As the PM steps down, Federation National Chair John Apter pulls no punches on the damage she has caused to policing
Theresa May stands down as leader of the Conservative party – she will continue as Prime Minister until her successor is appointed – but in reality, early June marks ‘The End of May’.
Let’s be honest here - for the majority of police officers (myself included) it has not come a day too soon.
Mrs May has made no secret of her thoughts on policing – her contempt and disdain for the profession has been vocal and sustained during her time as Home Secretary, and then throughout her tenure as Prime Minister. Her actions have been devastating for policing, genuinely devastating.
I hold Theresa May personally responsible for the fact that policing is on its knees – it’s been personal for her, and it has been incredibly damaging.
Let’s remember that in 2015 when she was Home Secretary, Mrs May attended the Police Federation conference where police officers warned her what the deep and damaging cuts would do to policing. These warnings were genuine concerns from police officers who wanted her to see the reality of the damage she was causing. Her response was dismissive, hostile and brutal. The Home Secretary accused us of ‘Crying Wolf’ and scaremongering. Her speech was an attack; you didn’t have to hear her words you just had to watch her. It was a very personal and insulting attack which demonstrated her utter contempt for policing and those who deliver it.
Since that infamous speech, it’s been proven that those police officers whose warnings were ignored were right - Mrs May got it spectacularly wrong, although to this day she has not accepted any responsibility. Her arrogance is astounding.
My colleagues, those dedicated and professional police officers, who every day serve the people her government has a duty to protect, have been derided, demoralised and seen our service decimated to a point where even HM’s Inspectorate of Constabulary acknowledged that it is only the hard work and positive attitude of officers that keeps the police service from breaking point.
Over the past nine years, this is the reality of what ‘austerity’ has meant for the police service in England and Wales:
- Close to 22,000 fewer officers – with a frightening amount being lost from the frontline
- An 18 per cent real-term reduction in spending on policing
- 18 per cent below inflation pay settlements
I frequently quote these figures when I speak to journalists, lobby MPs and work with those who are responsible for policing in this country.
But let me tell you what those numbers actually mean: officers so stressed because their additional workload is affecting their physical and mental health; officers so stretched they can’t get to 999 calls on time; officers needing food vouchers or payday loans in order to make ends meet; my colleagues vilified for not investigating every crime and being expected to answer for policy decisions made in the Westminster ‘bubble’ by people with no concept of what it is like in the real world.
And for those who say to me ‘well you would say that you’re the Federation – it’s your job’, I say ‘yes I do’ and ‘yes it is’. I am a police officer with 26 years’ experience. I have seen what can be achieved when we are a properly resourced service. My anger is not the fact that policing had to face cuts; I accept we all had to take our fair share of budgetary pain. My anger is the way it was done, and the damage it’s caused.
And I will keep on telling it like it is. And I will do it loudly and publicly - I don’t care if it is uncomfortable or inconvenient for those in power precisely because it is my job. One I am proud and privileged to have.
Policing is a job like no other. Every day, in every town or city, police officers perform thousands of minor- and sometimes major - acts of bravery, humanity and compassion. They are the ones society expects to run towards danger, to protect the vulnerable and to keep that wolf from their door.
Yet police officers are just like everyone else. Except they carry this weight of expectation and duty. All we ask is for them to be treated properly and fairly by those within who’s gift it is to make a tangible difference.
As the Prime Minister moves on she leaves a police service which is broken, many of my colleagues are broken. Her legacy is nothing to be proud of.
I am passionate about policing, I care about it and that’s why, despite the damage caused, I have to have hope that the next leader will be different. Whoever the new Prime Minister is, I want them to work with us to ensure policing gets a fair hearing.
Please don’t see this desire of hope as weakness! I will never abandon what I believe in, and don’t for one minute expect me to give Government an easy ride. I will hold them to account on all their promises – every one.
But what I say is that my door is always open, and I am willing to listen to what they have to say – but they must commit to listening, and give us more than just warm words.
As the leadership race goes on I’ll be contacting those candidates, and initiating what I hope will be a positive and productive relationship between the Federation and whoever becomes PM. That process has already started and I genuinely hope it helps us to draw a line and move forward.
So, at the End of May, I say to whoever takes over, learn the lessons of your predecessor and don’t make the mistakes she did.
This is your chance to put policing, and the safety and security of the public, at the heart of Government policy - please take it.