Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith has ruled out protecting the police frontline by raising more money though City Hall’s share of the council tax should minsters impose further cuts to the Met’s budget.
Central government spending cuts have already slashed the force’s funding by more £600m in recent years and its budgets are expected to fall further when the Government announces its spending plans for the next four years at the end of this month.
Delivering on Mayor Boris Johnson’s pledge to maintain officer numbers “at or around 32,000” has already forced the Met’s leadership to lay off hundreds of support staff, axe PCSOs, reduce the number of senior officers and close and sell dozens of police stations and buildings including the force’s Scotland Yard HQ.
Earlier this week Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that a proposed £800m cut in his budget would mean having to lay off 5,000 officers, reducing the numbers available for neighbourhood policing and harming the UK’s fight against terrorism.
If ministers do proceed with cuts it would be open to the Mayor and his successor to raise more money from within London by increasing the sum City Hall raises though its precept on the council tax.
In the current year the levy costs a typical band D household £299, of which £214 is used for policing with the rest allocated to Transport for London, the capital’s fire service and paying off London’s share of the 2012 Olympic games’ overheads.
On Thursday Mr Goldsmith told BBC London Radio’s Drivetime he was hopeful that lobbying by him, Mr Johnson and Sir Bernard would succeed in limiting the scale of any further cuts but warned that “there’s going to be a cut and we are going to have to try and find ways of getting more from less.”
However the Richmond MP, who has previously backed calls for London to raise more of its own cash rather than rely on government handouts, ruled out increasing the council tax levy to provide Sir Bernard with the cash he needed to maintain officer numbers, saying “I would not put it up”.
Defending his stance, Goldsmith told the programme’s Eddie Nestor: “The first job is not to yield and say ‘We’re going to knock up council tax’, the first job is to get the best deal from government then, recognising there are going to be cuts, to find the most savings we could possibly find.”
He suggested that tackling inefficiencies in procurement and combining back office services such as call centres with those used by other 999 services could instead provide “huge savings”.