The powerful Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has backed the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) in calling for an urgent injection of funds into the ailing police service – or face ‘dire consequences’.
HASC, which holds the Government to account, asked the Federation to provide evidence for its hard-hitting Policing for the Future report, which concludes: “The current structure and funding model for policing in England and Wales is not fit for purpose.”
It also blasts the ‘failure of Home Office leadership’ and says that they ‘must do more to protect and promote the welfare of the police workforce who safeguard all our welfare on a daily basis.’
PFEW Vice-Chair and Welfare Lead Ché Donald said: “This report wastes no time in getting straight to the heart of the matter and blames Government for the perilous position that policing now finds itself in. It warns that the Home Office cannot continue to stand back while police forces struggle.
“HASC has recognised that not only will there be dire consequences for public safety and criminal justice without significant additional investment in the police service, but it has also recognised our position on the importance of officer welfare.
“Our ground-breaking Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey identified years ago that officers were cracking under the strain of working in an over-stretched service, with reduced resources and soaring levels of crime. And if the officers are not supported, the service itself will deteriorate and decline. ”
The HASC report findings back up this work and also reveal a frightening picture of current-day policing including:
· A 20% cut in neighbourhood policing since 2010, with some forces’ neighbourhood teams down by two thirds
· A 32% rise in recorded crime over the past three years
· Dismal police IT and technology systems
Mr Donald said: “As the report rightly recognises, there is no substitute for embedding officers and PCSOs in neighbourhood teams. Not only does it forge stronger links with communities, it also helps provide vital intelligence which we can use to prevent crime from happening in the first place. This is invaluable in the fight against terrorism.”
On technology failures, he said: “Earlier this month a Federation-sponsored police IT survey was brought to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee, highlighting the technology shortcomings which are hindering investigations and jeopardising officer safety. No wonder HASC is calling it an ‘utter mess’.”
But one of the most significant areas for improvement were the alarming gaps in provision which left the police service being used to pick up the pieces and deal with mental health crises, he said.
Mr Donald added: “As the report recognises, and our own welfare work identifies, an absolute key priority is to improve partnership working with other public services and agencies by pooling resources and setting out clear roles, responsibilities and where possible, relevant protocols.
“We have always said that a police cell is not the appropriate place to detain someone suffering from a mental health crisis. But NHS cuts and shortfalls in other areas like social services and the national shortage of mental health beds mean that in too many areas the police are being used as the sole emergency service.
“This cannot be allowed to continue and chiefs must prioritise mental health training for their staff and officers as well as taking steps to safeguard and assess the mental health and welfare of their own employees.”
Mr Donald welcomed the report’s hard line on police funding as it accuses the Government of ‘abdicating responsibility’ and ‘kicking this problem into the long grass’.
He said: “It is absolutely right for them to push the Government to prioritise it both in the upcoming Budget and the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
“We have long been saying that there needs to be an honest debate on what type of police service the public want and need, and what can be provided with the money on offer.
“If Government don’t listen now, they can’t say they haven’t been warned. They need to recognise the true cost of policing – or else the police will not be able to fulfil their duties and keep the public safe.”