The BBC radio 4 ‘Today’ programme asked me if I’d give them an analysis of what a 25% cut in Departmental budegts would actually look like by applying it to one department: the Home Office (the interview is here if you want to listen).
The Home Office is a nice and easy one because it spends (at the moment) almost exactly £10bn a year – mainly on itself, the Borders Agency and the Police. The budget (based on 08-09 figures and structures) breaks down roughly as follows:
£5.2 bn – Police (43 police forces); £1.4bn – Borders Agency; £0.4bn – Serious Organised Crime Agency; £0.9bn – Passports and Identity; £0.4bn – National Police Improvement Agency; £0.5bn – Administration.
If the Home Office opted for straight ‘salami-slicing’ cuts then each of these would lose 25% of their budget. The three largest employ large numbers of people: Home Office itself (including all its agencies): 26,000; the Police: 235,000 (of which 140,000 are police officers, 16,000 community support officers and 79,000 civilians); and the Borders agency with 18,000.
Again, if the cuts translated straight into job cuts (which they almost certainly will more or less) this would equate to over 70,000 jobs lost in the Home Office alone – 35,000 police officers, 4,000 community officers, nearly 20,000 police administration staff, 6,500 Hone Office staff and 4,500 from the Borders agency plus some from the smaller agencies and units.
There is zero chance cuts of this magnitude can be implemented without affecting “front line services”. However much the police and other services increase efficiency, make so-called ‘back-office’ savings and the rest it will inevitably mean fewer police and PCSOs on the streets, with less and poorer equipment, less police stations in communities, and so on.
The argument that ‘back-fiice’ staff can be safely cut whilst protecting the ‘front-line’ is in any case nonsense. The reason the police, for example, employ so many civilian staff – a trend which has grown in recent years – is precisely to as much as possible free-up police officers to get out on the streets. Cutting so-called ‘back-office’ staff will almost certainly mean more police officers sitting behind desks doing jobs (much lower paid) administrators could be doing.
And finally, with youth unemployment set to rise dramatically and other after effects of the recession and sluggish, the jobs-lite, recovery the demand for policing services isn’t likely to be falling any time soon. Maybe we can get by with 35,000 less police officers, or 20,000, or maybe only 15,000 but I doubt there’s many citizens out there who will feel especially comforted by any of those prospects. And it is more likely to be at the upper end of that spectrum.