(Guardian) – Up to 60,000 police officer jobs could be lost in the next five years as the government seeks to eliminate the national debt, according to research published today.
The figure is the worst-case scenario in a range of possible outcomes examined by Jane’s Police Review magazine after the Treasury told government departments to prepare for cuts of up to 40%.
If the police suffer average cuts, predicted to be around 25%, that will lead to the loss of between 11,500 and 17,000 jobs by 2015, said Dr Tim Brain, who recently retired as chief constable of Gloucestershire and Association of Chief Police Officers lead on finance.
Brain, an honorary senior research fellow at Cardiff University, prepared the figures based on “clues” and projections by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).
No official national spending figures are available for 2010-11 so far. But before the general election the IFS predicted that public spending as a proportion of GDP would fall to the same level as in 2003-04.
If police funding was similarly reduced, the equivalent of 30,000 full-time posts would be lost by 2015, Brain said.
Based on IFS analysis after George Osborne’s budget, which projected a return of public spending to levels last seen in 1997-98, the equivalent of 60,000 full-time equivalent posts would be lost, he said, although those figures were described as “speculative” by the home secretary, Theresa May.
“Obviously, we don’t yet know, and nor will we know for certain until the results of the spending reviews in the autumn, but in the meantime there are some clues,” said Brain.
“First, the police service is not on the protected list. Second, the new home secretary, Theresa May, has warned that the police can expect to face its fair share of cuts, and third, there has specifically been no guarantee to maintain personnel numbers but it would appear we are looking at job losses in the police forces of 11,500-17,000 if the police are to suffer the government’s average cuts. This will mean fewer personnel for patrol, response and investigation duties.”
Brain said he expects the bulk of cuts in personnel would come through police officers who leave the service not being replaced as well as through redundancies among civilian staff.
But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They are absolutely essential to the efficient running of the operational service. They are pretty much part of the frontline.”
Ben Priestley, Unison’s national officer for police staff, warned cuts of the magnitude described by Brain could undermine recent falls in crime and that a removal of civilian police staff would increase paperwork for frontline officers.
“Cuts to police budgets and a fall in workforce will cause huge damage to this record and we are likely to see crime rates soar,” he said.
Giving evidence to the Commons home affairs committee, May said that the scale of the cuts to the Home Office budget had yet to be agreed with the Treasury.
“These figures are at the moment entirely speculative,” she said. “I don’t think it is helpful to speculate or comment on that speculation.” May insisted that “there are savings that can be made that will not affect frontline services.”
But pressed by Labour MP David Winnick on whether she expected to see police numbers fall over the next four years, she said: “I am not going to give you a yes or no answer.”
The policing minister, Nick Herbert, reiterated the government’s desire to “protect the frontline”, but said: “We can’t guarantee the numbers.”