I understand that final decisions are being taken on the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and particularly the Police budget.
Yesterday in the House, I raised my concerns about the potential impact of the Government’s decisions on front-line policing. This is not the first time I have warned about this issue. You will recall that I called a full-day Opposition Day debate on this matter two weeks ago. However, it has now become more urgent in light of the terrible events in Paris.
The Chancellor has said that he is expecting to achieve non-protected departmental cuts of between 25-40%. As I am sure you would agree, cuts anywhere near this scale to the police service budget would have a devastating effect, with thousands more police officers lost and neighbourhood policing decimated.
I remain firmly of the view that efficiency savings up to 5% are achievable, but that anything above that is more difficult. This view has only been strengthened following the attacks in Paris.
I believe it is essential that we work to protect front-line officers and neighbourhood policing. We know that significant intelligence is gathered through community policing which aids the fight against extremism and terrorism. At a time when the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK is heightened, now is not the time to reduce the ability of the police to build important local relationships and gather that intelligence.
As Peter Clarke, former Deputy Commissioner with the Specialist Operations Directorate, has said: “We risk breaking the ‘golden thread’ that runs through the police effort all the way from local communities to the farthest part of the world where, in an era of global terrorism, defence of the UK begins.”
But alongside strong neighbourhood policing, we also need to protect the ability of the police to respond to emergency situations as required and, as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said, have sufficient firearms capability.
Protecting the public is not just about the counter-terrorism element of the police budget, but police funding as a whole.
In these changed circumstances, I believe that it would be unwise to ask the Police to deliver further difficult savings above 5% over the next five years.
As I said in the House yesterday, the Opposition wants to work constructively with the Government but will continue to challenge where we need to.
In that spirit, my colleague the Shadow Chancellor yesterday wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer offering our support for the enhanced expenditure needed to meet the increased threat to our security, including the police budget, be excluded from the parameters of the Charter for Budget Responsibility.
I welcome the funding that the Government has found for the security services but this cannot be seen in isolation from policing. If the Government proceeds with the proposed cuts, it would be a serious misjudgement and would put public safety at risk.
I hope you will give careful consideration to the issues I have raised and do all you can in the next few days to secure an acceptable settlement for the Police.
I am copying this letter to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
Shadow Home Secretary