'I am very clear that we are at a tipping point' country's longest-serving chief warns'Cuts have left our communities less safe' Lancashire Chief tells Police Oracle editor Martin Buhagiar
The country’s longest-serving chief constable says communities are less safe than they were in 2010 because of government cuts.
Lancashire Constabulary Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, who retired this week after 12 years leading the force, told Police Oracle he also wished he could deliver a better class service for communities in his county but “the numbers work against that”.
CC Finnigan said he felt obliged to speak out and warned the “cherished UK policing model was moving towards a purely reactive model”.
He said: “I retire on Wednesday and, as you come towards retirement, you reflect on a number of things. Of course the recent terrorist atrocities we have seen in the UK have made a very big impression on me.
“So what I am doing is reiterating a number of concerns that I’ve expressed over quite a few years. I hope your readers recall, as we came to the end of the comprehensive spending review in 2015, when George Osborne was Chancellor, he was saying that on top of the cuts we had already endured - get ready to deliver 25 to 40 per cent more. I went very public and loud to say that the proposed cuts were a madness.
“I hope your readers will recognise there has been a consistency to what I have said and what I am saying now.
“As the longest serving chief in the country, I feel an obligation to talk about the operational consequences of the cuts. I have said for a long time now that the scale and pace of the cuts have been too deep and too quick. Too quick is a reference to the fact they were front loaded in the first few years and I have always said we would see a time lag. That is now playing out and cracks are absolutely appearing in policing. I am very clear in my view that we are at a tipping point here and it is time for an authentic conversation.”
CC Finnigan joined the force in what he calls “the hot summer of 1976”. He moved from Merseyside to Lancashire in 2001 and says government cuts have led his force to lose 800 police officers since 2010 and a further 400 police staff.
He said: “I certainly think the cuts have made it more difficult for us to deliver on our mission and our mission here in Lancashire is, very simply, to keep people safe from harm - especially the most vulnerable in our communities.
“I absolutely do get that for government austerity has been difficult. They had some tough choices to make around prioritisation. However I’ve said to ministers and officials right up to the very top that in the last few years, our core grant funding for the police accounts for about one per cent of the government’s overall budget. In terms of yield, when we have had cuts visited upon us, it is never going to deliver big bucks for them. They have taken about £2.3 billion out of policing in the last seven years and in the grand scheme of things that isn’t massive money, but because of the nature of what we do, that approach is a very risky one.
“In any developed society people deserve safe and confident communities. When I look at what has happened recently in Manchester and London, I have no doubt - despite people saying we need to be stoical, we must not change our lifestyle, we cannot be cowed by terrorism - many people in those communities are feeling less safe.
“Not just in those cities, but elsewhere in the UK including here in Lancashire. My point is, and I say this with a heavy heart, they are less safe than they were seven years ago.
“I don’t feel good about saying that and I wish here in Lancashire that I could deliver an even better class service to the good folk of Lancashire than we do now but, actually, the numbers work against that.
“In 2010 I had a budget of £301m and I’ve lost £71m of that.
“Eighty-seven per cent of our money is spent on people so that translates into losing 800 police officers and 400 police staff.
“So that cherished UK model of policing, a very preventative and proactive model, is rapidly moving towards a purely reactive model.”
Another frustration for CC Finnigan is the government’s now ridiculed ‘crime is down, police reform is working’ slogan and its apparent refusal to accept crime has changed.
He says: “There is a strap-line everyone would have heard that says ‘communities defeat terrorism’ - that’s right but only if they are talking to us. So only if we have got a good working model of neighbourhood policing.
“Neighbourhood policing here is a lot thinner than it was seven years ago.
“I often talk about the context of policing being two things, one is austerity and the other is the changing nature of demand. Whilst HMIC has levelled some criticism at the service, it has not linked it to austerity or the explosion of different types of demand.
“This why I do get frustrated of that tired old refrain we hear ‘crime is down, police reform is working’.
“If you look at any developed country since 1995, violent crime has been on a downward trajectory but that is turning now. If you look at the ONS statistics for 12 months up to October 2016, all crime is up nine per cent, robbery ten per cent, public order up 35 per cent, sexual offences up 12, violence against a person up 19, so not only has that downward trajectory slowed down, it is now reversing.
“The reality is crime is not down - it is changing. We are seeing less of those traditional crimes and an explosion of sexual offences, both current and historic, child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, modern day slavery, FGM, honour-based violence, forced marriages and domestic violence. Then there is cybercrime, whether that is indecent images of children or fraud, particularly aimed at the elderly, or harassment. So, all of those high victim, impact high crimes, many of them less visible, are absolutely out there and they are testing us.
“That means an awful lot of safeguarding and public protection for the police and is characterised by the complexity of investigation. When I joined in the hot summer of 1976, your victim lived at number 2 Acacia Avenue, the offender lived just around the corner, you took a couple of statements, you did a bit of forensic work and you put them before the court. Now your victim is here in Lancashire and your offender is in South East Asia. That is a real stretch right across the service.”
In the second part of his interview, coming later this week, Chief Constable Finnigan discusses staffing, direct entry and genuine emergency services integration.
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