, believes the fresh funding squeeze will leave it with 900 fewer officers.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ”We are working closely with forces to understand the impact this change will have and are in discussions with police leaders about mitigating the impact on the front line.
“The government is committed to continuing to ensure that the police have the resources they need to do their vital work and the home secretary has been clear that he will prioritise police funding at the next spending review.”