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At last, we’re starting to have a national conversation about police numbers

In her recent blog, Alison talks about increasing police numbers and lobbying Westminster for a great amount of central funding.

There are those within policing who feel that for several years it has been seen a something of a Cinderella service.

While last year the NHS was promised a further £20bn in real terms by 2023/24, on an annual budget of 125bn in 201/18, additional funding for those who enforce the law has had no such pledge. In Devon and Cornwall central Government funding this year rose, but only to take account of inflation and rising costs.

Last week, however, police funding suddenly shot to the top of the news agenda when Boris Johnson announced that if made Prime Minister he’d reverse police officer cuts of the last decade, recruiting an extra 20,000 officers in three years. Encouragingly, when so much of the recent rhetoric has been about Britain’s biggest cities, he said that the £1.1bn investment should focus on rural forces.

Hot on the heels of his announcement came the publication of an open letter signed by five former Scotland Yard chiefs, who warned that police service resources had been drained to ‘dangerously low’ levels. They said the public now had ‘perilously low’ expectations of the police.

Also last week was the publication of the annual report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services which called for reform of funding arrangements. Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor said in the report that there was a mismatch between police funding and public expectation. In a line that rang true for me he said funding “did not take enough account of the unique circumstances of each force”.

As I have been saying for several weeks, this is something that our Government needs to address. Here in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly we are in the enviable position of increasing police numbers, which next year will stand at 3,100, a level not seen since 2012.

Those officers will be supported by around 300 Special Constables, 20 Blue Light officers who have skills from other emergency services, and 218 Police Community Support Officers. Around 2,000 civilian staff provide vital frontline support, whether it be taking witness statements, manning the 999 and 101 lines or keeping police vehicles on the road.

At its lowest point in recent history, in 2016/17, Devon and Cornwall Police had a budget for 2,924 officers, so while other forces have continued to cut, my office has been able to present the Chief Constable with a budget that has allowed the recruitment of an additional 226 officers over a four-year-period.

This is a great start but it’s clear to me that there’s public appetite for more officers, and a need for extra boots on the ground because of emerging threats to our safety. At the same time polling by my office indicates that people’s desire to see significant increases in council tax precept is waning. In 2018 70% of those polled said that they would support extra investment in the police via the council precept, a year later this had fallen to 52%.

That’s one of the reasons I will be back in Westminster this week, making the case for our rural force and lobbying for a greater amount of central funding. Those who set Government policy need to understand the unique challenges posed by our geography - we’re the largest force in England, with parts very isolated from the rest of the UK; and we have the highest level of tourism in England and Wales, with about 45m overnight stays every year.

The additional pressure of the “Summer Surge” as we call it, is being keenly felt right now. The past fortnight has been marked by tragedies on our roads and in our coastal communities, and requests for help, which were exceptionally high last year, have now reached a new and critical point. Calls to the police 101 non-emergency number were 28% up on last year for the last week starting in June, and 999 calls were 15% up. This reflects the fact that our resident population is supplemented by many thousands of visitors that the force receives no funding for.

It’s an extraordinary situation that requires an extraordinary response if we are to maintain our position as one of the safest force areas in England and Wales. The good news is that the amount of funding we put into policing is climbing up the national agenda.

Alison Hernandez