Top cop’s warning as force cuts loom again
When it comes to the savage budget cuts facing police in Lancashire, the county’s top cop tries hard not to be a “prophet of doom” – but it is not always easy.
Chief Constable Steve Finnigan faces the unenviable task of steadying the ship at a time when Government funding is being slashed.
Already, since 2010, Lancashire Police has lost £63m from its budget and is preparing for a further £43m to go over the next five years.
When next month’s spending review comes out, setting out how the country will save £20bn by 2020, there are fears police budgets could be slashed by as much as 40 per cent.
Chief Constable Finnigan told us the force has become “unrecognisable” compared to what is was 39 years ago when he joined.
In 1977, there were 3,031 police officers in Lancashire. That figure peaked at 3,753 in 2009 but since the Government’s austerity measures kicked in the following year that number has plummeted and the decline shows no signs of stopping soon.
He said: “We have lost 700 officers and 500 police staff here in Lancashire. There is a lot fewer of us.
“But what police deal with is very different now. We are less exercised and challenged by traditional volume crime , thefts and acquisitive crime.
“What we deal with more and more is around public protection, safeguarding and vulnerability.”
The heightened terror threat and explosion in the number of sex offences coming to light – particularly historic allegations of child sexual exploitation – mean the demand placed on officers is higher than ever.
“Policing is going through a difficult time but I understand lots of other agencies are going through a tough time too,” he said.
“I know we are not being targeted alone here.
“I do understand what I can’t fall into is being a prophet of doom – I have got to balance it with some optimism.
“With all we have gone through, we are still delivering great policing services and our staff are doing a great job.”
However, he said he and the Police and Crime Commissioner PCC), Clive Grunshaw, have to “strike a balance” when it comes to singing the force’s praises and pushing back against the Government when it threatens to take away vital funding.
He added: “I think the scale of the cuts people are contemplating, that we might be expected to lose 60 per cent of our budget over this period, is madness.”
Lancashire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has already launched its own campaign against the cuts, warning that losing a third of the workforce will have a damaging effect.
That is a situation the Chief Constable has to find a way to manage.
“We have got a couple of things that are colliding,” he explains.
“There is a lot less money and a lot less people but a lot of demand, particularly in high risk areas.
“They are, I think, increasing demands. We have got to work not just harder but smarter.”
Some of the changes that have come about as a result of austerity, he has welcomed.
By restructuring the force, it has become more efficient and, he believes, a more exciting places for some officers to work.
“We have seen people coming together as a single team and helping each other out across different geographies and functions,” he said.
“For example, your armed response officers and dog handlers and road policing officers are working with planned response officers and everyone is just mucking in.”
The result is that they get a more varied job that allows them to pick up new skills or do things that haven’t had chance to for years.
But the cuts are not without consequences. The force is feeling the pinch after losing £63m and it has had to cut another £21m from the budget over the next two years.
Chief Constable Finnigan said: “We will find out more in November what our budget will be in 2016/17.
“George Osborne is talking about 25 to 40 per cent cuts – that is phenomenal on top of the 25 per cent we have already had cut.
“We cannot deliver what we delivered before. We have got to talk to the public about what their expectations are.”
That is part of the reason Lancashire Police opened up the gates at its Hutton headquarters at the weekend and invited residents to take a look around. He wants the public to have a say in how the force prioritises the use of its limited resources.
The Treasury declined to comment ahead of next month’s spending review. A spokesman said it has a policy of not commenting on what “might or might not” be included in the review.