Cambridgeshire’s outgoing police chief predicts Armageddon if savage budget cuts are imposed. Stewart Jackson MP offers a perspective on Government’s thinking, to Paul Stainton in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Interview broadcast at 07:10 on Friday 3rd September 2010.
PS: Cambridgeshire’s Chief Constable has warned the police service may be forced to deal only with nine nine nine calls. Julie Spence is retiring from the force on Sunday, and has spoken out over Government plans to cut its budget by up to forty per cent. Chief Constable Spence held her last media brief yesterday, and she said that cuts would change policing in the county. (TAPE)
JS: ..we had to do forty per cent cuts in Cambridgeshire. If you look at eighty to eighty five per cent of our budget goes on people, that’s got to impact on front line services, and it would be Armageddon. The police service that you see today would not be the police service that you see in the future. (LIVE)
PS: She went on to say that discussions were needed on what future police forces would be able to do. (TAPE)
JS: The police service itself would do everything it can to make sure it maintains service delivery. But when you are faced with what will be cuts to the support and the front line services, there is going to be and look a different place. And people have to accept and have debates and discussions about what policing should look like, if that scenario actually happened. (LIVE)
PS: Well joining us on the line this morning is MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson. Morning Stewart.
SJ: Good morning Paul.
PS: I jokingly picked up on the word Armageddon. Is the over egging the pudding here?
SJ: I think she is a little bit, because obviously she’s retiring, and she feels that she’s in a position now that she can speak more frankly. And fair enough. That’s her prerogative. Obviously we’ve got a new Chief Constable coming from Hertordshire, who’s going to take over from her. I don’t think there will be forty per cent cuts. I think there will have to be significant reductions in expenditure, because we’ve got to cope with the historic deficit that we’ve been left as a Government by the previous Government. But I do think there are ways in which the police force in Cambridgeshire and across the country can work in a more efficient way. We can look at overtime, which has been an issue which the police have not really grappled with, and police authorities haven’t grappled with, the inexorable rise in overtime over the last few years. We can look at sharing the back office functions between different police forces, things like payroll, pensions, procurement, premises and management. That doesn’t mean that the police services are going to merge. But it does mean that certain civilian duties, not front line duties, can be shared between different police forces. And I think that will save the taxpayer money, and it will not impact on front line services.
PS: But if we take her words at face value Stewart, and the fact that police in Cambridgeshire will just end up answering only nine nine nine calls, that would be disastrous. Your Government is putting the safety of the people of Cambridgeshire at risk.
SJ: No not true at all. In fact Theresa May the Home Secretary made it perfectly plain that the policing pledge that the previous Government had set up was a lot about community engagement, taking police off the street and putting them in meetings, endless residents meetings etcetera. That’s very very important in the good times when we’ve got plenty of money, which we’ve had in the last ten or twelve years. But the real priority, you ask people time and again, is catching criminals and preventing crime. And I think that that’s not going to be something that the Government is going to take a chance on. But obviously the police have a role to play in helping to reduce the budget deficit that’s left to us. No-one wants to cut services, and reduce expenditure on the police service, but in a way this is an opportunity to look at the reform of the police, both their operational work, in terms of back office functions, and accountability. Because at the moment there is a lack of accountability between local citizens and their local police.
PS: A bit more than reform though Stewart isn’t it? It’s a slashing of the police, isn’t it? She’s got no reason to stretch the truth, has she, Julie Spence?
SJ: Well let’s get it into perspective. Between this year and two thousand and sixteen, the Government is going to increase the amount of money it spends on public services. So it’s not absolutely the case that it’s going to be cut. In terms of the proportions of expenditure across the whole cake, there’s going to be a reduction. So it’s not as if the budget is going to be cut in half. It’s just not going to increase as fast as it has done in the last dozen years.
PS: But you previously said on this show many times, the force is underfunded anyway. And eighty five per cent of their costs are staff costs. So cuts will affect front line services.
SJ: Well I stand by what I said, and I pay tribute to Julie Spence. She did a good job. She had some success in the city in reducing crime, and I think she can leave with a sense of pride and satisfaction. And we have had specific problems, EU migration, problems in the South of the County with gypsies and travellers, rural crime, we’ve got a world wide tourism centre in Cambridge. So the idea that it was an easy job to police Cambridgeshire is nonsense.
PS: It’s going to be harder when you’ve made all these cuts isn’t it?
SJ: No. I still believe that the Home Office intention is that front line services in terms of visible policing on the beat, will not be affected. i really do believe that. Although ..
PS: It’s not possible though Stewart, is it?
SJ: My point before .. I think it is possible if we can get ..
PS: How? How is it possible? If you’re making all these cuts, and eighty five per cent of costs are staff costs, how is it possible to cut and not lose front line services?
SJ: You’re not cutting people, you’re cutting budgets. And in doing that, what you’re doing, you’re putting the onus on the local police authority, in Cambridgeshire, and the police service, to look at the functions that support front line police officers. And no-one is saying that it’s impossible to for instance share procurement of police vehicles, to cut down on premises. Payroll, management, pensions, can be shared. We don’t actually need all these Chief Constables and senior police officers, for small police forces. Those facilities, in the same way local authorities are sharing Chief Executives and senior officers at high levels, to cut down on that kind of expenditure, then police forces can do the same. I don’t believe that we’re going to go first and foremost, in terms of reducing expenditure, to the front line service.
PS: You have to at least admit though that when Simon Parr takes over as the new Chief of Police in Peterborough, police services in Cambridgeshire will at least be stretched, won’t they?
SJ: Yes they will. But my undertaking to your listeners is this. That once we’ve sorted out the huge budget deficit that we’ve been left, then I do think that there will be a time when we’ll be able to look again at a much closer alignment between the funding that we need, and the operational requirements in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. It’s not all going to be bad news. But if we don’t get the deficit sorted, then we are going to make really serious draconian cuts,. And we’ll be forced to do them, because we won’t be in a position to get the public services right, and the financial services in terms of the deficit right. We have to do it now, so that in future we can have a better settlement with the public services, including the police force.
PS: MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, responding to what Julie Spence the outgoing Cambridgeshire Police Chief had to say about Cambridgeshire Police descending into Armageddon, and being forced only to deal with nine nine calls.