Londoners are being protected by 11.5 per cent of all the police officers in England and Wales. For a second night, these 16,000 officers will be back on the beat in the capital. Four nights of rioting has done more than £100 million of damage to homes and businesses. And yet it is the police – not insurers – that will have to cover the lion’s share of these costs, FactCheck discovers.
On a normal day around 3,000 of London’s 32,000 bobbies will be on the beat, according to estimates from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
This week, the number ballooned to an army of 16,000, thanks to Theresa May cancelling all holiday and training for the Metropolitan Police and calling on forces outside the capital for help.
David Cameron has shrugged off concerns that police budgets can’t cope, claiming: “I think that’s a demonstration that when you work hard to increase visible policing, that can be done.”
But it’s not just the Met that needs help. With the spread of the riots, the call for extra officers has gone as far north as Scotland – with 250 officers from 10 riot squad units in Scotland heading south to help police in the Midlands and northern England.
Who will pay for all these extra hands? According to the Association of Police Authorities, the force that hires them will have to shell out for “the exact costs incurred in paying for officers”. This includes a basic rate of 16 hours’ pay for every officer, irrespective of the number of hours actually worked.
Scotland Yard alone has called on up to 2,400 officers to bump up their number to 16,000 in London. Not as many as you might think – but that’s almost 2 per cent of the rest of the country’s police officers – ensuring the Met will face the heftiest bill.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steven Kavanagh from the Met Police admitted today: “We can’t keep 16,000 officers indefinitely, we will review it every day.”
But the costs don’t end there. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) puts the cost of the riots at “well over £100m”. But domestic and business insurers won’t be forking out for it – because they know victims of riots can claim from local police budgets.
This is all down to the rather ancient Riot (Damages) Act of 1886. It rules that people who have suffered loss or damages during a riot can claim compensation from the local police budget – irrespective of whether the police have been negligent or pulled out all the stops.
But people have just 14 days to lodge a riot loss claim – a tiny two week window which the ABI has asked for the Home Secretary to extend to 42 days.
Much has been made of the semantics of classing the claims under “riot” or “disorder” – but both the ABI and the Home Office have insisted to FactCheck that this is not an issue.
The ABI says that the Home Secretary doesn’t need to class the event as a “riot” for Police Compensation Schemes to be activated. Insurers will cover business disruption, while the police scheme will cover damage costs, destruction, stealing and personal injury – including covering those uninsured.
Police forces can insure themselves against these costs, but since the Bedfordshire Police Authority claimed £38m for the riot at Yarls Wood detention centre in 2002, insurance costs have gone through the roof.
The Government is well aware of this issue – with a cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee deeming the Riot Damages Act of 1886 “arcane”, adding that “a good case has been made for repealing it”.
Police piggy bank
The police don’t have a “riots fund” sitting there ready to plunder. So they have two choices: dip into their emergency reserve funds or appeal for Home Office help.
As far as the Met is concerned, the Metropolitan Police Authority told FactCheck that it doesn’t have a specific fund to cover the costs – but it does have a general reserve pot to cover unexpected events. “Such risks cannot be insured against,” the MPA said.
We note that these reserves have flatlined in the last year, showing no growth from last year’s £70.6m – and this is a pot “built up over a number of years”.
As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is in charge of the bill for the Met, so his outburst over police budget cuts this morning came as no surprise to the PM.
Brushing away concerns, Mr Cameron said: “Mayors, local authorities, always want more money. I don’t blame them for that.
“It is the Government’s job to give them what they need and to make sure they make the most of what they get,” he said.
The Home Office told FactCheck that it would of course contribute to the riots costs, yet it admitted it only had a “limited contingent fund” within its own budget.
Manning up the Met alone will not come cheap, and as Mr Kavanagh said, they can’t afford to do it indefinitely. Nor is there any evidence that the police can afford to pay out tens of millions in compensation without Home Office help.
None of which bodes well for a force struggling to keep itself on a very thin blue line.
By Emma Thelwell