Reports of plans to use private firms in policing by West Midlands and Surrey Police show that the consequences of the Government’s draconian cuts in police budgets of 20% are being felt severely.
Whilst public private partnerships can be effective, they must not put principles of impartial policing or public trust at risk.
The possibility of private sector companies managing high risk individuals, patrolling public places, or pursuing criminal investigations raises serious concerns which need to be scrutinised in great detail.
Although Ministers claim that budget reductions can be done without impacting on front-line services, the speed and scale of the cuts have put police forces into an impossible situation. We know that some forces face reductions in police officers greater than the number of non-front-line staff they have.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has estimated that over 16,000 officers will be lost during the spending review.
The simplistic notion that front-line services are good and all other activities are bad is also being exposed. There is a real risk of undermining specialist units dealing with fraud, IT crime, organised crime and child protection.
And this is happening alongside cuts to youth crime prevention projects, youth services, probation services, prison places and the weakening of police powers on ASBOs, DNA and CCTV.
A further pressure is the release on 1 March of the annual CIPFA council tax survey showing that while 85% of councils are freezing council tax, at least 43% of households will still see some increase in their council tax bills.
All of this has major implications. The Association of Police Authorities says that many of their members will be left with a stark choice to either risk big cuts or raise the police precept.
Either way, some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made, which may put even more pressure on our stretched police forces.
Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath is Labour’s Shadow Home Office Minister and Deputy Leader in the Lords