In part one of this feature on the defence of the realm we looked at the ever diminishing numbers of our armed forces and the potential consequences of those cuts.
In the short period of time since then, following criticism from America, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has managed to stand up to the Treasury and block the proposal to reduce the Royal Marines – often the spearhead of our military operations – by 1,000.
In part two we will look at how drastic cuts in Government funding are affecting the police.
The oath of a constable includes the undertaking to “cause the peace to be kept and prevent all offences against people and property”, but this can only be accomplished if you have enough constables to do it. When was the last time you saw a policeman or woman, on foot, in your street, village or town?
In the period 2010 to 2016 the number of police officers in England and Wales fell from 144,000 to 124,000, and if you include PSCOs (community officers), there has been a loss of 35,000. West Midlands has almost halved in a decade, down 6,000, and Greater Manchester faces a similar situation.
All this is at a time when, according to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a general increase in crime of almost 10 per cent, a 15 per cent increase in gun and knife crime, a 35 per cent increase in public order offences, and 20 per cent more violent crimes – think mopeds and acid attacks.
Neil Basu, the senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, has said that two decades of progress in neighbourhood policing was at risk and withdrawing police on the ground would mean losing the relationships and trust that yield crucial intelligence.
Basu said: “For me that is a national security issue.”
According to the National Audit Office, funding for the police declined in real terms by £2.2billion in the period 2010-2016, and the National Police Chiefs Council is anticipating the loss of a further 22,000 officers between now and 2020, based on projected future cuts.
All the savings that can be made from increasing efficiency, closing police stations and losing staff have already been done – the next cuts will impact directly on frontline services.
The Government is already resorting to raising our threat level from ‘severe’ to ‘critical’ after single terrorist attacks so that it can deploy the army in a policing role – an over-stretched military helping over-stretched police. What happens when we get two or more simultaneous attacks? Will the almost-at-breaking-point ‘thin blue line’ still cope?
Some forces no longer respond to offences when there is no immediate prospect of detection as under-pressure resources concentrate on the higher priorities of anti-terrorism, public order and cyber crime.
Even when offenders are ‘sent down’, there are 7,000 fewer prison officers to look after them.
I have lamented in these pages before about the closing of police stations, the disappearance of home beat officers, the loss of proactive crime squads, and, sadly, the break in the bond of trust between the police and the public in a policing system based on the implicit consent of the people.
Much like defence, I fear we will probably need a catastrophe involving significant loss of life to really focus the mind of the Government on the protection of its citizens.
When Police and Crime Commissioners (now there’s a potential budget saving) recently asked for more money, the Home Secretary told them to come back with another plan.
Yet we are still spending over £13billion every year to provide aid to countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea.