Shrinking budgets and diminishing manpower both within the police and other public services mean the Met is likely to face one of the “most challenging” decades in its 180 year history according to a major new report on the force’s future.
In recent years the force’s budget has been cut by more than £600m and is expected to fall further as part of the Government’s austerity programme which is seeing spending scaled back across most local and national government departments and agencies.
Previous cuts have already seen the Met lay off hundreds of support staff, axe some PCSOs, reduce the number of senior officers and close and sell dozens of police stations and buildings including its world famous Scotland Yard HQ.
Although the sale of buildings has helped cushion the impact of the budget cuts, there are growing fears that further cutbacks could lead to reductions in local and neighbourhood policing and harm the force’s ability to protect Londoners and the UK from terrorism.
Already this week Scotland Yard cancelled its 24-hour police presence at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange has taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden, citing budget pressures.
And on Tuesday Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told the Evening Standard that more cuts could lead to fewer officers on the streets and an end to each of London’s 32 boroughs having their own local police command structure.
Today’s report, which is published by the RSA, backs up Sir Bernard’s warnings and says any further budget cuts must be matched by fundamental changes in how London is policed.
Its authors say the changing nature of crime, which is increasingly moving online, and the high number of incidents officers attend which involve someone with a mental health condition require “new ways of working and new skills.”
The report says meeting these challenges will involve greater co-operation between the Met, other agencies and businesses which will have to adopt “early intervention and preventative approaches” to tackle issues which can lead to criminal activity at the earliest opportunity and so save money.
It also calls for budgets and control over the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, prisons and probation service to be devolved from central government to allow a more joined-up approach to tackling crime within the capital.
Anthony Painter from the RSA, said “To continue its success in fighting crime and ensuring London’s safety, the Met will have to adapt significantly to this complex and constrained operational environment.
“But all public services and other stakeholders in the commercial and voluntary sectors also need to think creatively about how London can be kept safe.“
Scotland Yard, which commissioned the report, says it hopes the document will help inform the debate about police funding and how the Met should shape services in the future.
“This report highlights the challenges we face from austerity. Policing will have to change, we can expect to lose officers,” said Sir Bernard.
“What is really important for us about policing London is that it is the economic engine for the country, the reason people come here is because they feel safe, whether it is businesses or people who want to bring the kids up or people want to grow old here.”
Two members of the London Assembly’s policing watchdog have welcomed the report’s publication.
Green party AM Baroness Jenny Jones described the document as “an important study into the emerging challenges for the Met”.
She added: “The police service has to work in partnership with other bodies like social services and mental health providers, in order to pick up the pieces when people are vulnerable, or in crisis.
“The report highlights the danger that the police will find their workload increasing as council and NHS services are cut.
“It also warns that reducing the Met Police budget, could result in their not doing all the work on prevention which is unrecorded in the statistics, but leads to a big reduction in mainstream crimes.”
Liberal Democrat AM and mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon said: “Up until now the immense budget pressures facing the Met have been cushioned by the sale of buildings and land. However the harsh reality is that this windfall will not last long in helping to protect our police service.
“The Met will have to start looking carefully at what it funds including for example policing outside football games of premiership clubs and the cost of operations such as Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy.
“And if we want London to remain a safe city, then it may be that Council Tax will need to rise to pay for neighbourhood policing.”
“If there is a budget gap then a few pounds on council tax bills is a price worth paying for keeping London safe.”