Peter Hoskin

Some context for those police cuts

Some context for those police cuts
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What's it to be? Take a pay cut, or lose your job? That, as David suggested earlier, is the question being posed by Theresa May to police forces – and it's a question that they cannot shirk. With the police budget being cut by 4 per cent a year, there have to be reductions of one sort or another. And if they don't come from pay restraint – along the broad outlines of Tom Winsor's review today – then there will no doubt have to be extra job losses. This is the argument that George Osborne set out in his 2009 conference speech, only now it's being deployed from government.

Not that there won't be job losses as well. Conveniently enough, a memo from the Association of Chief Police Officers puts a number on it all, and has been leaked to the Guardian. According to their projections, the nation's 43 police forces will shed a total of 28,000 jobs over the next four years. 12,000 will be police officers. 16,000 will be civilian staff. And although these figures are some way down on those rustled up by the Police Federation last year, they will still be enough to disturb the waters of British politics. Everyone from Labour to the police hierarchy will seize on these "frontline cuts," and the public may well be concerned about them too.

In which case, a little bit of context for CoffeeHousers. Here's a graph of police officer and civilian staff numbers, with the ACPO projections as dotted lines:

While job losses will not be an easy process – especially not for those subjected to them – the ACPO projections still have police numbers at their 2002 levels. The question is whether the system will be able to cope with what is, in effect, a 2.2 per cent a year reduction in officer headcount. Nick Herbert will certainly hope that his police reforms help it not just to cope, but to prosper as well.

Some will argue that this misses the point; that Cameron promised that there wouldn't be any frontline cuts at all. But, if you're feeling charitable towards the Prime Minister, what he actually promised was no centrally-determined frontline job losses. Strictly speaking, these job losses will be locally-determined by individual police forces. Indeed, during the election campaign, Chris Grayling refused to guarantee that numbers wouldn't fall, saying that: "The Home Secretary doesn't have the power to do that."

Yet the Home Secretary does have the power to pose a question. Which brings us back to the beginning: pay cuts or job losses?