Theresa May faced demands for her resignation and endured sustained mocking today as she sought to defend the Government’s cost-cutting agenda during a hostile meeting of rank-and-file police officers.
The Home Secretary was greeted by hundreds of officers standing in silence holding banners saying “Enough is Enough” as she prepared to address the Police Federation, the group that represents officers up to the rank of inspector. She left the stage to boos and calls of “resign” after a hostile near two-hour session in front of some 1,000 officers.
Her appearance in Bournemouth comes amid growing discontent from police officers, with more than 30,000 marching through London last week to complain about proposed cuts to pay and pensions following an independent review carried out by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor.
The reception was more hostile than last year when her address was greeted with silence. But the sustained ridicule this year was uncomfortable for the home secretary of a party seen as traditionally strong on law and order. “No Home Secretary wants to come to Police Federation conference and say they are cutting police budgets,” she conceded. “But I have always said that I would say it how it is.”
She completed her speech this year to silence after insisting that officers were not being “picked on” as forces face 20 percent cuts during the round of public sector budget cuts. Her comments were punctuated by laughter as messages ridiculing the Home Secretary scrolled across a screen behind her. “The lie detector has run out of paper,” read one message.
She was then subjected to sustained barracking when answering questions from members of the federation. “Home Secretary, I believe that you are a disgrace,” said Dave Bennett, one member of the federation.
“You may not like this Home Secretary but we no longer trust you in the police service,” said Simon Payne, another officer told her to loud applause. “Full stop, end of story.”
Her appearance at the conference followed negotiations over stage management the previous night after she sought to avoid giving her speech in front of a sign saying: “Cutting police by 20 percent is criminal”.
The federation’s chairman, Paul McKeever, claimed yesterday that the government was on the precipice of destroying the police service. “The reality is the only thing you’re going to get more of with less by 20 percent is more crime, more anti-social behaviour, and more disorder.”
But Mrs May defended the cuts in the police service amid claims that 16,000 police officers will be lost over the next four years. She said that the police pay system was hopelessly out of date but that officers would remain the best paid emergency workers. The thinktank Policy Exchange said that three in five officers earned more than £38,000.
Mrs May was jeered when she said that “hard working police officers” should welcome reforms that would see regular fitness testing for officers and new fast-track entry for talented recruits. She said that the right to strike was off the table because “keeping our communities safe is simply too important.”
In his report out earlier this year, Mr Winsor also called for chief constables to be given the power to make compulsory redundancies and for an end to the generous provisions that allow officers to retire typically in their 50s with a full pension package.
She said that the government would “never privatise policing” as forces contracted out some of their services in an attempt to save money. “It will only ever be police officers who make arrests; it will only ever be police officers who lead investigations; and it will only ever be police officers who direct policing operations,” she said. She promised action on cutting red tape for officers and to give them further powers to prosecute in minor cases.