A new report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says the Metropolitan Police may need to reduce officer numbers after 2016 to meet Government funding cuts.
The report praises the Met’s performance to date in meeting an £800m budget reduction but warns Scotland Yard and City Hall face tough decisions in the years ahead.
Supported by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Met has raised more than £125m from the sale of under-used police stations and other buildings, freeing up millions more currently spent on maintenance and operating costs.
It also plans to sell New Scotland Yard and relocate to a new, smaller HQ in Westminster and implement a wide-ranging overhaul of its IT use, including equipping front line officers with tablets and smartphones.
The force has also reduced the number of officers holding the rank of Sergeant and above, helping to reduce its wage bill, as well as cutting overtime spending in parts of the organisation.
Deputy Commissioner, Craig Mackey, said: “We are delighted the HMIC has recognised the scale of the savings already made by the Met as well as the success we have had improving the quality and efficiency of the service we deliver.”
He added: “Of course challenges remain, there are still savings to be found and we need to embed the cultural and behaviour changes we have started across the service. Nevertheless, this report makes it clear that we are on track and have laid a solid foundation on which to adapt to what the future may hold.”
One of the challenges identified by the report is the Mayor’s promise to maintain officer numbers at around 32,000. HMIC warns this may not be sustainable post 2016 when further cuts in public sector budgets and spending are likely to come into effect.
The report states: “At present, 57 percent of the force’s operating costs are spent on police officer pay, which is a fixed cost to meet the mayoral commitment to retain 31,957 officers. The number of police officers needed to police London beyond 2016 will almost certainly need to be reviewed to meet future savings challenges.”
Responding to the report, London Assembly member Baroness Jenny Jones, said: “The Mayor made a promise to maintain an arbitrary number of police officers, which isn’t financially sustainable.
“He sold off buildings to fund his promise up to the next elections, but this is a one-off solution. The Mayor’s obsession with police officer numbers means he will spend the whole of his term getting them up to his target, forcing his successor to cut police numbers to balance the books.
“The Mayor should ditch this arbitrary target for officers, which ignores the value of frontline staff, and focus instead on sustaining an effective frontline capacity.”
Liberal Democrat AM, Caroline Pidgeon, said: “If the Met is to have any chance of retaining the number of police officers that are needed and expected by Londoners further progress has to be made in savings on the 43% of the force’s operating costs which is not spent on paying police officers.
She that the Met needed “to become more commercially aware” when buying-in goods and services and to not “waste public money on water cannon or expensive perks for senior police officers, such as chauffeur driven cars.”