Theresa May’s dramatic deployment of troops in the wake of the Manchester bombing has laid bare Tory police cuts, the leader of the Police Federation has declared.
Hundreds of soldiers were ordered onto the streets on Wednesday and given a very visible role in defending the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
But Steve White, who represents rank and file officers across the country, said that the Tory squeeze on resources was underlined by the Prime Minister’s decision to draft in the Army to protect the landmark sites.
White, who chairs the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that the use of the Army was a “significant step change in keeping the public safe”.
“There is no ignoring the fact that we, the police, simply do not have the resources to manage an event like this on our own,” he said.
His complaint was backed up by an anonymous officer who wrote on Facebook that the use of the Army showed how the police were “desperately understaffed”.
Some 20,000 police jobs have been cut since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 and budgets slashed by around 4% every year when May was Home Secretary.
Paratroopers and Guardsmen were filmed and photographed arriving at the Palace of Westminster as they were put under the control of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
With the UK’s official threat level raised to ‘Critical’ amid fears of an imminent terror attack, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday night that the decision to deploy the troops was an attempt to free up police to conduct intensive patrols.
White, whose members heckled Home Secretary Amber Rudd last week over claims officers were well paid, praised the emergency response in the wake of Monday’s suicide bomb attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Yet he made plain his frustration that years of cuts had left the country’s forces too stretched to carry out their anti-terror duties.
“As always, the response of emergency workers in the face of adversity has been second to none.
“The welcome support of the military to free up armed officers and offer public reassurance will no doubt be managed in the same professional, resolute way.
“But, as welcome as this is, we cannot avoid the reasons it is needed at all. There is no ignoring the fact that we, the police, simply do not have the resources to manage an event like this on our own.
“We cannot lose focus on the challenge ahead – and that is ensuring we have a resilient fully-resourced police service, capable of not just reacting to contain a terrorist outrage but also acting to prevent atrocities in the first place.”
At the federation’s annual conference last week, White had told Rudd that it used to be a case of ‘not if, but when’ but the reality is now ‘not when, but where next’.
And he said that visible neighbourhood policing was the basis for helping identify and tackle crime, including terrorism.
“Prevention is better than cure. We know the information to stop these mindless attacks exists within communities and great work is being done to forge strong, valuable relationships to capture this.
“But it cannot be jeopardised by reducing the contact the police has with the public. Neighbourhood policing – bobbies on the beat, if you like - has never been more important.”
Nearly 4,000 troops are on standby to help the policing effort during ‘Operation Temperer’, a plan to deploy the military in emergencies.
With the general election campaign suspended, no political party has been in a position to criticise any aspect of the troop deployment.
But police officers themselves have not held back. On the Facebook page of journalist Owen Jones, one serving officer said he was “saddened” that the Army were needed at all.
He detailed how analysts and police station general inquiry officers had been reduced in number, cutting the resources that were invaluable in helping prevent terrorism or in reacting to tip-offs.
“We need more police,” he wrote.
May has herself argued that a fall in overall crime at the same time as savings proves that you can get “more for less”.
Home Office ministers have in the past said that the 2015 Spending Review protected overall police spending in real terms, and the 2017/18 police funding settlement maintained that protection.
When contacted by HuffPost UK about the Police Federation criticism, a Home Office spokeswoman referred us to remarks by Amber Rudd after a meeting of the emergency COBRA meeting.
“We have now gone to a critical level in terms of the threat. Operation Temperer has now been invoked and that means there will be additional military personnel coming to backfill the armed police officers so that they can support other areas,” Rudd said.
“Today we have 984 members of military coming forward as requested by the police. They will be initially deployed in London but also elsewhere in the country as requested and they will form an important part of the defence going forward.”