Scotland Yard will need either a further injection of cash or to find additional savings if it’s to prevent a further decline in police numbers, a new report from the London Assembly warns.
The Met’s target of maintaining its strength at 32,000 officers has already been dropped in the wake of budget cuts, with the force planning to achieve a 30,000 headcount over the coming 2018/19 financial year.
However London Assembly members warn that although this strength is deliverable thanks to a recently confirmed increase in City Hall’s share of the council tax, maintaining it in future years will require either more cash or further savings.
The force has already slashed the number of police stations and front counters it operates and its currently trialing a merger of local borough commands which is expected to be rolled out across London to help save cash.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that officer numbers could plummet as low as 26,900 by 2021 if the Government fails to provide extra funding.
However ministers have instead allowed the Mayor – and other police and crime commissioners outside London – to raise additional cash via a levy on the council tax and urged him to use some of the Met’s cash reserves which are set to grow in the coming year.
Mr Khan has branded this approach “smoke and mirrors,” claiming that much of the extra cash raised via the council tax will have to cover an increase in police pay.
Assembly Members say this claim “cannot be proven because we do not yet know the size of the increase” and note that it would “take a three per cent increase in pay” for the whole of the extra cash to be used up.
They also say further council tax increases could be needed in future years unless additional money is provided by Government or more savings identified.
While warning that the Met will face challenges in maintaining its new, lower, officer count, AMs note that the force has yet to heed calls to calculate an evidence-based minimum strength needed to keep Londoners safe.
Gareth Bacon AM, Chairman of the Budget and Performance Committee which published the report, said: “After the terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, the Mayor’s decision to increase council tax to help the Met is understandable.
“But, unless the Met finds extra savings from somewhere, we could see another big council tax increase next year or fewer officers on London’s streets.”
Today’s report also warns that falling passenger numbers on Transport for London services mean the agency is “experiencing financial difficulties” which will soon “begin to have an impact on services.”
AMs say they “are not convinced that TfL has a solid understanding of the reasons for a fall in passenger numbers” and warn that technological and social changes such as home working could have serious consequences for the agency’s longterm ability to fund services.
They also say that the Mayor’s claims to be investing “record amounts in modernising our transport infrastructure” aren’t backed up by his own draft budget for the coming year and warn that a decision to suspend TfL’s proactive road renewals programme means “roads will start to deteriorate.”
Mr Bacon said: “TfL’s finances are a cause for concern as passenger numbers fall.
“The Mayor has decided to spend less on London’s roads to help balance the books – things could get bumpy for bus passengers, cyclists and motorists in the next few years.”