Khan has raised the alarm over a possible "new era of austerity" for the police caused by the coronavirus-related recession in a letter to the home secretary, obtained by The Guardian. By his own account, Khan "ha[s] protected policing as much as is possible from these cuts – but it still leaves a £109.3 million [$136 million] budget reduction over the next two years".
Policing is not the only budget item that will be subjected to cuts by the London mayor: the London Fire Brigade, Transport for London, and the Greater London Authority are also set to face significant reductions to their budgets unless the Boris Johnson government intervenes to help fill the financial gap left by the coronavirus-related lockdown.
The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow not only to the capital's budget, but to regional councils as well. Citing a senior police source, The Guardian warned that law enforcement agencies across England and Wales could similarly find themselves in “dire trouble” with looming annual cuts.
UK Central Gov't Hasn't Announced Any "Austerity" Plans
"The article in The Guardian is purely speculative from a politically motivated standpoint", argues Philip Ingram, a former British senior intelligence and security officer.
According to Ingram, Khan has already made a decision to cut funding for the Metropolitan Police, the law enforcement service for the Greater London area, "but is trying to deflect the blame to the central government as he is from a different political party to the government".
As for supposed cuts for police forces across England and Wales cited by the media outlet, these prospects appear to be exaggerated: "It is an accurate assessment that local government finances are and will be under even greater pressure due to the current pandemic and all local government expenditure will have to be looked at", the ex-intelligence officer presumes.
Besides this, the central government has not announced any slashes to its initial plan to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers, he notes. Quite the contrary, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg has recently made it clear that the project is on track, with just over 3,000 personnel already in service.
"There has been no comment from the UK government regarding any additional funding directly for the police, but it has provided an additional £1.6 billion [$1.99 billion] to local authorities for them to use across all of their services during the pandemic and this includes the police. This is on top of the money for any staff local councils have had to furlough", Ingram emphasises.
Khan Needs to Think Twice Before Cutting Police Budget
Meanwhile, local councils across the country are signalling concerns over the severe financial challenges they face and are calling upon the British government to provide additional funding. According to the Local Government Association, councils could need up to £6 billion ($7.47 billion) more in the current financial year to cope with the consequences of the COVID pandemic.
"Following the UK government’s pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers over the next few years the possibility of ‘worst-ever’ budget cuts would severely dent this ambition", says Dr David Lowe, a retired police officer and senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University’s Law School. "In relation to the rest of England and Wales, the regional police and crime commissioners along with the local authority will also have to seriously consider the impact savage cuts to policing will have in their area".
Suffering from COVID-related shortfalls, London and local councils need to think twice as before slashing law enforcement funding, according to Lowe: "Cutting police budgets in favour of carrying out other schemes that the public would see as non-essential could be detrimental to both councils and the police and crime commissioners when it comes to re-election", he warns.
At the same time, Mayor Khan's management of the police seems to be at odds with the UK government given that both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel remain "committed to their pledge to increase the police numbers and subsequently to ensure the policing budget matches this ambition", according to the retired police officer.
"It might be prudent on [Khan's] side to assess what could be cut in his plans for the region that would not entail a cut in the police budget, especially with the rise in knife crime in the area, the recent violent clashes with police and the protests that have been held in the London area", Lowe says. "That is on top of the fact that London is one of the primary targets for a terrorist attack. He should seriously consider what people in the area want, to feel safe from crime and terrorism or to have more cycle lanes for example".
What is crucial under the current circumstances is the role of the Home Office, especially the home secretary, who appears committed to ensuring that police recruitment and funding continues, the ex-police officer concludes.
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