Cuts to policing threaten to fundamentally change the way the service is delivered in the UK. Austerity is forcing police forces to make difficult decisions about priorities, service delivery and staffing.
Since 2010, central government funding to Police and Crime Commissioners has been cut by 25 per cent in real terms and despite what the government tells us, crime is not falling. According to the NAO (2015) police recorded crime is up by three per cent overall, and ‘violence against the person’ offences are up by 23 per cent. The profile of crime may be changing, but demand for services doesn’t seem to be decreasing. Yet since 2010 over 36,000 jobs have been lost, including a 20 per cent reduction in police support staff. One quarter of police patrols on our streets have disappeared, as PCSOs have been cut by 25 per cent. A home guard of over 9,000 volunteers are being used by some forces to undertake work previously carried out by trained staff, including intelligence inputting and crime scene investigation. This is policing on the cheap.
Hundreds of police stations and offices in towns and rural areas have closed and more are threatened with closure. Devon and Cornwall Police plan to close 34 stations over the next five years; Essex Police – 50 stations; Avon and Somerset – 27 stations; and the Met Police will close hundreds more, a snapshot of what’s to come. More cuts are on the way, even though the NAO state that the Home Office does not have sufficient information to determine how much further it can reduce funding without degrading services.
The threat of police service privatisation has not gone away. In early November 2015, three Midlands forces announced they are considering outsourcing their control room and asked multinational G4S to carry out a feasibility study. The service could include dealing with 999 and 101 (non-emergency) calls. Police service privatisation is not popular with the public. A survey in the West Midlands in 2012 by Mass 1 found that three in five respondents said they would be less likely to report a crime if their personal information was being accessed by a third party. The same proportion stated they were not comfortable with private firms handling 999 calls, crime detection or investigations.
Privatisation of public services invariably results in a lack of transparency and accountability. In 2012, G4S and Serco were investigated by the Serious Fraud Office and repaid the government £180m for overcharging for their electronic monitoring contracts. Corporate Crime, by Howard League catalogues a host of privatisation failures in our criminal justice system. Even though we are picking up the tab for the services private companies provide, ‘commercial confidentiality’ means we don’t know what’s in the contracts and we cannot hold private providers to account through the Freedom of Information Act.