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The disastrous decision to slash police budgets

23/05/2022

By Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Dwyfor-Meirionnydd.

This is a time of great unease for our police force. Last October, we learned from Mr Osborne that over the next four years, the police budget faces a cut of 20%. In announcing this cut, Mr Osborne ignored the advice of Sir Denis O’Connor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who said in a report commissioned by his own government that a police cut above 12% would not be possible without damaging the frontline.
 
Then, in March, came Tom Winsor’s review of police terms and conditions and Lord Hutton’s review of public sector pensions.  In the same month, the Home Office published Peter Neyroud’s report on police leadership and training.  The police service was bombarded with paperwork, and the full and combined implications of these reports have yet to be fully comprehended.
 
We can deduce that Tom Winsor’s review is likely to snatch £500 million from the police pay budget.  Competence related threshold payments will be abolished, as will special priority payments.  Basic salaries will be frozen for two years, and overtime rates will change.  The proposals will lead to a cut in overall pay. 
 
As the Police Federation’s General Secretary has pointed out, there will be no winners under these proposals.  In spite of the Tory mantra claiming that “we are all in this together”, it seems that some are more “in it” than most.
 
On top of this, under Lord Hutton’s proposals, public sector pensions will henceforth be based on career average earnings, as opposed to final salary.  Hutton’s interim report proposed an average 3% increase in member contributions from April 2012, and the retirement age for uniformed workers is likely to be raised to 60.
 
I wish I were in a position to say that the situation facing the police force is not all doom and gloom.  But the cuts proposed by the UK government are destructive, some might even say criminal.  They are ill thought-out and are likely to lead to a rise in criminal activity on our streets. 
 
Then last week, a Police Federation survey of police officers in the four Welsh forces has confirmed that the signs are already showing. 99% say that morale has fallen. In Wales, it is now estimated 1,600 police jobs in Wales could be lost.
The UK Government is focusing on plugging the deficit, a move which in theory, and at a slower rate, would be commendable.  But in focusing utterly on the “job at hand”, as they are so fond of calling it, they totally fail to consider the future impact of the savage cuts they are making.
 
Historically, in times of recession, crime rates increase too. 
 
This means that our communities will come to rely on the police more and more.  With this in mind, the fact that the UK government sees it fit to force a cut of 20% to the policing budget is barely credible.
 
And when you consider that Theresa May is intent on forcing through Elected Police Commissioners at a cost of £50 million, it makes you wonder what planet the UK government is on.
 
It is the policing budget, as well as, incidentally, the justice budget, which will be hardest hit.  Savings need to be made, but the UK government is forcing cuts through to two of the precise budgets which are intended to uphold safety and justice in our communities.  It is short-sighted beyond belief and will lead, for the police at least, to fewer bobbies on the beat, a knock to frontline morale, and irredeemable damage to recruitment within the force.
 
The Police Federation has called for a Royal Commission on Policing which would review policing as a whole, as opposed to the back-handed savings which are being proposed. 
 
It goes without saying, of course, that the reforms being forced on the police will fulfil the policy ambitions of the UK coalition parties and will make the service fit the ideological mould they have created for it.  Police Commissioners especially have the Tory brand all over them.  Instead of seeking to make the service fit for purpose, the UK government is making it fit what it can afford.
 
The Police Federation has also launched a Judicial Review on the government’s decision to downgrade pensions.  Members are being asked to lobby parliament on the government’s disastrous decision to slash the police budget by such a tremendous margin. 
 
We hear every day that those opposed to the speed and timescale of these cuts are in denial and out of touch with reality.  But with more paperwork being lumped on the service, and changes being brought in which will take police officers off the streets, it is the UK government that seems increasingly out of touch with what is needed to keep society working.
 
I also fear that the cavalier way in which the government is treating the police service is going to turn away potential highly qualified recruits. 
 
If the UK Government believes that because police officers cannot by law withdraw labour then they can treat them in this foul manner – they are making a grave mistake.  The public is fully behind them.
 
This will be a struggle – but our police service deserves better. I have pledged mine and Plaid Cymru’s wholehearted support for this campaign.