Sadiq Khan should drop his pledge to keep the number of Metropolitan Police officers at around 32,000 according to a London Assembly report which argues the figure is no longer “realistic” in the wake of sustained government funding cuts.
The target was originally set by Boris Johnson whose term at City Hall coincided with a £600m reduction in the Met’s budget. Critics at the time claimed the figure was “arbitrary” and risked maintaining officer numbers at the expense of PCSOs and civilian staff.
In 2014, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary questioned the sustainability of the target given that staffing accounts for more than half of all the Met’s overheads.
Mr Johnson always defended the policy, although during his final months as mayor he admitted it had been set to ensure senior officers modernised the Met, including axing under-used police stations and reforming how the force operates, rather than freeze recruitment to balance the books as had happened in the past.
Mr Khan adopted the target during last year’s race to succeed Mr Johnson and has since reiterated his commitment to it. However he has recently warned that the Government’s cutting of a further £440m from London’s policing budget risks seeing officer numbers fall.
Today’s report says the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), which sets the force’s strategic goals, should drop the current target and replace it with a new figure “set by evidence based on the level of service required across London.”
Gareth Bacon, Chair of the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee, said: “When it comes to police officers, the Met and MOPAC need to be realistic. As things stand, the Met cannot afford 32,000 police officers and the Mayor needs to recognise that.”
Assembly Members also call on the Mayor to consider raising his share of the council tax to offset some of the government’s cuts and to urge ministers to provide extra funding to cover the costs of responding to “extraordinary events” such as the London Bridge terror attack and Grenfell fire.
In their report, AMs also raise concerns that the Met, which has yet to identify how to save £185 million of the latest cuts, has dropped its expectation to save £38m through its Digital Policing strategy which aims to streamline officer workloads through the adoption of mobile technology.
Mr Bacon commented: “These savings appear to have disappeared overnight. We need an action plan to get back on track otherwise we won’t be able to afford more officers on our streets.”
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and head of MOPAC, said she and Mr Khan “welcome this report which recognises the police funding crisis in London, and the desperate need for the Government to properly fund the Met – something the Mayor has been calling for ever since he took office.”
Addressing the call to raise council tax to boost police funding, Ms Linden said: “Sadiq has done everything possible to provide additional funds for the Met – increasing the council tax precept by the maximum amount possible.
“He is taking extremely difficult decisions in order to protect officer numbers including consulting on proposals to close around half of London’s front counters.”
She added: “We will study these recommendations to see if any more can be done, as we continue to put Londoners’ safety first.
“At a time of unprecedented pressure on our police, rising crime and following four terrorist attacks in the capital, it is more important than ever that the Government gives police and security services the resources they need to keep us safe.”