Policing Minister Nick Herbert says the police must do everything possible to cut costs and use resources better, writing in Police Review, Herbert continued: Our country is facing the most severe budget deficit of any of the world’s major economies. Everyone in this country will be affected in one way or another, and they are looking to the coalition government to explain how we are going to get out of this mess. ‘Tackling the deficit is the most urgent task facing Britain today, and we are determined to take tough action. As the Home Secretary has already said, we take no pleasure in having to make the kind of decisions that are now necessary. The Home Office, like almost all other central government departments, has been asked to make savings and cut spending. The police will have to bear their fair share of the reductions in government funding.
It will be a few more months before the figures are confirmed in the forthcoming spending review – any figures bandied around before then are speculative. But while we cannot be certain of the numbers, we do know that merely curbing the growth in spending is not going to be enough – there will be budget reductions. We have been as clear as we possibly can be about this with colleagues across the police service. Already, both the Home Secretary and I have had constructive discussions with senior officers and the staff associations about how this can be achieved – and these conversations continue. We have asked ACPO colleagues to provide a business plan setting out their professional judgement on how the service can save money while protecting services to the public.
But I want to hear suggestions from right across the police service. All of us are determined that frontline policing services must be protected. Whatever budget reductions we make, police officers and PCSOs must remain visible in the community and be as accessible as possible to the people who need them. That is why we will do whatever we can to help police protect the frontline. So the government will be ruthless in cutting out waste, eliminating bureaucratic targets, streamlining structures and improving efficiency; we have already scrapped the policing pledge and the single public confidence target. But these practical measures can only go so far, and together we have to make sure that — despite the cuts — policing remains visible and available to the public.
Like the previous government, we cannot promise that police officer or staff numbers will remain at their current levels. As the country faces up to dealing with a mountain of debt, we have to focus on providing the best service for the public with the resources we will have. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see former Chief Constable Tim Brain’s recent assessment that up to 60,000 full-time posts could be lost. For a start, no decisions have yet been made on the government grants which support the police, and they won’t be before the spending review reports in October. More than this, the whole basis of Tim Brain‘s assumptions must be challenged, because he assumes that police forces can make no further savings at all. I just don’t accept that this assumption is right or credible. This week, an HMIC/Audit Commission report has stated that savings of £1bn are possible – 12 per cent of government funding – without damaging the frontline. I agree with HMIC that there are savings to be made through greater force collaboration, smarter use of the workforce and a reduction in bureaucracy. So, even if resources are tighter, we can still get officers out onto the streets, where the public want to see them.
We can’t carry on with the assumption that spending more money is the answer. The police service needs to look hard at its spending more generally – everything from vehicles and buildings that are not fully used, to costly travel and refreshments, or overtime. We want police forces to pool resources to deliver their services more cheaply and effectively, both in back office areas like HR and finance and in operation support functions such as case processing and forensics. And we are determined to make savings on how the police procure goods, services and IT. The government has had to take bold decisions to get the best for the public and for those who work in public services in these difficult times. We announced the intention to seek a pay freeze across the public sector and launched a series of reviews: of police remuneration and conditions of service, of fair pay in the public sector, and of public service pensions. There are no easy answers, but as budgets fall, we have to do everything we can to get a fair trade-off between pay and jobs, just as people in the private sector have had to do. We will know more about the funding position when the spending review reports back in the autumn, but I want to make clear that we, and the police, must do everything possible to drive out costs and use resources better. It is what the public deserve and expect, and I look forward to working with everyone in the service to meet this great challenge.