Government needs to act as policing is ‘in crisis’

Years of underfunding has created a perfect storm that has left the police service on its knees, according to Steve Hartshorn, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales.

Jul 4, 2022
By Paul Jacques
PFEW national chair Steve Hartshorn

Mr Hartshorn has spoken out after a week that saw three additional forces put under special measures by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, bringing the total to a record number of six.

The Metropolitan Police Service was placed into special measures on June 28, the first time since it was established in 1829. Other forces placed under special measures are Cleveland, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire and Wiltshire.

Inspectors said the MPS was being “closely scrutinised” having faced extensive criticism following the death of Sarah Everard, who was abducted and murdered by serving officer Wayne Couzens, and the Charing Cross police station scandal.

“If this is not a sign that the Government needs to act then I don’t know what is,” said Mr Hartshorn. “The responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of the public but how can it fulfil its obligations on that front when almost one in seven of the forces of England and Wales has been judged by the police inspectorate as requiring help to improve performance?

“It seemed inevitable that we were going to reach a situation where forces were going to be put into special measures, they have been facing huge challenges set against a decade of austerity during which we saw officer numbers plummet at a time when demand was soaring.”

He added: “Policing is the service of first and last resort, the service that cannot say no, but forces have been stretched to breaking point and that has had a detrimental impact not just on the service we have been able to provide but also on the officers themselves.

“Morale is at an all-time low with a police pay freeze, at a time when other sectors received a pay rise, this was particularly hard for officers to stomach. Officers have seen a 20 per cent real terms pay cut and the cost of living crisis has created a situation where some officers are being issued with food vouchers and others are struggling to afford to put fuel in their cars.

“All officers want is fair pay; pay that recognises their unique place in society holding the front line and the dangers they face as they go about their duties fighting and preventing crime, keeping order and protecting the vulnerable.

“So many workers in other sectors seem to be looking at taking industrial action over pay and conditions this summer and we will have to ‘police’ any strikes that are organised when our members cannot strike and have no redress to industrial rights.”

While officer numbers are now increasing as a result of the Government’s Police Uplift Programme which aims to recruit 20,000 officers over three years, Mr Hartshorn fears retention and attrition rates are producing a “revolving door” effect with some new recruits leaving within months of starting their policing careers and the pay squeeze and low morale also causing longer serving officers to quit.

“We have raised this issue time and time again but the Government, despite the Home Secretary’s claims to have our backs, is doing nothing to help us. Policing is being ignored and we are not being listened to,” said Mr Hartshorn.

“At the start of the budget cuts, we told the Government that cuts would have consequences. We were told we were crying wolf. With six forces now in special measures, I would say we have been completely vindicated on this point.”

He added: “No matter how many times it is said by Government that it is putting money into policing, we are not seeing the longer-term funding settlements that would allow chief constables and police and crime commissioners to plan properly and we are certainly not seeing extra cash making it into the payslips of police officers who are the only ones protecting the public against crime.

“The Government needs to act now as policing is in crisis.”

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