Lancashire Police is set to lose more than half of its budget – and workforce – under the latest plans to overhaul the way the force is funded. PAUL BERENTZEN takes a look at what the police force of the future might look like.
The man responsible for policing in Lancashire can no longer promise to keep residents safe if planned budget cuts go ahead.
The Chief Constable joined forces with the Police and Crime Commissioner, who warned the force faces “annihilation”, in their most strongly-worded condemnation yet of the Government’s austerity measures.
Neighbourhood policing – a top public priority that is at the heart of the way Lancashire Police operates – could become a thing of the past.
The force is preparing to lose a further £87m from its annual budget – on top of the £74m of savings its has already made or identified – under plans due to be finalised in the coming months.
If confirmed, it would see funding slashed by more than half between 2010 and 2020.
I have no doubt lots more people would be at risk and would be harmed because of the sheer scale of the cutsSteve Finnigan
Ch Con Steve Finnigan said the impact on a force that spends 87 per cent of its budget on people would be “devastating”.
He outlined plans that would bring the total number of police employees lost since 2010 to 3,175 – 1,912 officers and 1,263 staff.
But he warned the 52 per cent reduction in the workforce would still leave savings of more than £30m to find.
Ch Con Finnigan added: “What breaks my heart about that is we have got a very clear mission or purpose here, which is to keep people safe from harm, in particular the most vulnerable members of our communities.
“That would absolutely be in jeopardy – I have no doubt lots more people would be at risk and would be harmed because of the sheer scale of the cuts.”
But what would a post-2020 Lancashire Police look like if these cuts were to go ahead?
Neighbourhood policing, for so long the jewel in the force’s crown and praised nationally for its success in boosting public confidence, would be decimated.
Every single neighbourhood policing team, community beat manager, PCSO and early action worker would be lost – saving the force £34m a year.
Ch Con Finnigan said: “The shame of that is everything starts and ends in neighbourhoods. That would be a big loss for us.”
With police only able to respond to crime – not actively prevent it – victims will find themselves unable to report incidents in person.
Every single police enquiry desk in the country would close.
“Unless it was by prior arrangement, members of the public wouldn’t be able to go into police stations,” Ch Con Finnigan added.
Road policing would be another casualty of austerity.
In a county where serious and fatal road collisions are on the rise, the “vast majority” of front line officers working to prevent accidents would disappear.
According to the Government’s own estimates, road accidents in Blackpool alone cost £24.7m last year. Across Lancashire that figure topped £360m.
The Department for Transport says each fatal collision prevented saves £2m in medical costs, lost output and human cost.
Each serious collision is valued at £235,000.
The Force Major Investigations Team, which deals with crimes like murder and rape, would be heavily scaled back. The Serious and Organised Crime unit and Economic Crime Unit would suffer a similar fate.
Support units, the mounted branch and police dogs would all be axed.
The Dangerous and Sexual Offenders Unit could lose £1.3m in annual funding – despite a huge rise in the number of people coming forward to report incidents to police.
But even if the force we to do that, the remaining budget deficit would be equivalent to the cost of employing 650 police officers.
Rachel Baines, chairman of the Lancashire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “These cuts will obliterate policing in Lancashire as we know it.
“We are constantly being accused of scare-mongering but it’s not – the thought of the county’s roads unpoliced genuinely fills me with fear.
“The force will be unrecognisable after these changes. We have never seen officer numbers so low.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: “These funding changes are set to make the force as we know it a thing of the past and risk jeopardising the safety of the people of Lancashire.
“The level of cuts we are being asked for means Lancashire Police will no longer be able to keep the public safe.”
Where has the latest budget pressure come from?
Lancashire Police is facing financial pressure on two fronts.
The Government’s comprehensive spending review, due next month, will set the total amount of money available to police forces across the country.
Chancellor George Osborne has warned all unprotected departments, including police, to budget for cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent.
The letter sent from the Home Office to Police and Crime Commissioners on Friday outlined how it plans to divide the cash between the different forces.
Its plans to reduce Lancashire’s share of the pot would immediately wipe £25m from the budget. If the full 40 per cent cuts are imposed next month, the annual loss in Lancashire would rise to £87m.