As the public sector cuts begin to bite we may find ourselves in wholly new territory, as a largely Conservative (+ associate rag tag Lib Dems hangers on) seriously considers cutting Police (both uniformed and civilian support staff) numbers whilst we are dealing with the effects of the recession – this is something even Mrs Thatcher (in her more lucid moments well before she went mad towards the end of her tenure as PM) never even considered doing for a moment.
Mr’s T in the early days of her premiership raise Police pay (and improved conditions) – something which won her a combination of tacit approval, tacit support or a degree of active passivity from the Police service, which had been neglected under the previous struggling Labour Government – during who's tenure in office there had been an erosion of police pay and working conditions.Faced with paying for New Labour’s reckless spending, the ongoing financial legacy of Blair's wars, bailing out the banks, replacing Trident (an essential prop of Britain is to stride the world stage clinging on to the pretensions of being a World power), etc - the new Government finds itself skint. David (“Call me Dave”) Cameron's Con Dem Government may well have reached its budgetary Rubicon moment - To cut or not to cut and how deep? Are we seriously talking about reducing Police numbers and cutting back on operational policing and the myriad of police support workers who fulfil a hundred routine (and not so routine) tasks behind the front line?
Perhaps, certainly it is quite likely that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) conference in Manchester will (BBC and Daily Telegraph) have been told by the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde will (by the time this blog is published) that current police numbers are unsustainable in the face of cuts and that it is "misleading in the extreme" to claim anything otherwise. Only last week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson went so far as to suggest that his force would "shrink" as a result of budget cuts and has talked about growing the number of special constables to make up the numbers.
So where exactly does that leave Policing in Wales, which is substantially somewhat down the Ministry of Justice / Home Office food chain of funding priorities, of late Police Services in Wales have been ‘publicly making the best out of a potentially bad situation. In the wake of the proposed ‘savage’ public service funding cuts the real question is where exactly does that leave front line policing within our more vulnerable and not so vulnerable communities.
Within the Gwent Police Service area, Plaid Cymru’s Steffan Lewis (the then Islwyn Westminster Parliamentary candidate) expertly exposed Gwent Police’s proposals to close local Police stations (many of whom have pretty reduced operating hours to start with) rattled more than a few bars locally across Gwent gaining coverage in both the South Wales Argus and the Western Mail. Quite understandably local residents were less than chuffed when they foresaw the consequences of the loss of local police stations.
So, anyway as no doubt we will be faced by broad and deep cuts in public expenditure the question is where do we or at least our Police Services go from here? A cut is a cut, no matter how you spin it, and for sure Cameron's Tories (and their hangers on) have inherited former spin master Blair's well oiled machine – so be prepared for lots of it - to distract the eye and the wallet with slight of hand as our public services get cut to the bone (so much for ‘New Tories').
The bottom line is that decision making when it comes to Criminal Justice and Policing (for they are two sides of the same coin), how its funded and how the money is spent should be made locally in Cardiff rather than in Westminster and Whitehall where any understanding of policing needed on the ground locally and local problems will be somewhat understandably dim and distant from any consequences on the streets of our communities.