On Thursday HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published their annual report into policing and the state of individual forces. The report outlines a challenge across the country with reports of victims being let down, criminal cases shelved and suspects left untracked as police fail to carry out basic functions. It also issued an unprecedented warning that a shortage of detectives and investigators amounting to a “national crisis”. “Over the last few years, HMIC has said consistently that police forces were managing well in increasingly difficult circumstances,” Chief Inspector Zoe Billingham said “Nonetheless, today, I’m raising a red flag to warn forces of the consequences of what is, to all intents and purposes, an unconscious form of rationing of police services. “We are leading to a very serious conclusion regarding the potentially perilous state of British policing in this report.”
It is perfectly clear that the reason for this collapse is the extreme restriction by the Conservative Government on the funding of our police. This situation was entirely predictable and its consequences will take a great deal of time and money to put right. It has been a false economy. That is not to say that cuts were not possible back in 2010 and 2011 when the process began, but the severity and speed of the cuts and the failure of the Government to understand how much they would damage our society is an indictment of one person, the lady who is currently our Prime Minister who as Home Secretary introduced these cuts at the behest of the Treasury but without any real sense of what the consequences would ‘achieve’.
The various Police and Crime Commissioners have acted as something of a buffer between the politicians in Westminster and the Chief Constables in their areas. Mistakes have definitely been made. Here in Sussex Katy Bourne wanted to act as a frontrunner for her chum Theresa who she trusted far more than she did the advice from the force or the accounts she was shown before the election. She was a small business owner and claimed to understand the accounts and therefore be in a strong position to introduce the cuts. She failed to go out fighting for better funding from the outset and that cast the die for her and Sussex. She even told us all she could deliver the services whilst avoiding an increase to the Police precept, a deceit which she maintained for two years before the penny finally dropped. As one of her opponents in the contest I know she was the only one who claimed that a zero increase was possible. This arrogant and naive approach simply made the cuts much worse at the outset and she is now trying to turn that particular boat around. This report in one of our local papers presents the words of a couple of Councillors in Brighton & Hove who both make very good points. Emma Daniel was an Independent member of the Police Authority prior to 2012 and fully grasps the issues that Katy is still coming to terms with. However whatever the failings of Katy Bourne we need to take this challenge direct to another Sussex resident, Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings who is now the Home Secretary and get her to reverse the cuts made by her predecessor and her current boss, now before even more damage is done.
It is disappointing that Sussex Police has dropped from Good to Requires Improvement in their ratings. This places them below Surrey and Kent who remain Good but on a par with Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police. We need to see a return to Good next year if possible and I am sure so does Hampshire. However resources are critical to the provision of good quality public services. For far too long Policing has been seen as a service that is the catch all for many other needs and the place of final resort. When the Council run services close their offices at 5pm on a Friday, the public services that still operate include the Police and people assume they will be able to address many of their needs, irrespective of how well suited they are to do so. These changes are what PCCs should be addressing, not as Caroline Penn explains so well in the article, trying to take over other services.