Bloomberg News

British Officials Say Police Cuts Unrelated to Spread of Unrest

August 09, 2011

Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May defended plans to cut more than 30,000 police jobs in the next four years as rioting flared across London for a third night and spread to major cities including Birmingham and Liverpool.

Spending on policing can be cut without jeopardizing “frontline” services in Britain’s deficit-reduction effort, May said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. Prime Minister David Cameron today recalled members of Parliament from their August leave to address the unrest.

The violence and looting have extended to areas adjacent to the Olympic Park in East London where the games will be held next year. “They may well to be forced to rethink the cuts to the police,” Howard Elcock, professor emeritus of government at Northumbria University, said in an interview from Newcastle, England. “By next spring we’ll probably be in a situation where there’s a lot of social discontent leading to social unrest because of the cuts.”

Britain is facing the deepest spending cuts since World War II, with the Home Office, which controls funding for the police, set to see its budget reduced by a quarter by 2015. Police are on course to cut 34,100 jobs, taking the workforce back to its 2003 level, according to the body that monitors their performance.

Cameron’s Conservative-led government has staked its reputation on its plan to all but eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to 11 percent of gross domestic product in the aftermath of the financial crisis and recession.

The 80 billion pound ($131 billion) program of spending cuts involve the loss of more than 300,000 public-sector jobs and 18 billion pounds of welfare savings, including a three-year freeze of child-benefit payments.

Police Cuts

The Home Office, with a budget of almost 10 billion pounds, is among the departments hardest hit. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said in a report last month that a third of the cuts to police numbers had already taken place, with the aim of saving 1.6 billion pounds by 2015. The number of frontline officers will fall by 2 percent by March 2012.

“They’re concerned about their future, in terms of pay and conditions,” John Tully, vice chairman of London’s Metropolitan Police Federation, said in an interview on Sky News today. “Morale is quite low, but despite all of that, their dedication to the role is still there and they’re putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the people of London.”

There are almost 2.5 million Britons out of work, with an unemployment rate in the three months through May of 7.7 percent. The possibility of a worsening job market is weighing on consumers, who are already seeing their incomes squeezed by rising prices for everything from food to car insurance.

‘Credible Plan’

“The government has had to ensure that it has had a credible plan to deal with the deficit,” May said today. “That is what we have had. You can see from the fact that the U.K. is not one of those countries named in terms of economic difficulties, that is important.”

Police have made more than 200 arrests, and Cameron cut short his Italian holiday to return to Britain. He said there will be 16,000 officers on the streets of London tonight, and an emergency session of the House of Commons will be held Aug. 11. The riots started after a local man of Afro-Caribbean descent, Mark Duggan, was killed in a police shootout in the north London suburb of Tottenham.

“I wouldn’t like to say that’s related to government cuts,” Matt Hopkins, lecturer in criminology at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England, said in an interview. “But there is a growing level of anger and frustration across the country at the austerity policies that are being put in place by the government. They might have to have a rethink.”

--With assistance by Scott Hamilton and Robert Hutton in London. Editors: James Hertling, Patrick Henry

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Atkinson in London at a.atkinson@bloomberg.net; Jennifer Ryan at jryan13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net


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