Police Federation crying wolf over cuts, says Theresa May

Media caption,

Theresa May: "Scaremongering does nobody any good"

Home Secretary Theresa May has told the Police Federation to stop "crying wolf" about the impact of financial cuts.

Speaking to the federation's annual conference, she said more savings would have to be made in the next five years.

And she accused leaders of the body of "scaremongering" over the effect of cuts while crime was falling.

Earlier, chairman Steve White said the bobby on the beat was becoming an "endangered species" and neighbourhood policing was under serious threat.

However, Mrs May told federation members: "I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good - it doesn't serve you, it doesn't serve the officers you represent, and it doesn't serve the public."

She listed warnings by the Police Federation - which represents rank and file officers in England and Wales - over recent years about "demoralised" and "angry" officers, along with claims members of the public were being put in danger.

"The truth is that crime fell in each of those years, it's fallen further since, and our country is safer than it's ever been," she said.

"So please - for your sake and for the thousands of police officers who work so hard every day - this crying wolf has to stop."

Image caption,
Police Federation chairman Steve White said the government needed to listen to concerns

The home secretary announced plans for a new police bill to extend police-led prosecutions, overhaul the complaints system, and change the use of bail.

The government also plans to bring an end to the practice of using police cells to detain people with mental health issues, she said.

Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent, said members gave the home secretary "polite applause" at the end of her speech.

One delegate, referring to the last five years, told the home secretary in a Q&A session after her speech: "I've never known a time in the last 25 years when police morale has been so low.

"Officers feel that they are under sustained attack from the media, the government and additionally the Home Office. At times, our only allies are the public that we serve."

'Endangered species'

In his keynote speech to the conference in Bournemouth earlier, Mr White said neighbourhood policing was "just one of the endangered species in the new streamlined barren policing landscape".

He told Mrs May: "You seriously need to listen. And do not make the mistake of dismissing what you hear thinking 'Here they go again, the Police Federation, moaning and scaremongering'.

"No. Here we are again, the Police Federation telling it like it is."

At the scene

Image caption,
Pc Craig Tiernan makes his point to Theresa May

By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

It didn't start well. As Theresa May arrived at the seafront conference venue she was approached by a man in shirtsleeves who wanted to talk about the erosion of his pension.

His name was Craig Tiernan, a police officer from Dorset. He told Mrs May that pensions legislation which he thought would protect his income in retirement had been "annihilated".

Before PC Tiernan could develop his argument further he was ushered away - but that awkward encounter was a sign of what was to come in the conference hall as officers queued up to tell the home secretary how cuts were affecting their ability to do their job.

Mrs May's carefully researched claim about serial scaremongering aside, she took most of the federation's criticisms in good humour and offered the federation an olive branch: let's work together to reform the police, she said.

Last year's head teacher, ticking off federation members as if they were naughty schoolchildren, was this year's old friend. Ten seconds of clapping at the end of her speech suggests relations between the home secretary and the Fed have thawed a little - but not a lot.

The debate comes as a survey for the organisation suggested 33 out of the 43 English and Welsh forces had scrapped, reduced or merged their neighbourhood policing teams since 2010.

In recent years, neighbourhood policing teams have been made up of police officers and police community support officers.

The federation says officers were once able to build links with their local areas, but are now often only able to concentrate on responding to emergencies or carrying out pre-arranged visits to investigate crimes.

The survey suggests:

  • Nineteen forces have merged their neighbourhood policing teams with their emergency response teams or other departments
  • Fourteen forces have recently cut, or are planning to cut, numbers in their neighbourhood teams
  • Eight forces have no plans to alter their neighbourhood policing, and two - Cheshire and City of London - have increased numbers

Ministers called the funding settlement "challenging", but said forces had enough resources and crime was falling.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr White said the Police Federation considered the results of its survey "deeply worrying".

He said: "What is happening is chief constables are having to make very, very difficult decisions. Do you put resources into policing 999 calls? Or do you put resources into neighbourhoods? It is really really challenging."

'Flexible approach'

Responding to the federation's survey, Policing Minister Mike Penning said decisions on how neighbourhood policing teams were resourced and deployed were an operational matter for a force's chief constable, in association with its police and crime commissioner.

He said: "This flexible approach allows forces to respond to the individual needs and priorities of their local communities.

"The reduction in crime seen nationwide demonstrates there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels, the visibility of the police in the community and the quality of service provided."

When she addressed the Police Federation conference a year ago, Mrs May said the way the Police Federation was structured, governed and financed needed to be reformed.

Federation members later agreed to implement all 36 recommendations made by an independent panel.

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