Vernon Coaker on the Cuts to the Police Budget

17:40 Thursday 21st July 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Top story this afternoon, here on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, and it’s the news that 34,000 police jobs in England and Wales could go by 2015. That’s according to a new report. The figure includes over 16,000 police officers, almost 2,000 fewer Community Support Officers, and more than 16,000 fewer civilian staff. Now earlier on today we heard from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary for the East, who says Cambridgeshire Police’s partnerships with neighbouring forces on things like firearms, major crime and road policing, will help protect front line jobs. But as you heard earlier on in the programme, Shaun Ryan, who’s the Chairman of the Cambridgeshire Police Federation, the police officers’ union effectively, said it confirmed his members’ worst fears. Well a short time ago I spoke to the Shadow Police Minister, Vernon Coaker. (TAPE)
VERNON COAKER: Well I think people, the first reaction people have will be they’ll be surprised at this figure, over 34,000 police officers and police staff posts going. 16,000 of those, over 16,000 of those, being police officers. And I think people will be quite astonished at that. And of course it’s not a Labour Party figure. It’s not the Opposition’s figure. This is Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary collecting figures in from police forces across the country, including in Cambridgeshire. And looking at what they’re saying to them, and saying, this is the figure that we’re getting back.
ANDY BURROWS: So who is to blame for this?
VERNON COAKER: Well I think first of all what you’d say is that our view has always been the Government hasn’t funded the police in the way that it should. We accept there has to be a deficit reduction. We accept that. But it’s not prioritised policing and law and order in the way that it prioritised health, the way it prioritised ..
ANDY BURROWS: Even during your time in charge?
VERNON COAKER: We certainly did prioritise those. If you look at the increase in police officer numbers over the years of the last Government, and the introduction of the Police Community Support Officers and police staff, we feel that that was one of the successes that we had. And of course in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere, there were significant falls in crime. And that’s what we worry, that some of this will be put at risk as a consequence of the budget that’s been set for police forces across the country.
ANDY BURROWS: This has been coming though, hasn’t it, for many years? You just mentioned there, Community Support Officers. Many rank and file officers think they’re just police officers on the cheap, don’t they?
VERNON COAKER: Well I think they provide an important part of policing. They work well with communities, and work well getting out there with residents’ groups and so on. But as I say, what we say is that Government just hasn’t given policing the priority that it should. It’s interesting to note that there was a furore about the defence budget, and the Government changed its mind and injected more money into defence. I think they should do the same with policing. I think it’s put Chief Constables in an impossible situation, and made it very difficult for them to maintain and provide the service that they would want. But ..
ANDY BURROWS: The public sector is having to make massive cuts though, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to matter what it is. We’ve seen it in our local authorities. We’re now seeing it with the police as well. And the public sector just has to take its lumps, doesn’t it, and then get on with it the best it can?
VERNON COAKER: I think it’s fair to say that we all accept there has to be budget reductions. But again, the Inspectorate of Constabulary said that the policing could take a 12% cut. That if that was done you could still maintain police officer numbers, and give Chief Constables the resources that they need. What the Government have done is to cut police budgets over the next few years by 20% in real terms. So they’ve gone above the advice of their own professional advisers. And I think that’s what makes it really difficult.
ANDY BURROWS: Wouldn’t it just take though police numbers back just a few years though, perhaps even to the time when the Labour Party was in charge? And would it really have that drastic an effect on the ability to fight crime?
VERNON COAKER: Well I think it puts some of those things at risk. And as you say, it takes the figures back to 2001/2002. But people have always said to me, and I’m sure it’s true, in Cambridgeshire as it is in my own constituency, that they like more police officers. They want more police officers. And also alongside it, it’s true that police are now going into areas that we would want them to. It’s not just the police officer on the beat, the introduction of the Neighbourhood Policing teams, which is important. It’s also, alongside that, specialist officers, it’s detectives working out there. And In Cambridgeshire and elsewhere you have detectives working on child exploitation, on trafficking. You also have specialist officers now dealing with domestic violence and other sexual violence, as well as the ordinary ..
ANDY BURROWS: You pick some pretty emotive subjects there.
VERNON COAKER: Well what I’m trying to demonstrate Andy is the fact that it’s not just the officer on the beat, it’s the detectives and the specialist officers dealing with fraud, and dealing with those crimes that I’ve mentioned. But also dealing with burglary and so on. And some of those areas have developed and moved forward, and now are being policed in a way that perhaps they weren’t a few years ago. And I think that’s important to protect them as well. (LIVE)
ANDY BURROWS: That’s the Shadow Police Minister, Vernon Coaker, speaking to me earlier on this afternoon.