Last year, I was one of those who campaigned to get George Osborne to change his mind about the scale of his proposed additional cuts in police budgets. He had intended to announce another 20% cut over the course of this parliament, which would undoubtedly have led to further big cuts in police numbers, on top of the 18,357 police officers (including more than 12,000 on the frontline) who have gone since David Cameron became Prime Minister.
With great fanfare, in the Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced that there would real-terms protection for police budgets over the next 4 years. Of course, when the dust died down, it was clear it wasn’t true. Osborne assumed that in every area there would be a 2% increase in the precept (part of your council tax). But, even then, that would only produce the same cash nationally, meaning a projected real-terms cut of up to 10% by the end of this parliament. Further, the real-terms cuts would be most pronounced in the poorest areas and regions of England.
In South Yorkshire, since 2010, the number of police officers has already fallen from 2953 to 2494 now. By 2020, that is projected to fall further to 2379. Incidentally, I’m very pleased that our excellent South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Billings, has committed to maintaining the number of PCSOs, who local communities often see as being in the frontline on dealing with anti-social behaviour.
But, what might these additional cuts in police numbers mean for our community safety?
First, crime is not falling – for the first time this century. Crime is changing. Whilst burglary and car-crimes continue to fall, internet crime is increasing rapidly. At its crudest, when six million cyber and online crimes are included in the official crime statistics, crime will near double.
Second, demands on the police are increasing, especially because of an aging and increasingly vulnerable population. Other agencies are struggling because of their own cuts, leaving the police as the last resort.
Third, I welcome the significant improvements that have been made in efficiency in back-office functions. However, those continuing improvements will not fill the budget gap.
The time has come to cut crime, not cut cops. But, as George Osborne prepares to tell us that he is missing all the latest financial and fiscal targets he set for himself only last year, I rather suspect that we shall see fewer cops and more crime.