Theresa May indicated that further deep cuts to police budgets will be in the pipeline if the Conservatives win the election, but insisted savings could be made without harming the fight against crime.
But the Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, warned policing could not cope with a further financial squeeze as it was already “on its knees”. Around 17,000 frontline police jobs have been lost since 2010.
Ms May’s comments came as she was challenged over a calculation that the Home Office budget would be trimmed by 18 per cent between 2016 and 2018 on current Tory spending proposals.
She replied that police numbers were a matter for Chief Constables, but added: “The rate we’re looking at in terms of cuts to departments over the next two years is actually the same rate of change that we have seen over the last period.”
She said: “We were here in 2010. Everybody said it couldn’t be done. Crime has not gone up. There is still scope within the system for example for police forces working together to be able to make the savings.”
Speaking in a BBC2 election debate on home affairs, Ms May said: “What our hard-working police officers and police forces have shown is that you can do more for less. They have worked together, they have collaborated on a number of areas, they have saved money and they have protected the front line.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said the Home Office budget would also be cut by Labour if it wins next month’s election. But she said: “It won’t be the same extreme cuts that Theresa May needs to do under her cuts.”
Steve White, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “If the government wants a functioning police service capable of protecting the public they must stop the wanton destruction of police numbers that has gone on over the last five years.
We have lost 17,000 officers and 17,000 staff numbers - put another way, that is losing the equivalent of nine entire forces. Despite the massive efforts of officers to shore the service up, the thin blue line is on the verge of being extinguished altogether.”
He said further cuts would put pressure on work to tackle terrorism and child sexual exploitation as well as the management of sex offenders in the community.
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