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Stop crying wolf, May tells police

Published 20/05/2015

Theresa May delivered an uncompromising message last year
Theresa May delivered an uncompromising message last year

Theresa May warned the Police Federation to stop "crying wolf" after it issued a raft of warnings about the impact of spending cuts.

A year after she launched a blistering attack on the organisation, the Home Secretary struck an uncompromising tone once again.

She told rank-and-file officers gathered at the organisation's annual conference that she accepts that "delivering more with less can be challenging and difficult".

However, she said: "This weekend, the Federation warned that spending reductions mean that we'll be 'forcred to adopt a paramilitary style' of policing in Britain.

"Today you've said that neighbourhood police officers are an 'endangered species'.

"I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good - it doesn't serve you, it doesn't serve the officers you represent, and it doesn't serve the public."

She reeled off a list of alarming warnings issued by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) in recent years about "demoralised" and "angry" officers, as well as claims that members of the public were being put in danger.

"The truth is that crime fell in each of those years, it's fallen further since, and our country is safer than it's ever been.

"So please - for your sake and for the thousands of police officers who work so hard every day - this crying wolf has to stop."

Mrs May began by thanking PFEW's members for the "dedication and spirit of public service you show in your jobs every day".

The Home Secretary said: "Your members strive to keep us and our families safe and take risks so the rest of us can live in peace."

She congratulated the PFEW for accepting recommendations for reform that were proposed last year, adding: "I have always said that in this country we have the finest policemen in the world, and they deserve a Federation that serves them well."

However, in a forceful address that had echoes of her speech which stunned members last year, she insisted she was prepared to pursue reform without the support of the body, said changes were working and indicated that police face more spending cuts.

She said: "Yes, cuts do have consequences. Because if we had not taken the action we did...we would not have had the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world in 2014.

"I know that all this does not mean that spending cuts have not been difficult or painful.

"The last five years have shown that it is possible to do more with less - crime has fallen, the frontline service has been maintained, and public confidence in the police is up, even as spending has reduced.

"But the deficit remains too high and more savings will need to be made and policing will have to play its part.

"There is no ducking the fact that police spending will have to come down again."

Mrs May, making her first speech since being reappointed as Home Secretary following the Tories' election victory, said she "simply does not accept" claims that "there is no more waste to cut".

She said: "It is perfectly possible to make savings without affecting the quality of neighbourhood policing.

"Because I know - as you do - that there is still wasteful spending in policing and that resources are still not linked to demand."

Mrs May stressed the need to protect frontline services and ensure crime continues to fall.

She added: "So it is not going to be enough to shave off a bit of excess here, and reduce some bureaucracy there. That is good, but reform needs to go much deeper than that."

The Home Secretary called on the PFEW to "work with me" to deliver the "necessary reform" and "improve the working lives of police officers while cutting crime for the public".

She continued: "The choice is yours. I can - as I have for the last five years - reform the police without the support of the Federation.

"But the opportunity to work constructively with government should make the world of difference to you. So join me and work with me to change policing.

"So the choice is yours and it is clear. You can choose to protest, and continue to shout angrily from the sidelines for the next five years. Or you can choose partnership, and work with me to change policing for the better."

Earlier, in his keynote speech PFEW chairman Steve White laid the gauntlet down to Mrs May by launching an attack on ministers' approach to policing, claiming the Government is failing to protect its citizens.

During an impassioned address which earned several rounds of applause from rank-and-file officers gathered in Bournemouth, Mr White implored the Home Secretary to listen to warnings that funding cuts have left forces "stretched to the limit."

He said : "Home Secretary, we are not good friends, but neither should we be.

"But just because we aren't friends doesn't mean we have to be enemies. Because frankly, it has been a difficult year.

"Home Secretary, the current situation is deadly serious. So you seriously need to listen."

He insisted they were not "scaremongering" over consequences of cuts.

"If the public aren't scared, perhaps they would be if they knew just how few cops were on the night shift while they slept last night."

Addressing the Home Secretary directly, he said the police see the results of austerity every day.

"We see the shocked, traumatised faces of victims of crime. We see the tears of people who feel rushed, passed over, dismissed, as fewer officers try to deal with the number of emergency calls."

Mr White made a pointed reference to Mrs May's devastating critique of the PFEW last year.

"We learn to put up with the criticism, he said. "The abuse. The jeering and dirty looks. The scowls of anger and derision.

"And that was just from you at our conference last year, Home Secretary."

The comments drew applause from the audience while Mrs May sat unmoved and stony-faced.

Mr White told the Home Secretary that "often you do not know what you have until it's gone".

He went on: "You know full well, the first duty of government is the protection of its citizens. Well, government is failing to do that."

He claimed that cuts appeared to be "nothing more than a smokescreen for ideological change".

Mr White called on the Government to "at least have a conversation" about the structure of policing, suggesting a model of one nationwide force should be explored.

He also appealed for a "more long-term" view of the future, adding: "Current funding is at best confusing, at worst downright unfair."

Concluding with a direct message to Mrs May, he stressed it is "not too late", adding: "But no more cuts.

"Search your conscience. Do the right thing. We care about policing.

"Home Secretary, do you? Because if you do, then show us."

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