General election: Sadiq Khan warns of ‘unsustainable’ police cuts

6 Jun

Sadiq Khan with Met Commissioner Cressida DickImage copyright

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The London mayor says the police have already had to put up with “big” cuts

Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned that future cuts to the Met Police are “unsustainable” and could make it harder to foil terror attacks.

He said if the Tories win the election the Met faced having to make savings of £400m, risking up to 12,800 officers.

“Fewer police officers mean we are in more danger,” he told the BBC.

But his Conservative predecessor Boris Johnson said London police numbers “remained high” and changes to how they operated had made them more effective.

The foreign secretary told the BBC that it was “a bit rich” that Labour were attacking the Conservatives over policing and counter-terrorism, given that its leader Jeremy Corbyn had treated his opposition to anti-terror legislation over 30 years as a “badge of honour”.

During his eight years as London mayor, he said the Met had been reorganised to reduce the number of desk jobs and put more officers onto the frontline and this “difficult” process had helped contribute to a fall in overall crime.

Met Commissioner Cressida Dick has said a debate is needed on future resources in the wake of the London Bridge and Westminster attacks although a former terrorism law watchdog, Lord Carlile, said linking the cuts to terror attacks was a “completely misleading argument”.

Media captionThe foreign secretary tells Today Conservatives are putting more money into counter-terrorism

The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith said he expected there to be a remorseless focus on the issue of security in the final 48 hours of the election campaign before Thursday’s poll despite attempts by the Conservatives to focus on Brexit.

Labour has accused Theresa May of “letting austerity damage her ability to keep us safe” by allowing total police officer numbers to fall by nearly 19,000 while she was home secretary.

Mr Khan said the Met, for which he has direct responsibility, was a “brilliant force” but had already had to swallow “big” budget cuts since 2010 and he was now “deeply concerned” about the effect that a further spending squeeze could have on policing in the capital.

The Labour politician said, under current Conservative plans, the Met faced having to make savings of £400m in the next few years.

If all of these savings came from reduced police numbers, he said the force faced a reduction in manning of between 10% and 40% – equivalent to losing between 3,400 and 12,800 police constables.

He also warned the Met could lose between £184m and £700m in further funding a year due to changes to the national police funding formula. He told BBC Breakfast that thousands of community police officers, the “eyes and ears” of the force, were now under threat.

“It is not sustainable,” he said. “One of the first things that I did as mayor of London was to approve a further 600 armed officers as I recognise that having a significant number of armed officers is one of the ways of preventing terrorists causing further harm to our city.”

Asked whether he believed that London would be less safe if the Conservatives were re-elected, he replied: “Under a renewed Theresa May government, we would have fewer police officers… there is no doubt that fewer police officers mean we are in more danger.”

The latest figures show that between September 2010 and September 2016, police workforce numbers in England and Wales fell by 18,991, or 13%.

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The Tories say armed police officer numbers are on the rise but Labour insist levels remain lower than in 2010

The Tories say armed police numbers are increasing, after falls since 2010, and officers had extra powers to deal with terrorists.

Mr Johnson said he agreed the Met should be “robustly financed” and that while he was mayor he had reached an “invaluable” agreement with the then home secretary Theresa May to maintain overall police numbers in the capital at about 32,000, which he said had contributed to falling crime levels.

“The number of police officers in the capital city has remained high,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“It is up to the mayor of London, if he chooses, to spend more on policing and to keep numbers high. What we did was reorganise the police in London so as to put more officers on the front line.”

Media captionLib Dem leader Tim Farron tells Today TPims are “far more effective” than control orders

He insisted the Conservatives were protecting overall police budgets and hiring a further 1,900 security service officers, suggesting that Labour’s focus on “so-called cuts” was distracting attention from the motives of the London Bridge attackers.

“When you look at what the police did on Saturday night, not only getting to the scene so quickly but dispatching those scumbags within eight minutes, most people would pay tribute to the work of armed officers.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that although total police numbers had fallen between 2010 and 2015, crime levels had also fallen by a third during that period.

She pointed to a 2016 report by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor which she said found there was no direct correlation between police numbers and their effectiveness except during public order disturbances.

UKIP have said they would recruit an extra 20,000 police officers and 7,000 prison staff while the Lib Dems say setting an “arbitrary” figure is not helpful and they would give the police an extra £300m a year to spend as they see fit.

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