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Austerity was becoming unsustainable but battles for funding will continue, says outgoing chief

Police Oracle spoke to the head of the Essex force just before his departure
Published - 02/10/2018 By - Ian Weinfass - Police Oracle

Home Office politicians have woken up to the unsustainable nature of austerity in policing but the department faces tough battles against others for future funding, a retiring chief constable has said.

Essex Police’s Stephen Kavanagh is this week stepping down from policing after more than 33 years.

In an interview with Police Oracle on his second last day in the job he said: “I think politics has woken up to the [fact that the] scale and the nature of austerity that we’ve been put through is no longer sustainable and that communities want to see a more visible police force that can also deal with the crime they’re experiencing in a digital age.”

He said the recent tone of the Home Secretary and Policing Minister has helped demonstrate this, but added: “I think the challenge for the Home Office is they have to be prepared to go into the Treasury and fight on our behalf because you’ve got education, health, military, prisons, all expressing equal concerns.

“The reality is the Home Office, supported by the NPCC, need to articulate what a good investment policing is - in terms of [policing being] about social cohesion and public safety, it’s not about crime levels.”

But later in the interview the officer, who served with the Met Police from 1982 to 2013, noted that as national lead for digital policing he was often frustrated by the year-to-year funding model that the service has to work to.

“If you’re trying to build a cohesive IT infrastructure and a digital culture for policing, we want to recruit the best people into those areas of work and they only come if they can guarantee they’re going to be working more than 12 months ahead. And if you’re negotiating contracts you want some confidence about the future plans,” he said.

Has the Home Office been receptive on calls to change that? “No. I think there’s a real difficult spending review period coming up and I think that’s why police need to keep as disciplined and present the arguments right.

“The whole of government is looking for some change in resource so that we can ensure better, more consistent policing, but if we don’t go in with the right arguments I think we’ll fall short of the military, health, education and others,” he warned.

But overall, he said: "I fundamentally disagree with some of the old sweats who say the job is… going to hell in a handcart. It’s got massive challenges but its dealt with massive challenges and it adapts.

"The bravery, the dignity, the determination of the youngsters I see coming into policing means it will be all right."

CC Kavanagh was one of six chief officers within a month to announce their retirement earlier this year. He was given a four-year contract extension in 2017.

Asked why he had decided to go now, he said: “If I’m honest with you it was quite an altruistic decision. I’m not going because I’m angry, I’m not going because I’ve had enough. The force needs the next five years of leadership to get through the estates, IT, digital transformation, not the next two or three.”

Essex Deputy Chief Constable BJ Harrington, who CC Kavanagh says is a “brilliant” officer, will step up to the chief constable role.

On the number who departed at the same time, he added: “I became very conscious of it, when you look at all of us there’s a mixture of reasons for going and one of the things we need to be aware of is the relationships with police and crime commissioners have a huge part to play and the worrying position about the number of people applying for jobs.”

But he stressed that his relationships with the two police and crime commissioners he has answered to have been strong.

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