The Government’s ‘war’ against the public sector does not look like letting up, or even having a short ceasefire. Cornwall Council has had to save £196m over the last four years, and is set to save up to a further £156m by 2018. These cuts are brutal, and affect some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Yet, Cornwall Council is not the only public sector organisation who is being made to make cuts and reductions in services. The police force in Cornwall and Devon has to make wholesale cuts too.
The facts are the police service in Cornwall (and Devon) is already poorly served by the current funding formula, which is based on outdated evidence, and biased towards urban areas – like so many other Government funding formulas!!
Furthermore, the funding formula does not take into account non-crime demand – like mental health, tourism and rurality. Out of all the police forces, only three forces face higher reductions than Cornwall and Devon; Cumbria, the Metropolitan Police (I was surprised at this one) and Lancashire.
The police in Cornwall and Devon have already cut 860 posts over the past 5 years, which in real-terms equates to 500 officers and 360 staff as part of their work to save a target of £58m.
The latest proposals from the Government signal a further reduction in grant of 8% for Devon and Cornwall police force, equating to a further loss of £13.5m. This cut makes Devon and Cornwall Police one of the worse hit police forces in the country. A £13.5 million cut equates to a loss of 370 police officers and staff.
When this is coupled with the potential for a further 25% cut to policing as part of the Chancellor’s Spending Review, The police in Cornwall and Devon could see further cuts of up to £54m. This will only end up with fewer officers doing their job.
Like funding for Cornwall Council and Health services, the police budget take no account of the impact of tourism in setting the budget. I feel this is grossly unfair the Government ignores this fact in budget setting.
Furthermore, it has also failed to take on board the following key points in how the formula works:
- Failed to take into consideration funding for non-crime demand on the police such as road safety, child protection and mental health issues;
- The additional cost required to police rural areas. On this, the Government has given no explanation about why rurality is not considered to be important in working out the funding formula;
- Failed to take into account the impact of alcohol, which is one of the key drivers of crime.
For example Devon and Cornwall has the 6th highest concentration of bars and clubs in England and Wales – the same amount as West Yorkshire. But Cornwall and Devon receives £27 million less than West Yorkshire. Cornwall and Devon is five times the size of West Yorkshire.
The funding measure does not look at the levels of concentration of pubs and clubs. Again for example, Plymouth has the 9th highest concentration of pubs and clubs of any local authority in the country – but this is completely ignored in the calculation.
On Tuesday, the Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Hogg was in Helston. I was invited to put a series of questions to him about how the cuts to the police budget will affect community policing in Porthleven and Helston – he actually lives within my Division – and how does he see the future of community policing in Cornwall if these cuts are implemented.
I also asked him what guarantees can he give residents that there will be a police presence in Porthleven and Helston after the cuts; rather than police having to come from other larger settlements.
His answer was stark, the budget cuts will have an impact on policing levels in not only Porthleven and Helston, but in the whole of Cornwall too. The Commissioner, told me he is urging the public to contact their MP’s, and write to the Government expressing their views on how the budget cuts will be harmful to police levels.
In questioning the commissioner, I asked him about vulnerable groups and if they would be left at risk if the cuts are implemented. The Commissioner shared my worry.
One of the options open to the Commissioner is to raise the precept for the Police Authority to cover the shortfall in funding from the Government. Cornwall Council has struggled with this question too, but has been limited in how much the Council can raise the Council Tax to a maximum of 2%. Any raise over 2% will have to be decided by means of a referendum
Any raising of a precept (Council or police) is unpopular, but what are the choices? Less police if the money is not found? Will the police force in Cornwall be one of reactionary, rather than prevent? And where will it leave the police in non-crime areas, like mental health and child protection? If you did not know, the police are also the lead in tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Cornwall.
If the police budget is reduced, then these areas will be under greater pressure with other agencies having to pick up the cap. Of course, those other agencies are the Council and Health, who are under huge financial pressures themselves.
My fear when you add all the agencies cuts together, vulnerable groups will be at risk, or should I say greater and harmful risk. When will the Government see their ‘austerity measures’ are actually harming the groups they should be protecting.
Will these cuts mean the total end of ‘Bobbies on the beat’?