The focus on Sussex Police and its acute lack of resources was the first item last night on the BBC One ‘Inside Out – South East’ programme which is available here. The short documentary exposed the impact of some of the funding cuts and political interference which have been introduced over the last 8 year since the Conservative Party took control of our nation and began to introduce austerity and make a major change to the way in which police services are governed.
Two years after they came to power as leaders of the coalition, the Tories introduced the role of Police and Crime Commissioner to replace Police Authorities and in November 2012 the first cohort of Police and Crime Commissioners were elected. It was very disappointing that the promises made by the Tories in 2010 and 2011 that PCCs would be kept free from Party Politics were broken when pressure from their party and Labour forced them to reverse the promises. In 2012 1/3 of the 42 PCCs elected were Independent but by 2016 that dropped to a total of three PCCs! This is largely because when it comes to elections, Political Parties throw large sums of money at a process from their own financial backers including the public purse, rather than create an accessible platform that enables individual candidates to be judged by the public to see if they are fit for the job. In almost every case the Independent candidates were unable to match the parties when it came to communicating with the public and be seen as credible candidates.
In Sussex at the outset of the first PCC election one of the issues that was made very clear to all of the candidates was that Sussex Police was very poorly funded, when compared to its neighbouring and comparable Constabularies. It was obvious that standing up and making demands for this to change was not going to happen if either the Labour or Conservative candidate was elected as both parties have played a part in creating this problem and failing to address it in the past. This will probably only be addressed if an Independent PCC is elected in the future.
At the time of the election in 2012 the cross party Police Authority was proposing to increase the Police precept by 2% which was the maximum allowed under the Governments rules at that time. However Minister Eric Pickles called out to all Tory PCC candidates to go for a zero increases claiming this would be the best outcome for communities and naively Katy Bourne agreed to do this and promised she would not increase the precept throughout her time in office if elected. Although she has carried out a U turn in recent years, her claims that she would bring greater efficiency to Sussex Police as a result of her own business experience have led to much deeper cuts than would have been the case otherwise. All four of the other candidates including myself stated we would keep the precept increase in place!
The decision to heavily cut Policing budgets was made by Theresa May along with George Osborne when the coalition came to power. It was very clear that by electing a Tory PCC, Sussex Police funding would not be used to challenge the Government, even though for reasons already mentioned it was in a very difficult position and needed a strong advocate to call for the 52% cuts to be reversed. Even today the Conservative PCC will not stand up to her Party, preferring instead to be seen as a rising star and on the stage at the Tory Party Conference to introduce the Dancing Prime Minister.
The fifth issue that lies behind the resource challenge for Sussex Police, along with many other Police services in the UK is that the cuts brought into society by the Tory led coalition followed by the Conservative Government have bitten into the public sector very deeply. Sussex has been affected in all three Upper Tier areas by severe cuts and the news that Eastbourne Borough and Lewes District are contemplating to form a unitary authority is a clear example of how difficult things have become. The problem that lies behind some of the challenges impacting Sussex Police is that when other public sector bodies such as local government are facing deep cuts, that people in the communities impacted will turn to the one agency that is seen as the last resort for many matters and first resort when it comes to matters of crime. One of the reasons why the call centre in Sussex Police is under so much pressure is because many residents call the Police to resolve matters that other agencies are responsible for, such as the ambulance services. Tragically this places Police call centres under even greater pressure than would otherwise be the case at a time when they are already facing many other challenges!