'˜Police cuts have gone too far, we are not safe'
As the UK's longest-serving Chief Constable, Steve Finnigan's opinion ought to count.
So when he sounds a loud alarm bell, saying none of us is as safe as we were seven years ago, Westminster would do well to listen.
Three appalling terrorist attacks in the last three months underline just what Lancashire’s top cop is saying. But as he prepares to retire in 11 days time, Mr Finnigan hopes going public with his fears for the future of policing in Britain is not dismissed as just a demob rant or a bitter parting shot.
“Some people will have a pop at me over some of this stuff and think it’s a tired old Chief Constable who is leaving after 41 years and has just decided to have a snipe,” he says.
“I really resent that because I have spoken out more than most (in the past) and I have tried to be really honest about it. I think the cuts have gone too far, too deep, and we now need to see some more resources coming into policing so we are able to deliver on our mission of keeping people safe and feeling safe, especially the most vulnerable in society.”
Mr Finnigan, a former Merseyside officer who joined Lancashire Constabulary as assistant chief constable in 2001, has seen the force severely weakened by Government austerity measures - losing 800 police officers and 400 staff since the recession started to bite.
He admits it has been a frustrating time sitting in the hot seat as more and more savings have been demanded by the Conservative government, especially during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary.With Mrs May now in No 10 and hinting at a possible softening of the Government’s tough austerity measures in the wake of last week’s shock election faux pas, Mr Finnigan’s leaving speech could hardly be better-timed. And as we sit in his office at police HQ at Hutton, the chief makes it clear he is keen to get his views out there before he closes the door one last time on June 28.
“I’ve been prompted to speak by retirement after 41 years as a cop, but also as a reflection on the atrocious terrorist acts in the UK in the last three months,” he says right away. “Essentially I wanted to re-iterate concerns that I have around the impact of cuts to the police service and specifically Lancashire Constabulary.
“I feel as though I have an obligation to talk about how some of the operational consequences of those cuts are now playing out. I would like to think that people would recognise that my message has been pretty consistent in that I have spoken publicly and loudly about some of these things.
“Just before the comprehensive spending review in the autumn of 2015 I described proposed cuts at that time as ‘a madness.’ And then I appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee in November 2015 ov er proposals to review the police funding formula where Lancashire was going to be hit to the tune of £25m.
“I think the scale and the pace of the cuts has been too severe, too deep, too quick. Now we are seeing the cracks appearing.I would say we are now at the tipping point and it’s time for an authentic conversation about resourcing of the police.
“I am absolutely in no doubt that the scale of the cuts to policing have made it more difficult for us to deliver on our mission or our purpose. I absolutely get that the Government during austerity have had some difficult decisions to make around prioritisation. They have taken £2.3bn (out of policing) which, in the grand scheme of things for them, isn’t big. But, because of what we do, dealing with risk, threat, harm and vulnerability every day, it is a very high risk approach.”
The recent attacks in Manchester and London have brought security sharply into focus. Mr Finnigan says: “Looking at those atrocities over the last three months I reflect that any society deserves safe and confident communities and I have no doubt that those poor people who have been affected by the events in Manchester and London will now feel less safe. But actually not just there, other communities in the UK will feel less safe, including here in Lancashire.
“Regrettably they are less safe and that’s about the amount of money that’s been taken out of policing and it’s about the number of people that we have lost. Here in Lancashire, from a budget that was £301m in 2010, I have lost £75m - about 25 per cent. I have also lost 1,200 people.
“If you had told me back in 2010 that was where I was going to end up I would have thought it was crazy and I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to deliver good services. I think that, to our credit, we have adapted and reformed.
“But it’s not just about austerity. It’s about the changing nature of demand in some areas which has just exploded. I hear that tired refrain that police reform is working because crime is going down. Well actually is isn’t. In every developed country in the world the old traditional crime has been going down since 1995 for all manner of reasons.
“Now it’s the less visible crime which is challenging us like child sexual exploitation, human trafficking or modern day slavery - we haven’t lifted the stone on that yet. We have so called honour-based violence, forced marriages, female genital mutilation. All those sort of things we haven’t yet got a handle on them because I don’t think communities are confident enough to come forward and talk to us about them, but they are out there.
“There is also a tsunami of cyber crime, whether it’s indecent images of children, fraud, harrassment. And of course terrorism. These are really big issues.
“We talk about communities defeat terrorisim and I agree with that. But only if communities have got trust and confidence in us, only if they are talking to our community officers and PCSOs, offering them information and intelligence. So I’m saying there needs to be re-investment in neighbourhood policing.”
Only three months ago Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary voiced concern at the “perilous state” of policing in the UK. Amongst the areas of concern highlighted by HMIC was neighbourhood policing. Mr Finnigan agrees. “One of the big concerns was the erosion of neighbourhood policing. They have been saying that consistently over the last four or five years that it is a worry. But they haven’t said it loudly enough that it is linked to austerity, the cuts and the changes in demand. There is a real stretch across frontline officers and their morale and motivation, their wellbeing and their resilience are a big issue for me as I leave the police service.
“There are lots of areas where we are stretched. Over the last seven years we went through a period where we didn’t recruit police officers for about five years and it’s only in the last two years we have got back to some recruitment. But we have lost a lot of experienced police officers in that time.
“So, as I leave this organisation I can say I think the cuts have gone too far and we need to see some more resources coming into policing if we are to be able to deliver our mission of keeping people safe and free from harm.”
Mr Finnigan has spent 41 years as a police officer, starting in Merseyside in 1966. He became Chief Constable on a temporray basis in 2005 and permanently in 2007.He wants to devote more time to his wife and family - his son is following in dad’s footsteps as a PC in Preston and he has a daughter who is at university.
“I don’t particularly want to go - I love this job,” he sayd. “But I have to appreciate that the day after I leave I will be 60. So I have done my bit.”