Police should be protected from the worst of the government's cuts because of the risk that social and industrial tensions could fuel civil unrest, one of Britain's leading officers is to warn. The president of the Police Superintendents' Association is to tell ministers that a confident police force will be needed to tackle the disorder professionally, and with the minimum of force.
"Keep back or we unleash Andrew Lloyd Webber!"
Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett will tell Theresa May, the home secretary, that officers have been "surprised and disappointed" that the kind of ringfenced protection offered to the NHS is not to be extended to policing. He will also say that the public have a right to know the extent of likely cuts in policing, adding that those who dismissed the Police Federation's weekend claim that up to 40,000 frontline police jobs are at risk as "scaremongering" were being disingenuous.
"In an environment of cuts across the wider public sector, we face a period where disaffection, social and industrial tensions may well rise," says Barnett in his draft speech to the annual police superintendents' conference, which takes place in Cheshire. We will require a strong, confident, properly trained and equipped police service, one in which morale is high and one that believes it is valued by the government and public."
Barnett is careful not to predict that public sector spending cuts will directly lead to disorder on the streets. But his speech does underline the point that the coalition government has not given the police the kind of special protection afforded them by Margaret Thatcher which enabled her to rely on them during the 1980s inner city riots and the miners' strike that followed.
"From the massacre in 1819, that took place not so many miles away from here, to the current day alcohol-related disorder, history teaches us that there will always be widespread threats to the public peace," the chief superintendent warns. When, as history shows us it is inevitable, not because of this particular government, but at some stage, there is widespread disorder on our streets, it will not be police community support officers, or special constables or non-warranted police staff, journalists or politicians [who will be needed] to restore order on our streets. It will be our police officers and we must be sufficiently resilient to enable us to respond properly, professionally and safely with the minimum of force," Barnett will say.
The police have been at the forefront of those warning of the impact of public spending cuts since George Osborne, announced the possibility of 25% departmental cuts in his emergency budget in June. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said in July that cuts of up to 12% in funding were possible without reducing police availability, but warned that only one in five forces were prepared for the scale of cuts. The coalition inherited a record police force of 140,000 officers.The police superintendents say they accept that there will have to be reduced budgets, fewer police officers and fewer support staff. But their president will go on to argue that some coalition policies, such as Ken Clarke's prison policy reforms, and reductions in funding for speed cameras, could lead to further crime and fewer officers on the streets.