THE BLOG

Everyone Concerned About the Future of Policing Should Fight Theresa May's Cuts

04/12/2014 21:25 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Theresa May's thinly-disguised efforts to portray herself as the next prime minister must stick in the throats of bobbies on the Staffordshire beat.

For they know better than anyone that the home secretary's attempts to portray herself as a model of Conservative competence are not supported by the evidence - at least not on their well-trodden ground.

Mrs May has already forced Staffordshire Police to swallow £38million of cuts since 2011, an austerity measure which has prompted the loss of hundreds of officer and civilian jobs.

But not content with this whittling away of the county's 'thin blue line', the home secretary is now threatening to erode it further by demanding yet more cuts, of £22.9million, over the next five years.

Tory Staffordshire police and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis's medium-term financial strategy shows the force's Home Office grant is expected to fall from £124million in 2014-15 to £101million in 2019-20.

Mrs May is doubtless confident that Mr Ellis is capable of meeting the demands of her department's frugality while maintaining an effective police force; but I have grave doubts, especially after considering just two aspects of his new spending review, an exercise scheduled to examine 11 areas of the constabulary's operations.

One jaw-dropping proposal would entail replacing detectives and forensics officers with lower-paid civilian staff as part of a shake-up of investigative services designed to save £3.2million.

When it comes to detection, I'd rather have a detective detecting than a low-paid civilian, and I believe most people in Staffordshire would too.

So regardless of the way this particular cost-saving measure is framed, it is difficult to see how it will not diminish the force's capacity to bring criminals to justice.

I also harbour the same fear about the fallout from the likely impact of Mr Ellis's review on staffing.

Although force chiefs say frontline numbers will not be affected, jobs will be lost, dealing a further blow to morale which, according to Michael Shepherd, the constabulary's ex-Unison branch secretary ("Everyone I see wants out of Staffordshire Police." Sentinel. 7/11/14), and Andy Adams, the chairman of Staffordshire Police Federation ("Staff morale is pretty low . . . there are strains." Sentinel. 28/11/14), is already on the floor.

As everyone apart from this Government appears to recognise, no-one works effectively when their job is consumed by gloom.

Mr Ellis, however, claims "confidence is high" that his spending review will yield the savings needed to meet Mrs May's latest target.

I wish I shared his outlook, because unless he is preparing to pull a white rabbit out of a hat, his cost-cutting plans may fall well short.

The measures revealed so far - transforming estates (£4million), overhauling transport (£2.2million), restructuring senior management (£600,000) and the previously mentioned review of investigative services (£3.2million) - amount to just £10million.

It is also worth noting that the scheduled £4.2million increase in the force's council tax revenue - from £57.2million to £61.4million - during the timescale of the proposed cuts is not enough to plug the gap.

But speculating over the force's ability or otherwise to meet the desired retrenchment is to miss the more important point that these deep cuts are wrong and should be challenged.

Rather than meekly acquiescing to Mrs May's strictures and accommodating the cuts, Mr Ellis, an ex-Staffordshire County Council cabinet member, should contest them on the grounds they threaten to undermine his force's effectiveness.

He should not be left to fight the cuts alone. Everyone concerned about the future of policing in Staffordshire - including politicians of all stripes - should tell the Home Secretary that enough is enough.

Financial prudence is one thing; budgetary vandalism is another.

Mrs May must be left in no doubt that Staffordshire will not allow her to burnish her supposed prime ministerial credentials by imposing yet more cuts on a police force which has already paid over the odds for austerity.