If hundreds of back office staff are sacked, police officers will be stuck behind desks

Much of the political discussion about crime in London doesn’t seem to recognise that the police service is made up of more than just police officers.

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By Jenny Jones AM, leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly

My message to the Met Police group at the Public and Commercial Services Union’s conference in Brighton this week was simple: If you sack hundreds of back office police staff you will end up with lots of police officers stuck behind desks.

Old-school-copperMuch of the political discussion about crime in London doesn’t seem to recognise that the police service is made up of more than just police officers.

It is officers and staff and volunteers who all are part of making our streets, roads and communities safe.

The political imperative from the main three parties to keep police officer numbers high, along with the difficulty of managing budget cuts without being able to make officers redundant, has meant a disproportionate impact on police staff.

Whilst officer numbers have remained relatively level over recent years (going up, then down and back up again), police staff numbers have fallen by about 12% over 5 years.

A simple way to understand what is happening to the Met is to think of it as a football team with the police officers being the strikers. The Met is moving towards having team of 11 strikers and no defenders and no goalie.

The mayor of London has been switching money away from civilian staff in order to keep officer numbers high. That approach inevitably ends up with police officers backfilling jobs they are not trained for: a practice that needs to end.

Often the work of civilian staff gets undervalued. This is not just bad for those staff members; it is not in the interests of the wider police service and it is not in the interest of Londoners. What Londoners want is a police service that is efficient, effective and good value for money.


See also:

Boris is putting the police back behind desks 24 Feb 2012


Civilian staff are around £20,000 a year cheaper to employ than officers and so civilianising the Met makes financial sense, particularly at a time of budget cuts.

It’s not just me saying this: the Assembly’s Budget Committee investigation in June last year into the future of policing said the Met should seek to “increase the proportion of support roles filled by civilian staff”.

This has been a difficult year for the Met to balance the books, with major cuts to funding and the challenges of the 2012 games and jubilee ahead. The Met spent over £50m last year making civilian staff redundant, but having let staff numbers drop the mayor was 1,220 behind the Met’s planned target for civilian staff in March.

One clear example of bad value for money is the move the Met made from traffic wardens to the new Safer Transport Command structure. This involved replacing traffic wardens and managers with PCSOs and police sergeants.

The total cost of retraining, redeployment and redundancies was £9m and that is before you factor in the increased staff costs each year from employing expensive officers in place of cheaper civilian staff.

What Londoners now have is the same service but for a much higher price at a time of cuts. To me this doesn’t make sense and it’s hard to see who could see it as sensible. There was a lot of fuss and media attention last week when home secretary, Theresa May, went before the Police Federation accused of destroying the police service with 20% cuts. I think this issue deserves the same amount of attention.

It is police staff who are carrying the can for London mayor Boris Johnson’s stop/start agenda on police numbers and Londoners footing the bill.


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