There’s a lot of talk about police cuts at the moment as the army takes to the streets. I wanted briefly to put that into local context. Kent Police Federation chairman Ian Pointon warned 25 months ago, for example, that unless police budget cuts were not addressed urgently, public safety would be put in “serious and sustained jeopardy”.
Writing in April 2015, Ian Pointon noted that Kent Police had already lost 500 police officers and 700 other support staff. The £61 million of cuts planned to 2019 had the potential to bring the force down to just 2,000 for the entire county, he said.
Policing in Kent cannot find another £61 million and continue to provide the same level of service. If public safety is not to be put in serious and sustained jeopardy then whoever is elected to govern us, they need to urgently address the issue of further police budget cuts.
I contacted new Kent Police Federation chairman Chris Carter today for an update. He told me that although the Home Secretary has confirmed (at the Police Federation Conference last week) that policing budgets are now protected, pressures remain.
As he told me:
“There will continue to be a need for significant savings and the demands upon Kent and all police forces continue to grow. The Federation is asking for a full review of policing and this was again highlighted at our conference last week.”
One of those demands is dealing with the growing number of people suffering from mental health problems. As Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) warned this April, the police were facing growing pressure to deal with people suffering from mental health problems, amid cuts to mental health services.
HMIC warned, in strikingly blunt language:
The inadequacy of mental health provision and the lack of parity with physical health provision in this country should disturb everyone…By the time the police become involved, many opportunities to prevent mental ill-health deteriorating to the point at which people are in danger will already have been missed.This is ineffective and expensive.
In a well-ordered and compassionate society, we should not rely on law enforcement officers to support people who need medical care.
I have reiterated again and again the false economy of public sector cuts to services like mental health and this is a crystal clear example of the pressure it puts on police – when they should be free to focus on crime and security issues.
(Anyone who has had to sit through Margate or Canterbury magistrates courts for their work, as I have, will appreciate what a task they have on their hands; from huge amounts of domestic violence to crack and heroin dealers and much more besides).
And I am wholeheartedly pleased to support a full review of policing if the Kent Police Federation (which has proved itself to be a frank advocate of the force as it faces budgetary pressures) believes that this is required.
On the mental health front, as I have said so many times, we need to invest in reopening acute wards in Thanet. There are purpose-built facilities near the QEQM that are being used to store cleaning materials – even as patients are sent to private hospitals as far afield as Bradford owing to bed shortages. This is unacceptable.
It’s time for change. For properly resourced public services, for nurses to concentrate on the vulnerable and police to be free to focus on criminals.
Vote Green this 2017. Vote for a candidate who’ll fight for local services.