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Saturday, May 27, 2017
Theresa May announced on Tuesday that she has authorised up to 5,000 troops to be deployed across the country in the wake of Monday night’s terror attack.
The Prime Minister said that this was part of Operation Temperer, which was planned in 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
On Wednesday, the Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Steve White, said that although military support was “welcome”, the police “simply do not have the resources to manage an event like this on our own”.
Are cuts to police funding the reason the government has had to deploy troops this week? We’ve taken a look at the numbers.
How bad are the cuts?
Since the Tories have been in office, they have increased funding for counter terror policing, but cut the overall budget for everyday policing in England and Wales.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, central government spending on the Police Main Grant fell by 14 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15.
But police forces also get part of their funding through local council taxes, and total budgets have “remained broadly flat in cash-terms”, mainly because of top-ups from council tax.
The Home Office also gives a separate pot of money to forces in England and Wales specifically for counter terror operations, separate from the Police Main Grant.
IFS data suggests that in 2010-11 the level of the Counter Terrorism Police Grant was £471 million. That figure rose to £564 million in 2014-15, and rose again in 2016-17 to £670 million.
How does that translate into numbers of armed police?
More money for counter terrorism has not led into more armed police on the streets.
The Home Office told us that in March 2016, there were 5,639 firearms officers in England and Wales. When the Tories took office in 2010, that figure stood at 6,653.
So between 2010 and 2016, armed police numbers fell by 1,014 – despite the fact that the Counter Terrorism Police Grant was increased over that period.
The Home Office were keen to remind us that it’s for police chiefs to decide how many firearms officers they need, and that forces make that choice “based on a thorough assessment of threat and risk”.
But, despite saying that they’re not directly responsible for officer numbers, the government announced in 2016 that it would provide £143 million of new funding specifically to train 1,500 firearms officers to protect the public from terrorism. That would seem to replace the 1,014 officers and then some.
Problem solved? Not quite.
A little digging shows the numbers aren’t quite as they seem. For starters, the central government money pledged last year will only fund 1,000 of that headline 1,500 figure.
Forces will have to stump up for the remaining 500 officers using their council tax budget top-up.
We also noticed that the increased government grant will be spread over a five year period, starting from 2016 when the commitment was announced, so the additional officers will come in phases.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council told us that phase one of the “uplift” is complete, and that 640 new officers should have now begun their duties.
That means there should now be 640 more firearms officers on the streets than this time last year. But that doesn’t cancel out the decline of more than 1,000 armed officers that the Tories have presided over since 2010.
The figures we have been given suggest there are 374 fewer armed officers on the streets of England and Wales today than there were in 2010. The troops deployed this week in Operation Temperer are certainly filling those gaps.
So are Tory cuts the reason we need the army on the streets?
Theresa May said in her statement on Tuesday that the decision to deploy troops to the streets after Monday’s attack was part of a “long-established” plan.
In fact, Operation Temperer was drawn up in 2015, when the number of firearms officers had been falling consistently for five years.
The obvious question is whether the plan to put troops on the streets was a tacit admission that armed police numbers had fallen to dangerously low levels.
A spokesperson for the Conservatives told us that such a suggestion was “incorrect” and that they would “refute it in the strongest possible terms”.