Last week following his Autumn Statement, I listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, claim that because 20% had been cut from the government’s police grant but crime has continued to fall, we can therefore safely do the same again.
This is mistaken logic as far as Bedfordshire Police is concerned for three reasons. Firstly the savings made to date are one-off measures. Once our current savings plans are exhausted the only place to go will be to cut police numbers again.
Secondly it ignores all of the other work we expect our police to do that doesn’t get recorded in crime statistics, such as searching for missing persons and other safeguarding issues, tackling non-criminal anti-social behaviour and road traffic collisions. Far from reducing, these demands are arguably growing due to displacement from other public services that are also grappling with massive budget cuts.
Thirdly the Chancellor’s logic ignores the changing nature of the criminal threat confronting modern society. The Home Secretary has rightly identified organised crime alongside terrorism as a threat to our national security, not least because it costs the UK in excess of £24billion a year. Yet the Chancellor intends to further reduce police capacity to fight these increasingly sophisticated criminal gangs. Furthermore there are developing risks that we are only just beginning to understand, such as child sexual exploitation and cybercrime.
Our particular predicament in Bedfordshire is that we are already disadvantaged by receiving a level of police grant from government commensurate with being a rural force, whereas we face complex crime challenges only seen elsewhere in large urban forces.
Crime and policing actually accounts for barely £5bn of more than £700bn of annual government spending, so even though we have seen police funding being cut by 20% it makes very little difference to reducing the almost £100bn budget deficit. The public will therefore have to decide at the forthcoming general election whether this is a sensible approach. Certainly policing will look very different and shrunken if the cuts persist, and the public will need to reduce their expectations of the service accordingly.