Police success is ‘at risk’

Report welcomed:  Chief Constable Steve Finnigan
Report welcomed: Chief Constable Steve Finnigan

Lancashire’s top police officer has welcomed a glowing report of the force’s work – but warned that more cuts risk ‘breaking’ policing.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) yesterday published results of the first ever PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) assessments of forces across the country.

Lancashire Constabulary was judged to be ‘good’ at reducing and investigating crime and tackling anti-social behaviour and ‘outstanding’ in working efficiently. It was found to be acting to achieve fairness and legitimacy.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan said he was ‘delighted’ the force was among the top three or four nationally and proud of officers and staff.

But the force must save £20m over the next two years on top of the near £60m it has cut over the last four years – more than a quarter of its £301m budget in 2009/10.

Mr Finnigan said government cuts and the impact of austerity on local people could both be behind increases in crime locally between April 2013 and March 2014 – by 3.6 per cent in Blackpool, 10 per cent in Wyre, and 6.2 per cent in Fylde.

“Visibility of police is always important in deterring crime and when you have had several hundred officers and 500 staff leave it’s difficult to be as visible,” he said, pointing to the increased use of special constables to free up officers.

At the same time he said that had been an “explosion” nationally and locally in reports of things like child exploitation, historical child abuse, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, online crime and mental health.

“There is a big issue in terms of what happens after the next general election,” said Mr Finnigan.

“I absolutely accept we have to help bring down the public debt, but I’ve told the Home Secretary that we’ve already had a quarter of our budget taken away so the yield for further savings is limited.

“It’s up to the government to decide the priority they put on policing. We’re at risk of breaking something if the police service is asked to deliver the same levels of cuts over the next four years.

“There is talk about the erosion of neighbourhood policing, with its proactive rather than reactive approach and it is thinner than it was.

“There will be a tipping point and we’re in danger of rowing away from this cherished model.”

Mr Finnigan blamed a 17 per cent rise in sexual offences in Blackpool on the Savile-effect. “It’s not at all surprising that lots of people are coming forward about sexual offences and we will believe them, treat them fairly and do whatever we have to to get justice for them,” added Mr Finnigan.

“But we’re being squeezed in terms of safeguarding and public protection because the volume is so high.”