Front-loading of police cuts adds insult to injury

Police budget cuts are being front-loaded, which means that police services will have no choice but to start cutting staff now, writes UNISON's Dave Prentis.

Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of UNISON, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union with more than 1.3 million members

The thin blue line has just got thinner. In fact, over the next four years, 20 per cent is to be trimmed off the Police Grant Allocation in England and Wales. As 44,000 UNISON members work in the police service, news of cuts is obviously a blow. But, even without a significant police membership, I would be worried and people should be worried about the impact of the cuts on public safety.

To add insult to injury, the budget cuts are being front-loaded, which means that police services will have no choice but to start cutting staff now.

In fact a number of police forces, including Northumbria and Greater Manchester, have already forged ahead and announced redundancies. Some have seemed reluctant to inflict such damage onto their staff and local communities, but with no room for manoeuvre through natural wastage or staff turnover, their options are limited to say the least.

And, as always with any government announcement, the devil is in the detail. The union welcomed the fact that the Neighbourhood Policing Grant (NPG) was to be ring-fenced until March 31dt 2013 – it was something that our members lobbied long and hard for. And we know that the introduction of Police Community Support Officers have been a real success story. They are a dedicated bunch who have helped to restore a sense of security and community in many areas previously dubbed ‘no-go’.

Looking more closely, however, we can see that PCSO numbers will take a hit. The government is cutting the grant by 10 per cent over two years – a significant sum.

The NPG grant has only ever covered 75 per cent of salary cost. This leaves a 25 per cent funding gap that the government rather optimistically says could be filled by match funding from the police, local councils, businesses and other organisations. The chances of this happening now in the current economic climate is wishful thinking on the part of the government.

I cannot see police forces raiding their diminishing budgets to fill the gap. Forget cash strapped councils, ditto many businesses and you are left with the reality that up to 25 per cent of PCSO jobs may simply disappear.

On top of that, their longer-term future looks even dodgier. From April 1st 2013 the neighbourhood policing grant will be given over to the government’s Police and Crime Commissioners for them to do what they like with it. I fear that they may decide to use the money previously dedicated to neighbourhood policing for other purposes.

Not surprisingly, most of the public will not be aware of the full range of jobs that police staff carry out. They are not backroom jobs that no one will notice if they are gone. They are scenes of crime investigators, fingerprinting experts, intelligence analysts, custody officers and forensic experts, to name but a few. All jobs that make a significant contribution towards crime fighting and which will have to be done by someone.

That means police officers will be taken off the beat to fill these roles, at a significantly higher cost to the public purse.

And now we come to the real nub. Police officers cannot be made redundant and that means it is police staff who are left in the firing line. Currently, police officers who are no longer fit enough to carry out their duties often end up in an administrative role. That means admin staff are hanging onto their jobs by a thread.

The Tories have always talked tough on crime, but the budget cuts have just blown a big hole in their rhetoric. Another Tory promise out the window.

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