14 years of the Tories – police and probation

UNISON national officer for police and justice Ben Priestley on how catastrophic cuts and mismanagement have impacted the justice system

The 14 years since 2010 have seen catastrophic cuts to the police service, a rise in recorded crime, unmanageable police force budget deficits, the demise of neighbourhood policing and the near destruction of the probation service. No part of the criminal justice system has been spared from mismanagement. As a result, justice is not being served, nor seen to be delivered.

In September 2010, the police workforce in England and Wales had 243,143 officers and staff. After four years of austerity, in September 2016, this number had shrunk by nearly 45,000. Over the same period, police community officer (PCSO) numbers were cut from 16,376 to 10,551 – a decline of 36%. The government claimed that there was no link between cutting police numbers and rising crime, but they were wrong.

In the year ending June 2016, the Office for National Statistics figures for police-recorded crime in England and Wales over the previous 12 months showed public order offences up 28%, violence against the person offences up 24%, sexual offences up 14%, knife crime up 9% and firearms offences up by 7%.

Police cuts had consequences and they were being felt in communities across the UK.

By 2019, rising crime had left the Conservative Party’s reputation as ‘the party of law and order’ in tatters. It promised to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales when everyone knew it was really just replacing those it had cut over the previous nine years. Nothing was done to stem the cuts to PCSO numbers which continued to fall to 7,651 in September 2023 – an overall reduction of 53% since 2010. Police staff numbers remain 2,000 below their 2010 levels with police officers regularly having to backfill police staff roles.

An analysis of police financial forecasts by UNISON in 2023 revealed forces in England and Wales could face a combined budget shortfall of £720m by 2026, putting public safety at risk as forces cut back on some services.

The Scottish Government is cutting £1.1 billion from police budgets by 2026 – and the protection of police officer numbers means that police staff like control room operators, crime analysts, and criminal justice staff are losing their jobs.

UNISON believes we need a modern, balanced police team – with the right people doing the right jobs – not only for a better, safer Scotland, but for England and Wales too.

Prior to 2014, the probation service was a high performing, award-winning service rooted in local communities. The service was run by 35 independent probation trusts, each with its own chief probation officer.

But in 2014, the Conservative government pushed through Chris Grayling’s disastrous ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms, which split probation in two and centralised high-risk work in the ministry of justice and privatised the rest. Despite being told that the reforms were unworkable, the government forced the changes through.

The reforms were a complete disaster and resulted in the government having to bail out the failing private companies, one of which ended up going bust, to the tune of £500m. Although the service was re-unified in 2021, it remains centralised in the civil service. This continues to damage the ability of probation to work with local partners, and probation staff suffer unmanageable workloads as a result of staffing cuts made previously by the private companies.

Between 2010 and 2020, probation staff salaries rose by only 1% as a result of pay freezes and austerity. Wages are no longer competitive, which compounds the workloads crisis.

This is why UNISON is campaigning for probation to be removed from civil service control and re-localised – run by chief probation officers again and democratically overseen by police and crime commissioners and elected mayors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *