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Osborne fails to rule out cuts to frontline policing

Published 22/11/2015

The Chancellor will use the Autumn Statement to confirm that the basic state pension will rise to £119.30 a week from April 2016
The Chancellor will use the Autumn Statement to confirm that the basic state pension will rise to £119.30 a week from April 2016

George Osborne said counter-terrorism funding would be increased by 30% in the wake of the Paris atrocities - but failed to rule out cuts to frontline police numbers.

The Chancellor said he has now finalised deals with all Whitehall spending departments ahead of setting out what is expected to be a harsh squeeze on budgets in the spending review on Wednesday.

That includes the Home Office, where Theresa May had been in last-ditch negotiations over reductions that a succession of senior police officers warned would leave Britain unable to deal with a major terrorist assault.

Mr Osborne said it was right that the police should be forced to bear their share of deficit-reduction measures as he repeatedly declined to offer any assurance that officer numbers would not be hit.

But he said he was "absolutely confident" the security services would have sufficient resources to keep the population safe if Islamic State launched a gun and bomb attack in this country.

"Precisely because we are making difficult decisions in other parts of our budget, we can give our military more kit, we can increase our counter terrorism budget by 30% and we can also take action to prevent guns coming into this country and deal with gunmen on the streets," he told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.

Asked specifically to rule out cuts to frontline policing, he said: "Every public service has to make sure it is spending money well, but we will make sure Britain is properly defended against the terrorist threat.

"You cannot have national security without economic security.

"If your budget is out of control, if you are spending money you don't have, then you can't keep the country safe whether on the streets of Britain or indeed in the Middle East."

He went on: "We made savings in the police budget in the last parliament and actually the number of neighbourhood police officers went up, the proportion of police officers on the front line went up.

"Increasing the counter-terrorism budget by 30% involves money going to the police as well as our security agencies to make sure we can deal with marauding gun attacks, make sure we can stop the guns coming into the country in the first place.

"Of course the threat is omnipresent but I am absolutely confident we are going to have the resources to deal with it."

Mr Osborne played down reports of bitter rows within the cabinet over the depth of cuts to non-protected departments - including a reported threat to resign by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - insisting deals had been reached "amicably".

He hinted that his target of running a £10 billion surplus by 2020 could be revised down as he deals with worse than expected borrowing figures.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said any cuts to frontline policing "undermine our security".

Mr Osborne said the spending review had been a "smoother" process than either of his previous two - both of which were conducted while governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

"All departments have settled and all settled amicably. Nothing has had to be imposed," he said.

"Indeed this spending review has gone more smoothly than the previous two I have conducted."

Mr Duncan Smith had been engaged in a highly public battle with Mr Osborne, warning through friends that he was ready to resign if the Chancellor insisted on cuts which undermined his Universal Credit reforms.

"Iain and I have worked together to make very substantial savings to welfare," the Chancellor said.

Mr Osborne would not be drawn on what measures he will bring forward on Wednesday to mitigate the impact on millions of working families of his proposed £4.3 billion cut to tax credits after it was thrown out by the House of Lords.

He said he would give his response to "perfectly legitimate concerns" that low-paid households would suffer dramatic cuts in welfare but insisted election promises to slash £12 billion from the welfare budget remained on track.

"For me what is important is where we get to," he said.

"I'm pretty confident that we can deliver what we promised the British people we would deliver at the general election, which is yes, savings in welfare, savings in government departments, but for a purpose, which is the economic security that enables jobs to be created and living standards to rise"

Speculation that the Chancellor could reduce the £10 billion surplus target were fuelled by official figures this week that r epresented the worst deficit for any October since 2009.

"The precise level of the surplus will be set out in the forecasts on Wednesday," he said.

Tory former Chancellor Lord Lawson told BBC1's Sunday Politics: "I think the police are complaining a little bit too much.

"Look at how much the police are spending now on chasing up often unsubstantiated allegations of historic sex abuse.

"That's got nothing to do with security - those resources should be put where they are needed."

He said he believed Mr Osborne would defer the introduction of the tax credit cut - with the cost offset by slowing the raising of income tax personal allowances.

Given the economic climate, he added, the Chancellor was " going to have to do more on the tax side than he would have liked".

"I think he should look at the fuel duty."

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle warned there will be fewer nurses, teachers and police officers than needed after Mr Osborne announces his latest spending plans.

She told Murnaghan on Sky News: "The weekend before George Osborne's spending reviews you always get the smoke and mirrors of the things he wants you to remember and that's why you've had some of the announcements today about security, which I'd welcome.

"But actually let's look at what he's covering up - a £200 million cut to counter-terrorism in the Met force. Is that wise? We're 17,000 police officers down after the cuts of the last five years in our forces up and down the country.

"There are some dire warnings today which I think the Chancellor ought to heed about the consequences of some of those ideologically-driven cuts, not only for the police but for other public services."

Spending on counter-terrorism will now hit £15.1 billion over the next five years - a 30% increase on what was spent over the last five.

The Treasury indicated that some of the money would go to the Home Office to boost domestic security measures.

Upgraded border information systems would be introduced to prevent terrorists and arms coming into the UK, with extra resources devoted to the gathering intelligence on seized phones and computers. Anti-radicalisation activity would also be boosted, the Treasury said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced that the SAS and other special forces will get an additional £2 billion to improve their equipment and that another 1,900 intelligence staff will be recruited.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said: "People will be worried to hear George Osborne digging in on cuts to the police. It's not good enough when the safety of the country is at issue.

"One of the most senior police officers in the land has written to Osborne to say cuts over 5% would be damaging and over 10% would be dangerous.

"He has been told in no uncertain terms that he has to consider the national policing budget alongside the budget for counter-terrorism. Osborne must protect front-line policing.

"Even at this 11th hour, the Chancellor must listen to that advice and scale back his proposed cuts to the police.

"He can't be allowed to dig in and damage national security with his dogmatic approach to deficit reduction. Osborne must put his political pride aside and put the safety of the country first."

Mr McDonnell said: "Labour were the first to call on the Chancellor to target a lower surplus as a way he could reverse his tax credit cuts and stick to his self-imposed fiscal straitjacket.

"Now it seems he is being forced to take our advice as his economic and fiscal plans are falling apart.

"Rather than engaging in a cynical Westminster game of smoke and mirrors in this week's Spending Review, it's time the Chancellor acknowledges the challenges facing our country.

"He must reverse his tax credit cuts and fully protect frontline policing from any cuts."

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