David Blackburn

May’s change of emphasis

May’s change of emphasis
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Theresa May has a new soundbite: police pay or police jobs. May has been asked to find cuts of 20 percent in the police budget. May insists that the frontline must and will be protected and that therefore these ‘extraordinary circumstances’ mean that the government will have to rewrite the terms and conditions of police employment.

The former rail regulator, Tim Windsor, is already conducting a review into police pay and working conditions. In addition to his recommendations, May is scrutinising overtime payments, housing and travel allowances and so forth. Estimates vary but these perks are thought to cost the taxpayer more than £500million a year. She is also overseeing a deluge of bureaucratic reforms, which she hopes will save 800,000 man hours a year. Eventually, the Secretary of State hopes to bring elected police commissioners into this process and cede some responsibility for overseeing pay and bureaucracy to them; it's hoped that greater accountability will inspire efficiency. 

Labour and the public sector unions have taken every opportunity to express their fear that spending cuts will lead to job cuts. Predictions have varied, but their consensus is that there will soon be 10,000 fewer policemen on the streets. The coalition has always contested that there is a necessary connection between spending cuts and job losses; in fact it argued that backroom efficiencies and removing red tape will enhance frontline operations. May has shifted her emphasis by now concentrating on pay conditions, and is perhaps weaker for having done so. But, essentially, the line holds: frontline policing is safe if the right reforms are made. For her sake, I hope she's right. A rise in crime will be nigh impossible to manage politically.