The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Finance and Resources, Chief Constable Dave Thompson, yesterday (Wednesday) raised concerns (https://tinyurl.com/ybogus2c) about the realities of budget cuts to policing.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you what continuing budget cuts mean to Northumbria Police and the difficult decisions we have to make on a daily basis.
The stark reality is there have been huge cuts in the amount of money we receive from Government, a reduction of 30 per cent in real terms since 2010-11, with the overall financial impact to Northumbria being the worst felt by any force in the country. Over that period we have had to make budget and efficiency savings of more than £142 million to meet the funding shortfall.
We have looked to mitigate the effect of such far-reaching cuts by making savings where we can and utilising financial reserves to lessen the impact on front-line policing services. However, our financial reserves are now not only at the lowest they have ever been, they are the lowest of any force in the UK.
In further efforts to keep our heads above water, we have had to rationalise our estate and only last month announced the sale of our former Headquarters site in Ponteland. However, the money we raise from property sales is a one-off measure which is all-too quickly exhausted and can never match the increasing financial shortfall.
This is all set against the backdrop of heightened demands, arising not only from higher levels of recorded crime, but also from the complex nature of emerging crime trends such as terrorism, cyber-related offences, modern-day slavery and sexual exploitation.
As a direct consequence of the significant budget reductions we continue to experience we, like other forces, have seen unprecedented reductions in our officers and staff numbers. The size and scale of this can be seen when I share with you that we have already had to reduce police officer numbers by 1,038 since 2010.
I have already made it very clear that our top priority is to protect the most vulnerable and this will continue; as will our commitment to tackling matters such as sexual violence, domestic abuse and violent crime.
Of course, we also recognise there are other matters that can have a real impact on people’s lives, including anti-social behaviour. That is why myself and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, have worked hard to protect front-line Neighbourhood Policing Teams so our officers are where they are most needed by our communities.
I want to assure you that we will continue to do everything in our power to make sure the streets we all call home and the areas we work remain among the safest in the country – and when crime does occur, I want you to be confident of our ability and commitment to support vulnerable victims and bring offenders to justice.
So, how can we continue to achieve that against the ongoing financial challenges? Well, it’s certainly not by continuing to demand those selfless officers and staff who go above and beyond, do even more with less. Staff and volunteers are now working at levels that are just not sustainable in the long-term. Indeed, I am sure many of you, like me, can cite countless examples of how they do so and they truly make me proud to be their Chief Constable.
What we must do is be innovative and adopt problem-solving approaches to ensure we have a policing model which continues to best meet the demands placed upon us. As we seek to do so, I give my commitment to sharing information with you that takes you on that journey with us and listening to what you have to say.
I will always be honest and upfront with you about the level of service you can expect and how that might look in the future. As such, if you were to ask me if we can afford to send an officer to every non-emergency call we receive, my answer would be ‘no, not always’.
As you would rightly expect, we have to prioritise our response on a case-by-case basis, looking, for example, at the threat to the public and the vulnerability of the victim.
However, we are looking at how we can use technology to introduce better ways of engaging with people to provide services that best meet their needs, including when we are physically unable to visit them.
You can be assured of my personal commitment to providing you with the very best policing service you expect and deserve, as well as that unwavering and proven dedication of your local officers and staff.
Chief Constable of Northumbria Police