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Nick Herbert rebuts Labour opportunism on police numbers

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-02-06 at 13.30.30The scan on the right isn't of great quality but falling police numbers were a central part of Labour's campaign in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. The new Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has today released figures - compiled from police authority press releases - warning that 10,000 police officers may disappear from our streets by 2013 as a result of 4% budget cuts this year, and 5% next. Cuts in years three (2%) and four (1%) are smaller. The current police force totals more than 140,000 across England and Wales. Over four years the cut in police funding will equal £2.1 billion or 20% (even after inflation).

Ms Cooper and Police Minister, Nick Herbert, debated the situation on Radio 4's World this Weekend earlier. She said that the Coalition was cutting too deeply and too fast and the cuts were irresponsible, risking a rise in crime. Expect this to become a big issue as Labour (and The Sun, Express and Daily Mail) target what they see as, arguably, the government's weakest point; law and order.

2POINT2 Mr Herbert (my frontbencher of last week) put the issue of police numbers in context last week, during a Westminster Hall debate and also in a speech to City Forum (in January). Here were the main points he made:

  • These are not cuts of choice but cuts to correct over-spending by Labour in the boom years which has left Britain with one of the biggest deficits in the world;
  • During the election campaign, Alan Johnson, then Home Secretary, declined to guarantee police numbers;
  • Ed Balls, when Shadow Home Secretary, agreed with the independent inspectorate of constabulary that £1 billion of efficiency savings could be made without hurting the frontline;
  • The HMIC came to this calculation by examining how less efficient police forces could manage down their spending on finance, HR, training, custody, control rooms and criminal justice administration to the average of their peers;
  • Additional to the Inspectorate's recommendations, £350 million will be saved by the two year government-wide pay freeze (pay accounts for four-fifths of the police budget) and £380 million from procuring IT and other equipment together;
  • Police mergers are not on the agenda but "forces don't need to merge commands to share services" - £15 million, for example, could be saved by the creation of a National Police Air Service;
  • With more effective deployment, modernisation of shift patterns and improved productivity the number of local police officers engaged in local policing can still increase despite cuts in the aggregate;
  • Labour cannot complain about the cost of directly-elected police commissioners (£50 million over four years and funded from a different budget) when it now proposes direct election of police authorities.

The police are the least reformed part of the public sector. The direct election of police chiefs - and the way that crime maps will make their performance transparent - will ensure that they are driven to improve over the coming years.


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