The Association Of Chief Police Officers have warned that 28000 jobs will be at risk in the Police service if the UK government follow the recommendations outlined in last week’s Winsor report, as looks likely. The spotlight has fallen mostly on the 12000 front-line cops no longer expected to be policing our streets, but 16000 civilian staff working in admin, IT and the like are also likely to lose their jobs.
It’s easy to ignore the vital role played by such staff in enabling our police to do their job. Database administrators, Unix nerds and secretarial staff don’t catch many criminals, after all. Indeed, David Cameron and his colleagues expect us not to care, or even to be delighted at the new-found efficiency of doing away with thousands of support-staff roles. Their attitude is that there is a saving to be made which won’t affect levels of policing, the all-important count of bobbies-on-the-beat.
Such an attitude implies that these back-office staff are unnecessary to the running of the police force or at the very best achieve little of consequence. If your vision of running a modern police force involves giving them all a whistle and letting them get on with it, then you might be in agreement. But if you think the police will need radios, phones, computer systems, up-to-date intelligence and all the other myriad things provided by civilian support staff, then you must face up to the fact that Cameron’s painless cuts are a sham. Essential services will have to be provided, and if civilian staff don’t do it, who will it fall to? Inevitably, cops will end up being seconded from front-line roles to do jobs they haven’t been trained for. So long as the headline figures of cops employed remain as healthy as possible, the government will view it as a job well done. The knowledge that many fewer will come within a mile of a criminal, they hope to keep to themselves.
This is becoming a theme of Cameron’s government. His attack on the civil service as “enemies of enterprise” betrays an opportunistic, crowd-pleasing element in the thinking of the Prime Minister. He knows that bureaucrats perform an indispensable function but he thinks that we don’t. The proposed NHS reform bill hacks two layers of management from the structure and will force GPs to take the strain rather than doing their job looking after patients.
There are efficiencies to be made in any organisation. But regularly attempting to couch cuts in terms of maintaining frontline numbers by removing unneeded backroom staff, whether technical, administrative or managerial, is insulting to those staff and dishonest about the effects those cuts will have on the organisation.