Police boss defends his outburst on cuts

Lancashire police chief constable Steve Finnigan
Lancashire police chief constable Steve Finnigan
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Lancashire’s highest ranking police officer faced a grilling from MPs as he warned the public will be less safe as a result of the cuts.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan was forced to defend his outspoken comments, when he branded Government austerity measures as “madness”, as well as his force’s £49m cash reserves.

He told a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday that he stood by his comments and warned staff morale is “pretty low”.

He added: “There is no doubt , at these levels of cuts, people in Lancashire will not be as safe as they are now.”

The cross-party group of MPs quizzed several chief constables as it emerged seven police commissioners, including Lancashire’s Clive Grunshaw, were threatening legal action over changes to the way funding is split between police forces in England and Wales.

The new funding allocation proposed by the Home Office would see Lancashire Police lose £25m a year if current funding levels stay the same.

Expected cuts of 25 to 40 per cent, set to be unveiled in the treasury’s comprehensive spending review later this month, could see that rise to between £52m and £77m, Ch Con Finnigan told ministers.

He added: “While the percentage of our staff, mainly police officers, in frontline roles has gone up, the numbers in frontline posts has gone down.

“It can be protected to an extent but it most certainly cannot be preserved.”

Tory MP for Louth and Horncastle Victoria Atkins quizzed him over the growth in Lancashire Police’s cash reserves last year, telling him: “That’s a very big bank account of savings you have got there.”

He told the committee that £37m of that was earmarked for the “cost of change” – which includes investing in up-to-date technology and a new police station in Blackpool.

He added: “(The reserves) are available to help us through this pretty difficult time as they are a one-off – they are finite.”

Ranil Jayawardena, MP for North East Hampshire, highlighted an increase in funding for the force shortly before 2010, when austerity kicked in.

He said: “I am struggling to have sympathy with a point of view that says you are losing money now but you have had a lot of money in the past, a lot more than many others.”

His comments came as the committee highlighted the fact in Lancashire residents contribute less through council tax than in other areas.

Ch Con Finnigan responded by saying the cost of policing per head of population in Lancashire was £177.80. The national average is £179.50.

He added: “We actually cost 49p per person, per day.”

He also warned the maximum level of cuts being considered would move Lancashire Police “towards (being) a more reactive force”.

He said 1,050 officers are needed to respond to top priority 999 calls in Lancashire and current projections show there will 1,639 left in the county by 2020. He said: “That leaves me with around about 600 officers to do everything above and beyond.”