A policeman’s lot is not a happy one
Mar 8th 2011, 21:46 by M.S. | LONDON
IT'S crunch time for the police this week. Today the Winsor report came out with proposals to cut police pay and benefits when the current three-year pay deal ends in September. At the heart of it is curbing overtime and bonuses and other allowances which have become embedded and conceal real differences in what people of similar seniority do. One goal is obviously to save money; but another important one is to modernise police management, recognising and motivating officers who do more and better than their fellows.
But this is only one of blows police say they are reeling from. On Thursday the Hutton report is widely expected to recommend making coppers, like other public-sector workers, pay more for their pensions (they say they already contribute more than others in state employment). The police service has in any event been in austerity mode for a couple of years, even before the 20% budget cut through 2014-15 was announced last October. And like other public-sector workers they also face a two-year pay freeze from next September.
Is all this a death blow to law and order as we know it? Or the foundations of more efficient and flexible policing?
Policing can be a difficult and dangerous occupation, and the proliferation of laws and form-filling and what-not over the past decade have not made the job easier. But resources, both money and manpower, have also grown tremendously. There has been a sustained increase in funding since 2001, the year in which police officers and civilian staff started climbing. But management has been sluggish. Despite the increase in bodies, overtime more than doubled between 2001-02 and 2007-08, points out Policy Exchange, a think-tank.
Manpower is undoubtedly going to take a hit now; this has been clear since the 20% fiscal cutback was made public in the autumn. Since pay accounts for 80% of most forces’ budget, and a certain amount of back-office costs were already being squeezed out, it is hard to see what else can go. ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, estimates that 16,000 police officers and 12,000 staff will be cut. If that is the eventual figure--and the Police Federation, which represents lower-ranking policemen, has put round a bigger number--there would still be more police officers on the strength than ten years ago and many more civilian staff.
Three points are perhaps worth making. The first is that the link between boots on the ground and crime reduction isn’t absolute: many factors influence the crime rate, of which bobbies on the beat is only one. Crime fell through the noughties when resources were being poured into it, and most people definitely like to see police around, as recent polling by Ipsos-MORI for the Police Federation emphasises. Cutting police numbers is not a step that any politician would relish, absent the fiscal deficit. But it is not axiomatic that crime will surge as a result, especially if these proposals (which remain only that) enable police chiefs to deploy manpower more efficiently. Part 2 of the Winsor report is due to hit the stands in the autumn, suggesting wider-ranging management reforms.
The second point has to do with internal police politics. There are two broad police reforms going on, both at a time when money is in short supply. In addition to the pay review is a flagship government policy to create, from 2012, elected police and crime commissioners, with power to set spending priorities and hire and fire chief constables. The Police Federation, the body representing rank-and-file officers (police constables through chief superintendents), is disturbed by the Winsor recommendations on pay but less so by the prospect of new commissioners. ACPO, which groups their bosses, greeted the Winsor report with sang-froid (it gives them more flexibility in managing their forces) but detests the elected commissioners. In the past, the police have met opposition as one. No longer—and just how that may affect the reform process remains to be seen.
A final point is also political, but on a bigger and potentially more dangerous stage. There are troubled times ahead as broad budget cuts bite, not least on March 26th, when a large union-organised protest is scheduled to hit the streets. Margaret Thatcher, no friend of the unions, took care to have the police onside whenever she took on organised labour. This time, as Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, points out, “Those policing the march will be facing deeper cuts than those actually on it.”
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A police officers starting pay is £26109, a soldier £17,015. Now I know that a soldier can get more pay when on operations, but it hardly seems right that a police officer starts on better pay than a soldier... Definitely food for thought.
I always assumed modern army pay was lower due to the supplement of room, board, equipment, etc.
Is it different in Britain?
migmigmigmig: That is indeed wrong. They pay for their food and loggings comes out of their pay. All thanks to Labour cheapskating the Armed Forces.
Not even the police 'pay' for their equipment. Seriously, there is noway a Police Officer should be getting a better basic salary than a soldier.
It's worth remembering Police officers (rather than support staff) can't be made redundant as compensation for not being able to go on strike. The reduction in officers can only be done over time; it doesnt mean Police suddenly join the unemployed. Something that police unions never point out.
If the police do protest, they should prepare to be kettled by legions of students.
**Quite different times, different costumes, different needs, tradition has to evolute or loose its basic characteristics, that has to be permanent and not subject to changes. Go, good people, Go.
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