Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Police face big cuts challenge, Denis O'Connor says

Police officers The government says front-line police can be protected

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Some of the 43 police forces in England and Wales face a "big challenge" to make cuts without taking officers from the front line, the chief inspector of constabulary has warned.
Sir Denis O'Connor said two thirds of officers were directly involved in protecting the public and enforcing the law - although not all were visible.
Ministers say savings can and must be made while protecting the front line.
Police are losing a fifth of their central funding over four years.
The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) sets out for the first time a definition of what constitutes front-line policing, amid a growing political debate about how chief constables should make cuts.
In the report, the HMIC says the front line comprises those who are "in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law".
It found that 68% of all police force staff in England and Wales were in such roles, but not all were visible. The HMIC estimates that 61% of police officers and community support officers work in visible front-line positions and that 12% of them are available at any given time.

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It's going to be impossible to absolutely protect the front line”
Steve Finnigan Association of Chief Police Officers
Sir Denis said: "In a nutshell it looks difficult for the front line to remain in its current form in a number of forces."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The sums involved - if you want to take 20% out of an organisation with more than 80% people - speak for themselves to an extent that it is going to be very difficult to secure that without the numbers in an organisation falling and changing in different ways."
The front line was "not just what you notice, but what you also rely on", Sir Denis said.
"Even if you imagine that the back office and middle office are ripe for reform… there are quite a lot of functions in the back and middle office that you cannot see as being redundant… and so [cutting] looks like a very big challenge to us."
Sir Denis said middle and back office roles were not "disposable assets that you can chuck away" and losing some of those posts would have consequences for front-line officers.
He added: "The cuts across England and Wales do not cut in the same way by force. For some it's a much bigger challenge."

Visible police officers available for duty, by force

  • Most: Merseyside with 16.8%
  • Least: Devon and Cornwall with 8.8%
  • Average among 43 forces: 12%
But he said there were still parts of policing operations that could be made more efficient and that there was wide variation in visible and available police officers among the 43 forces.
Steve Finnigan, from the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "One of the reasons why Sir Denis O'Connor has tried to agree a definition of 'front line' here is, of course, because in these times of austerity we will want to do everything we possibly can to protect the front line.
"He talked about that's going to prove really challenging - I would go further and say it's actually going to be impossible to protect, absolutely protect the front line. We'll do all that we can to minimise the impact on the front line, but when 85% of your budget is made up of people that's just not going to be possible."
'Room for savings' Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The government is putting chief constables in an impossible position.
"Today's HMIC report shows that 95% of police officers are either on the front line 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. The home secretary needs to change course. She is cutting too far, too fast and it is local communities that will pay the price."
Policing minister Nick Herbert said the report showed a third of human resources were not on the front line, meaning there was room for significant savings in back and middle offices.
"Front-line services can also be improved by more efficient use of resources. 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," he said.
He added the government would continue to support forces by scrapping bureaucracy and driving more efficient procurement.
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