On July 13 the Police Federation of England and Wales, the organisation which represents rank and file officers, will be holding a meeting at Westminster to protest at the cuts to police budgets and a two-year pay freeze that starts in September.
More than 2,000 off-duty officers are expected to attend the meeting, with more expected to gather outside. The rally will be the first protest by serving officers for more than three years.
In January 2008 more than 22,000 officers marched on Whitehall in opposition to a decision by Jacqui Smith, then home secretary, not to backdate a 2.5 percent pay rise. While the event next week isn’t expected to see such numbers, the cuts to pay and conditions are arguably even more profound, and the Federation have not ruled out other more events later in the summer.
Blogging on the The Huffington Post, Police Federation Chairman Paul McKeever writes that officers: "(are voicing) their concern at the way the Government is reneging on promises made prior to, and during, election campaigns last year." He adds that his members are "disappointed and angry" and have been shown a lack of respect by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.
Simon Reed, vice chairman of the Police Federation, added that the cuts are almost certain lead to a rise in crime. ACPO and the opposition have predicted a loss of 28,000 of police officers and staff. "That's a significant loss. It all impacts on the visibility of police officers and their ability to patrol the streets and do policing. Any reasonable person can see that having fewer police officers has an impact on crime."
The police are unique in that they are unable to strike under the Police Act 1996, and the Police Federation itself was formed in the wake of disastrous strikes of 1919. However the Federation is clear that they will not back down from negotiations. Reed said: "We wish to negotiate but if we fail to agree then we hope we can continue negotiation through the arbitration process".
Cuts to police budgets, pay and pensions are deep, wide and unfinished. Part one of the Winsor report on police pay and conditions, unveiled in March, recommended £1 billion in savings, including reductions in overtime, suspension of bonuses for chief officers and superintendents and the scrapping of allowances and special payments. Negotiations with the Police Negotiating Board are set to conclude by July 26, however part two of the report, which includes recommendations on basic pay and is potentially even more controversial, will not be released until early next year.
But while officers and staff wait for more recommendations the impact is already being felt. A two-year pay freeze begins in September, which the Police Federation claim will see "thousands" of officers leaving. Several forces have been resorting to the controversial Regulation A19, under which those with 30 years of service can be forcibly retired.
The result is that there is now evidence of a serious drop in morale, heading into a summer during which strikes by other public workers and nascent rises in crime could prove a severe test of police resources. In a survey commissioned by PolFed in May more than 98% of 42,000 police officers said morale had fallen. Nine out of ten officers expected officers to leave because of the conditions.
Former chief constables and others in the police are adamant that a 20% cut to police budgets will inevitably have an impact on services.
Julie Spence, until 2010 the Chief Constable of Cambridge Constabulary, believes the distinction made by the government between 'frontline services' and 'backoffice' staff is not helpful. "The frontline is inextricably linked to the back office. Just take HR and IT. If you don't have a functioning HR department then you don't recruit and retain the right people," she said. "The service knows it has to make cuts along with everybody else, but it's important to make sure that those cuts are fair and don't impact on services that the public actually want and need. We are, in effect the first call of last resort.”
The government maintains that the cuts to police budgets, pay and pensions can be achieved without any direct impact on levels of crime. Theresa May recently told the Commons, "We are doing what we are doing with the distinct intention of ensuring that we have a police force that can move forward in the 21st century...that means considering pay, terms and conditions and the flexibility of the work force as well as the bureaucracy that has tied too many of our police officers to their desks."
But for the police officers who will turn out on July 13 to protest cuts to pay, pensions and budgets, the matter is simple. As Paul McKeever writes in his Huffington Post editorial, "The Home Secretary said only last year ‘it was time we gave you the respect you deserve’; it is that time and I hope she keeps her word."