“Yvette Cooper should know that Alan Johnson refused to guarantee police numbers, and (Ed) Balls admitted he would cut force budgets by over £1bn a year”
Policing Minister Nick Herbert MP, Radio 4’s World this Weekend
Police cuts are a particularly thorny political issue, because the potential repercussions are huge. A smaller police force could arguably result in a rise in crime.
The boys in blue are well aware they are facing budget cuts of 20 per cent by 2014-15 (£2.1bn over four years), but Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper argues that the front-loaded nature of the cuts will see 10,190 frontline jobs axed within two years.
Ms Cooper has wasted no time in rustling up this new research on one of her husband Ed Balls’ favourite hot topics, but did she point the finger too soon?
Ms Cooper’s team collated figures from all 42 police authorities in England and Wales. Two-thirds of them had made recent announcements on the cuts, while a third have yet to set out their budget plans.
Policing Minister Nick Herbert has refused to accept Labour’s figures – “I think it is better to wait for official figures”, he said.
But in any case, he thinks Ms Cooper is missing the point: “We have never said we can guarantee police numbers and nor has the Opposition,” he fumed.
Well in fact, in the run-up to the General Election Gordon Brown did promise to “maintain” current police numbers – with the Labour Party Manifesto outlining the provision of funding for police numbers and Police Community Support Officers.
However, obviously frontline police jobs would still be a matter for Chief Constables.
Step forward Alan Johnson, who in a televised interview, refused to guarantee police numbers. When asked whether he could promise that numbers would not fall if Labour won the election, he replied: “No”.
Facing a government deficit of £163bn, it’s no surprise that Mr Johnson shied away from the promise – but the gaffe did little to improve Labour’s standing in the election campaign. Then-Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling deemed Brown’s promise “blatant hypocrisy”.
So far, one nil to Mr Herbert.
Moving on to the issue of cutting budgets by £1bn, FactCheck can’t find any direct quotes from Ed Balls “admitting” he’d slash the budget by £1bn (why would he – as Education Secretary at the time).
However, Labour’s press office has gone to ground on the topic. Possibly because it’s highly probable that Mr Balls did mention it – it was Labour’s party line.
In a Home Office White Paper published in December 2009 (Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed) Labour proposed £545m of cash savings per year by 2013/14 as well as another £500m worth of annual “frontline process improvements” – in other words money-saving reforms.
This adds up to the £1bn in police cuts Mr Herbert was talking about, Paul Lander, the editor of Police Professional explained to FactCheck.
Mr Herbert said: “Labour too have said they would cut police spending by over £1bn, which is what the inspectorate [HM Inspectorate of Constabulary] says can be saved by the police in making efficiencies.”
The Policing Minister was right to point out that Labour agreed that there should be £1bn in police cuts.
And it should come as no surprise to Labour that Mr Herbert insisted police numbers would also fall under the Opposition – given Alan Johnson’s very public, and embarrassing, refusal to lay himself down on the thin blue line.
He knew it could get thinner.
But while Mr Herbert might insist that “every chief constable is determined to prioritise” those jobs, he knows he can’t give any guarantees.
With 80 per cent of the police budget earmarked for salaries, FactCheck doubts if there’s a police force in the land that isn’t looking at cutting jobs to meet the agenda in time.