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Theresa May warns police: cuts mean ‘fewer people, fewer buildings’

By DPF Admin11th November 2015August 6th, 2019Area Updates, Latest News, Northern Updates, Southern Updates

The home secretary has warned the police and immigration services that there “is no escaping” the fact that the next round of Home Office spending cuts will mean “fewer people, fewer buildings and less room for error”.

But Theresa May also made clear in a speech in London that the need to find deep Treasury reductions would not slow the pace of “fundamental, urgent and radical reform” across her department, including continuing “the quiet revolution” in policing she has overseen over the past five years.

The Home Office is an unprotected department in the chancellor’s spending review due to be announced in two weeks. Chief constables have warned that further cuts of a minimum of 25% will involve “fundamental” change in the nature of British policing and higher reductions will threaten the future viability of some forces.

Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe warned that the cuts would damage the fight against terrorism and gangs, and would slow down investigations into historical sexual abuse, cases of which are growing significantly.

May was speaking to the policy thinktank Reform, as West Midlands police announced plans to axe 528 police and community support officers’ jobs, leaving only 119 in post by 2020.

But the home secretary said the Home Office had managed to deliver a 30% real-terms reduction in its budget since 2010 in the previous round of austerity cuts “without the roof falling in”.

“So as we approach the next phase of reform, we do so as living proof that it can be done. And I am clear that we must undertake our work in this parliament with the same methodical and meticulous approach that we took in the last,” said May, claiming that policing had proved “more than any other public service” that it was possible to do more with less.

Crime had continued to fall by a quarter since 2010, the number of officers in frontline policing had increased, while the backlog in asylum cases was cleared and the border made more secure, she said.

“The striking thing is we were able to deliver these changes not despite spending cuts but because of them – by focusing our minds and forcing us to look critically at how we deliver services. That important point has lessons for the rest of the Home Office,” said May.

She indicated that she intended to continue her radical pace of change with new powers for elected police and crime commissioners over the fire service and responsibility for complaints against the police.

Immigration would see much greater cross-government cooperation in enforcement and at a slimmer Home Office headquarters. There would be a new directorate to tackle extremism as well as the overhaul of the surveillance laws. There were still too few people from ethnic minorities in the senior reaches of the Home Office, May said, and that initiatives such as “blind recruitment” were needed to improve the situation.

The home secretary said she would call a meeting of all chief constables and police and crime commissioners next month to consider how best the 43 forces could tackle the “complex and specialist challenges” of cyberfraud, financial crime and gun crime.

She hinted that forces would lose their separate firearms units, with much greater collaboration needed between forces and the formation of regional organised crime units likely to be put on the agenda.

The home secretary also said she wanted to see more specialist skills, such as in cyber and financial crime, brought into the police for shorter periods, and underlined that she brought to an end the previous practice that every police officer had to start as a constable and serve for 30 years.

Hogan-Howe, speaking to MPs on the home affairs committee, warned that the cuts the Met is expecting come at a time when London’s population, and thus demand on policing, is forecast to grow.

He said he feared cuts of £800m could mean the Met would lose 5,000 officers, damaging neighbourhood policing, where police get to know the communities they serve.

He warned these officers were vital to fighting terrorism and gaining information from communities: “It used to be that the majority of leads on counter-terrorism came from the security service or the foreign intelligence service.

“Now we are seeing a significant rise in that from local reporting, from people concerned about an individual’s behaviour and when we investigate we find they have got good reason for that.

“The main reason people tell police officers or PCSOs is because they know them, they have got a trusting relationship and they trust them to do something about it. So it is a vital component.”

Labour said Britain’s top police officer had backed their predictions that cuts would endanger public safety.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s home affairs spokesperson, claimed: “The Government does not have a mandate to make such drastic cuts to frontline policing.”

Burnham added: “With violent crime and youth gangs on the rise across London, now is not the time to withdraw 5,000 officers from the streets of the capital. But that is the alarming prospect arising from George Osborne’s cuts to public spending.”

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