David Tomlinson has lived for many years in the London Borough of Lambeth. He is a Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator, Chairs his Ward Safer Neighbourhoods Panel and coordinates the group work of the Borough’s 21 Safer Neighbourhoods Ward Panels. He is a member of Vauxhall Conservatives.
After ten years involvement in local policing light has at last dawned on me: most people don’t find it as interesting, absorbing and worthwhile as I do. As for the Met Police’s annual budget, I have to admit that is a complete switch-off for everybody.
Yet the budget set by politicians for a large and complex organisation, employing some 25 per cent of all the UK’s police officers and responsible for many matters of national importance is a lot more than just saying “there’s a figure, now get on with it”. That figure determines not only the resources available for policing London, but what are to be the Met Police’s objectives and priorities, their organisation and their whole modus operandi. All budgets have to be a carefully weighed balance between needs and affordability, an assessment made finally by the politicians who will have to carry the can for success or failure.
Yet with an election in London coming up the current regime has committed its successors by instructing the Met that their budget will be cut by £800 million (following the £600 million reduction last year), and that they should plan for a reduction of £1.2bn. That’s one third of their current £3.5bn budget.
Having listened to our candidates at the hustings, I fear they either do not know or are being less than forthright about what the future holds. Funding of ‘intervention’ programmes ceased a year ago; PCSOs (who never were value for money) are on the way out; ‘welfare’ visits (to families where there is concern about potential domestic abuse) have stopped; probably 5,000 fewer officers in a year’s time. Last time this Mayor cut 1,000 officers then re-instated the establishment a year later it took over two years to unwind one set of redundancies and early retirements and to recruit and train their replacements.
Nor, it seemed, were the candidates aware of the complications of the Met’s responsibilities, from the Protection Groups for diplomats, politicians and the Royal Family to Counter-Terrorism – part funded by the Home Office in budgets now also being severely reduced.
Perhaps the most crucial piece of widespread ignorance is that the public-facing Neighbourhood Policing Teams are the resource from which London’s major events are policed, from political demonstrations to Test matches and Premier League football. Notting Hill Carnival is paralleled only by New Year’s Eve in its demands for thousands of officers to be on duty (even ring-fenced Ward Officers are utilised).
Lambeth has about 170 Neighbourhood Police Officers. They work a two shift rota, and with leave, training etc. there are far fewer available at any one time. The opening of the Rugby World Cup coincided with a week-long political demonstration at Excel, so that on that day there were no Neighbourhood Police Officers on normal duties in Lambeth except for a handful of Ward Officers while the front-line of our night time economy problems was held by unpaid volunteer Special Constables.
Even on a ‘normal’ day your Neighbourhood Ward Sergeant may suddenly disappear to perform another trained role – as undercover surveillance protecting the Prime Minister, or on an understaffed Emergency Response Team (the’999’ crews).
I hold no brief for the Met. With my day-job commercial hat on I had long experience of producing more with less. A slim-line organisation should be a more effective and efficient one. But the Met’s objectives, its resources and its shape will be determined by the next political regime. As it is, the next Mayor and his Deputy for Policing and Crime are going to be faced with a very different organisation from the present one, without having had any part in the decisions leading to it.
That new Met will become apparent in the run-up to the Mayoral election. Candidates of all parties will have much to say on the matter, and we Conservatives need to be sure that our candidate is signed up to whatever he is going to have to justify, or (much better) the Met’s re-budgeting should be put on hold and they should be told to prepare a series of costed options which the new Mayor can develop as he thinks best for London.