30 Mar 2011

Police cuts report warns of ‘big challenges’

Sir Denis O’Connor says it will be ‘very difficult’ for the police front line to remain intact as budget cuts start to bite.

Police chiefs face “a big challenge” in delivering 20 per cent cuts to their budgets without hurting the front line, the chief inspector of constabulary has warned.

Sir Denis O’Connor, who said last year that cuts of more than 12 per cent would affect the quality of policing, refused to criticise Government plans for an average spending cut of one-fifth across four years.

But he said a new report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) shows that “it looks difficult for the front line to remain in its current form in a number of forces”.

The study shows that about two thirds of police staff are on the “front line”, as defined following a consultation with members of the public and police representatives.

The study shows that about two thirds of police staff are on the

It comes after Channel 4 News revealed earlier this month that the Government had no formal definition of “frontline” police work, despite pledging to protect it from the effects of budget cuts.

The inspectorate has now decided that the front line means “those in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law”.

That includes visible policing like street patrols by officers and Community Support Officers (PCSOs), as well as detective work, confiscating assets, taking fingerprints and examining crime scenes.

The definition also includes some “middle office” roles like answering emergency calls from the public and holding prisoners in custody, while
support services like finance, information technology and human resources are classed as “back office” and fall outside the definition.

The HMIC survey shows that, of the total staff employed in the 43 police forces in England and Wales, including officers and civilian staff, 68 per cent were on the front line.

When civilian staff are stripped out of the figures, the survey shows 61 per cent of police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) work in visible frontline roles such as emergency response.

Only 5 per cent of officers and PCSOs are engaged in back room support roles – the kind of jobs ministers have repeatedly said can be shared with other forces or axed in an efficiency drive that will deliver the necessary savings.

Read more: Cutsmap – show us the spending cuts

Police minister Nick Herbert said the report vindicates the Government’s position.

He said: “We have always been clear that police forces can make the savings needed while protecting frontline services and prioritising the visibility and availability of policing.

“As this HMIC report shows, a third of human resources are not on the frontline. This is a clear indication that there is room for significant savings in back and middle offices.

“Frontline services can also be improved by more efficient use of resources. The quality of policing is not simply about the numbers of people in the frontline – it is about how well they are deployed.

“The report also reveals that some forces have twice the visibility and availability of policing as others, again showing that the issue is how resources are used.

“The Government will continue supporting forces by scrapping bureaucracy and driving more efficient procurement.”

But Sir Denis said maintaining some forces’ levels of frontline coverage would be “a big challenge”. He added: “In a nutshell it looks difficult for the front line to remain in its current form in a number of forces.”

Sir Denis, a former chief constable of Surrey Police, stressed that middle and back office staff all contribute to the work of the police service.

He told Channel 4 News: “They all come together at some point in order to deliver…everything from dealing with antisocial behaviour to drugs to a heavy goods vehicle that’s crashed to child protection. They are all involved.

“The front, middle and back all in their own way help make a difference.”

He added: “(There are) quite a lot of functions in there. We can’t see that any of them are particularly redundant. You need them all in some form.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Today’s HMIC report shows that 95 per cent of police officers are either on the frontline or working in important ‘middle office’ jobs in things like intelligence, planning major operations, burglary and drugs offences, or preparing cases for court. Cutting over 12,000 police officers and 15,000 police staff is inevitably hitting the front line.”

Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever told Channel 4 News: “The real worry and concern for us is that so much of Government policy has been based on preserving the front line. when they have not been able to define it themselves, so this massive cut in policing – 20 per cent cut in policing – has been based on very loose policy indeed.”

The new report, Demanding Times – The Front Line And Police Visibility, shows that there is some room for more efficiency, saying shift patterns are a key issue forces need to consider.

The proportion of officers and PCSOs available at any one time varies, with an average 12 per cent in visible posts and available to the public at key times.

HMIC collected data on officers being visible and available at three times of the day, with 16 per cent at 9am on a Monday, 11 per cent at 7pm on a Wednesday and just 9 per cent between a Friday night and Saturday morning when 999 calls were close to their highest.

Forces “need to think about matching deployment of their workforce with those times of the day and week when the greatest proportion of the public are likely to see them,” the report concluded.

Channel 4 News has learned that public services unions are preparing to challenge redundancies among civilian police staff who are replaced by police officers.